Ray Emery's Road to Redemption Goes Through Philadelphia

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Ray Emery's Road to Redemption Goes Through Philadelphia
(Photo by Phillip MacCallum/Getty Images)

If you’ve read any of the Flyers fan message boards these last two days, you’d think the Flyers announced they were housing a Guantanamo detainee in their crease next season.

The shrieking hysteria over the signing of former Ottawa netminder Ray Emery to a one-year, $1.5 million contract borders on the absurd, to put it kindly.

Yes, Emery has a checkered past littered with character issues that include brawling with teammates and trainers, road raging senior citizens, and “stunt driving” incidents that have led to dozens of confrontations with Ottawa police.

But the funny thing about being a 23-year-old professional athlete and millionaire is that, if you’re not careful, you can become kind of an asshole. This is hardly an anomaly in the world of professional sports.

Yesterday, a humbled, contrite, and seemingly more mature (26-year-old) Ray Emery addressed the Philadelphia media as the Flyers announced his addition to the team for the 2009-2010 season.  

He sounded like a man being released from prison (or the KHL, which sounds similar), well aware of the scrutiny that will follow him around like a shadow as he tries to find redemption.

Lost in all of the character issues is the fact that Emery led his 2006-2007 Ottawa teammates to the Stanley Cup Finals, where the Senators succumbed to a rough and tumble Anaheim Ducks team in five games.

Emery’s 2006-2007 playoff record was 13-7, including three shutouts, one in each round leading up to the Finals.

Of the seven games the Senators lost in the 2006-2007 postseason, just one contest was decided by more than a goal (their 6-2 Game Five elimination from the Stanley Cup Finals).

The following season, as the Senators staggered from a Stanley Cup hangover, Emery’s personal issues came to a head, which led to Ottawa buying out the final year of his contract.

Unable to shake his rep as a locker room cancer, Emery’s career path led to exile with the Atlant Moscow Oblast in the newly formed Kontinental Hockey League for the 2008-2009 season, which he led to a first place finish with a 22-8 record.

In addition to significant NHL playoff experience (playoff record: 18-12), Emery brings a fire and toughness to the Flyers crease that has not been seen since Ron Hextall was in his prime.

Honestly, do you really think Sidney Crosby will torpedo himself, skates first, into Ray Emery’s net and emerge from the twine without a fractured orbital bone or, at a minimum, the puffy raised outline of a goaltender’s waffle across his face?

At just 26 years of age, if Emery proves capable of leading the Flyers deep into the playoffs, $1.5 million will seem exactly like the backup goaltender salary that it is.

At those prices, why not give Emery an opportunity to regain his form of just two years ago?

If he’s a disaster early in the season, nothing would prevent the Flyers from trading for players like Josh Harding, Kari Lehtonen, or Corey Schneider that the message board crowds have been clamoring for.

After all, Philadelphia has shown that it has the ability to shake off a slow start and still skate into the postseason.

It is somewhat encouraging that fans, no matter how opposed they are to this particular personnel decision, at least acknowledge the savings afforded by Emery’s low cap number will allow the Flyers to be more aggressive in this year’s unrestricted free agent market, where they are certain to target the prize of this year’s UFA pool, Florida defenseman Jay Bouwmeester.

But for many of the faithful, Emery’s past deeds outweigh his potential future contributions to a hockey team with an infamous organizational blind spot at the goaltending position.

It’s ironic that a team looking to redeem years of bad goaltending decisions is looking to do so by acquiring a player that is seeking redemption himself.

Lin Jensen once said, “Redemption can be found in Hell itself if that’s where you happen to be.”

Ray Emery, welcome to Philadelphia. It’s about as close to Hell as you’re ever going to get.

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