Emery returns to his comfort zone with the Flyers

YONG KIMB / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ray Emery played only 29 games for the Flyers after suffering a career-threatening hip injury.
YONG KIMB / STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER Ray Emery played only 29 games for the Flyers after suffering a career-threatening hip injury.
Posted: July 08, 2013

RAY EMERY was comfortable in Chicago.

His body likely was still recovering from celebrating his first Stanley Cup championship with the Blackhawks last month. He'd played in nearly half of Chicago's regular-season games, a big part of their 24-game unbeaten streak.

The Blackhawks wanted to give him a raise. A gaudy Stanley Cup ring was on the way.

There was no real reason to leave. Emery said as much last week. In fact, as recently as Tuesday night, the Flyers were operating under the assumption that Emery would be returning to Chicago.

The only problem was that Emery didn't know Philadelphia was an option. Players weren't allowed to negotiate with teams until Wednesday at the earliest.

"It's been a crazy couple of days," Emery said. "I was really excited when I got wind that that would be an option."

The Flyers pushed hard. Yesterday, they got their man to play in tandem with Steve Mason, agreeing to a 1-year, $1.65 million deal with Emery, who was the most sought-after goaltender available on the free-agent market.

Emery, 30, was a sparkling 17-1-0 with a 1.94 goals-against average and .922 save percentage for Chicago last season.

"In Philadelphia, it will be a new situation for both me and Steve," Emery said. "Going forward, it's a chance to maybe play more games than I would have in Chicago. It's a great team and it's a situation that I knew from the last time I was there that I was really comfortable.

"I just kind of left with a funny taste in my mouth about my experience there. I'm not saying that it wasn't enjoyable, I'm just saying that I really felt like we could have done better, I could have done better."

It was Paul Holmgren who gave Emery his first second chance in the NHL, bringing him back from exile in Russia to sign a 1-year deal in 2009.

Emery earned $1.5 million with the Flyers in 2009-10, but the experiment was short-lived. After only 29 games in a Flyers uniform, Emery was diagnosed with avascular necrosis of the hip, the same degenerative condition that prematurely ended Bo Jackson's two-sport pro career.

Emery underwent a career-threatening, 6-hour surgery in March 2010, with doctors removing a healthy bone from his fibula and placing it in his hip. The road to recovery was long and painful.

"I'm missing a bone in my lower leg and they kind of hacked and whacked at it," Emery said. "It's amazing how much pain and how crazy that part was, and it's amazing how great it came back, and how I don't notice it now. So to come from that much pain and such a crazy process coming back to feeling fine and dandy is pretty amazing for me."

After completing the comeback with Anaheim 10 months later, Emery was a free agent and he signed in Chicago. His first choice was to come back to the Flyers after the loyalty they showed him. But that's when the Flyers signed Ilya Bryzgalov to his $51 million deal.

Two years later, Bryzgalov is gone. And Emery said he has retooled his game, using new mechanics as "a student of the game." His athleticism, flexibility and quickness are back and perhaps better than pre-surgery.

Signing Emery represents a complete change in the Flyers' spending philosophy. Emery and Mason will earned a combined $3.15 million. Twenty-two other NHL teams spend more than that on one goaltender. Even 37-year-old Evgeni Nabokov, who struggled in the playoffs, signed a 1-year deal on Long Island yesterday for $3.25 million.

With Bryzgalov's $1.6 million buyout factored in, the Flyers will be spending less on all three goalies combined ($4.75 million) than Bryzgalov's cap hit ($5.67 million) would have been next season alone. The Flyers' apparent thinking is that they can get the same statistical production (.900 save percentage) out of this tandem as they could with Bryzgalov, while allocating more to other positions, which should, in turn, help the goaltender.

Plus, both goaltenders are on 1-year deals. If the experiment doesn't work with either player, the Flyers can start anew next summer. In the meantime, both will have plenty of motivation to earn their next deal.

Holmgren said he had nothing but positive memories of Emery's time in Philadelphia, recalling that it all changed after a shutout against Edmonton when Emery woke up with a sore hip.

In fact, Emery called the Flyers after signing and asked for Mason's phone number, so they could chat. Emery seems to have matured, even since his issue-free stint in 2009-10. He lauded Mason as a "good, young goaltender," and the two will skate together in Toronto beginning next month.

"I think I've kind of changed my outlook," Emery said. "When I was younger, I wanted to play all the games, and got a pouty attitude when I didn't. Now, you start to realize that if the team is successful, everyone does well. It's a better working relationship that way."

Holmgren certainly isn't interested naming a No. 1 goaltender. With two relatively young goaltenders in the fold with fresh starts, there is no real need.

"We're happy to have two really good goaltenders," Holmgren said. "All of that will come out in the wash."

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