Chicago Blackhawks: Ray Emery To Try Out for Backup Position

Cody Pugh@Blackhawk_UpContributor IIIJuly 28, 2011

After signing Corey Crawford to a three-year deal and inking goalie prospect Alexander Salak to a two-year, one-way deal, it seemed that the General Manager Stan Bowman was content with his team's situation in net.

Apparently this wasn't the case.

ESPN's Scott Burnside reported Wednesday that Ray Emery signed a tryout contract with the Blackhawks. He will challenge Salak for the backup job behind Crawford.

Emery, who will turn 29 in September, returned to the NHL last season after a hip injury threatened to end his career, signing a one-year two-way deal with the Anaheim Ducks. In 10 games with the Ducks, Emery went 7-2, posting a .926 save percentage and a 2.28 goals-against average.

In the playoffs, Emery went 2-3, posting a .897 save percentage and a 3.19 goals-against average.

Emery's remarkable comeback and subsequent success, despite the difficulties of his injury, earned him a Bill Masterson nomination, the award given to a player for demonstrating perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication to the game of hockey.

Emery became an unrestricted free agent on July 1, but has yet to sign a contract with an NHL team. He will try to earn a contract with the Blackhawks this September, but only if he can prove himself in training camp.

This is a very, very shrewd move for Stan Bowman. So much attention—one could say too much attention—was being paid to the changes to the forward and defensive corps, that most people completely forgot about goaltending and how the Blackhawks, although they had two names on the depth chart, would be entering next season with some big question marks in net.

The first big question mark retained to Corey Crawford. Will he continue the remarkable play that earned him the respect of Blackhawks fans and the rest of the hockey world or will he suffer a notorious "sophmore slump?"

As the 'Hawks bona fide No. 1 next season, there are big expectations on Crawford. If he stumbles, the Blackhawks will need a reliable backup to turn to, just like how they turned to Crawford last season.

But here's the second question mark: is Salak ready for the NHL, even in a backup role.

As promising as Alexander Salak is, he has very little NHL experience and its very possible that he won't make the permanent jump to the NHL easily.

With virtually no other goalie options in the system to backup Crawford if he gets injured or falls into a slump, the reality is the Blackhawks need another goaltender, preferably a veteran, to fill the depth chart. They need a more secure fallback.

This is where Emery comes in. Emery is an experienced veteran who can post numbers more than good enough to be a reliable backup NHL goalie. He was great in the limited games he played with the Ducks, despite entering in the middle of a desperate playoff run.

Emery could also be another veteran for Crawford to feed off of. Young goaltending tandems rarely work in the NHL because its usually better for the elder goalie to mentor the younger, whether its the starter mentoring the backup or vice versa. Turco proved to be a very good mentor for Crawford, who could probably learn more. Emery probably has a wealth of advice for Crawford when he faces adversity.

Keep in mind that this is just a tryout contract. Emery is not officially a Blackhawk just yet. He will compete against Salak for the backup position. Salak will get every opportunity to prove himself but I have a feeling that Emery should outplay Salak.

This of course means that Salak would still earn his $612,500 salary in the AHL because of his one-way contract, but at least he would be given time to develop and the 'Hawks would have a backup they know they can turn to.

If Salak does earn the job, I still think the Blackhawks should seriously consider giving Emery a one-year, two-way contract simply for the sake of having someone to turn to in case Crawford or Salak go down. The Blackhawks' organizational depth in goal is very shallow and they should have some kind of backup plan.

Either way, this was a very smart move for Bowman and the Blackhawks. Its not an actual contract, so there's no concrete financial commitment. They will give Emery a chance to prove that he can still compete in the NHL and add some much needed incentive to young Salak to bring his A-game to camp or be booted down to the AHL.

What will surely be an already competitive training camp just got a little more intense.


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