With the Decline of Vesa Toskala, Ray Emery May Be an Option

Daniel SewellContributor IJanuary 27, 2009

It goes without saying that this has been a tumultuous season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Change has been afoot in this once proud organization, with the departure of both John Ferguson and Paul Maurice, as well as many of the "Muskoka Five", the Leafs' have taken on a distinctly different image than before.

From what we can tell, still newly made General Manager, Brian Burke, is aiming for a big, strong, and talented team. Physicality will be the most prominent feature of this team's style of play, and grit will be absolutely required.

But before this team is even considered a contender, in however many years it shall take, one issue needs to be addressed. A team is not built from front to back, but instead, it is vice versa. This brings up the poor performance of both Vesa Toskala, and Curtis Joseph, although the latter can be excused given his age.

With a 3.29 GAA, accompanied by a .885 SV%, Toskala has played far below his expected abilities. In fact, he is among the worst in the league and certainly can be considered such in comparison to a majority of the league's starting goaltenders.

It has been abundantly clear Toskala is not the future, and his age brings into question if he'll truly improve enough to be a legitimate No. 1 guy on this team.

If this team is still far from completion, Toskala's tenure as a Leaf may be coming to an end.

But, putting aside who would even consider taking on Toskala's contract at this point in the season, there must be an answer to this apparently gaping hole in the team's roster.

Putting inconsistent defense in front of a good goalie won't produce positive results, but inconsistent defense in front of an average goalie is even worse.

So it comes down to looking towards the farm, in this case Justin Pogge, or the draft. However, this is one other source for the Leafs to turn to, and that would be former Ottawa Senator, Ray Emery. He is definitely a high risk choice for this team, but he may be the only choice right now.

Given Pogge's need to develop, and a rather sparse free market this coming offseason in terms of goaltenders, Emery may be the best choice for this team.

His numbers are good, and his play has certainly been exceptional, even if the league he is currently playing in is weaker than the NHL. With a 1.96 GAA and a .931 SV%, Emery could be the answer to the Leafs' problems.

Of course, he'd have to prove himself. A short term, likely one-year deal, will suffice and given Emery's current position, signing him to a near-league minimum price may work out in favour of the Toronto Maple Leafs; not only does it give Emery a chance to prove himself, it frees up space for the Leafs' likely pursuit of potential free agent Jay Bouwmeester.

If, at the year's end Emery proves himself capable, the Leafs' should attempt to sign him to another deal, this time with a raise but still short term. The time of long term, blockbuster deals are not what a rebuilding team needs right now and given the situation other teams have put themselves in signing such deals, short term seems best.

Emery is still talented and young. He struggled in Ottawa due to, from what is known, bad off-ice habits, and a coach who lacks control. Who better to handle a possible hothead than Ron Wilson?

If Emery is intent on making a return to the NHL and to prove his old team wrong, Toronto may be the best chance he gets.