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Why an Emery Return Makes Sense

When TSN’s Darren Dreger wrote that Ray Emery was ready to make his comeback, he acknowledged two teams with interest in the goaltender. Those two teams were Anaheim and Philadelphia. Of course, with goaltending being at the pinnacle of ‘touchy’ subjects in Philadelphia, there was a mixed reaction towards the scoop. There’s no right or wrong answer in reaction to the prospect of Emery in Orange and Black. However, it seemed like much of the support or outrage was based in Emery playing for the team this season. That doesn’t make very much sense. But what does make sense is the prospect of having Emery for next season.

The facts are fairly simple, Emery is trying to attempt a courageous (and if completed, unprecedented) comeback from avascular necrosis. It is the same degenerative hip disorder that ended Bo Jackson’s athletic career far too early. The long and short of Emery’s story at this point is that he feels his rehabilitation is complete and he’s ready to play professional hockey again. According to Elliotte Friedman of CBC, Emery said if could choose one team to join, it would be the Flyers. Obviously, with the play of Brian Boucher and Sergei Bobrovsky this season, there is really no spot for Emery.

However, it seems far-fetched that ‘Razor Ray’ would be able to play for any team this season in the NHL. There is about a quarter of the season remaining, and Emery hasn’t played in a competitive game in a year. So, it would seem logical to say that the 28-year old goaltender would need to play in the AHL until he can regain his conditioning and face live action. Even then, would that be enough action to be able to help a team in the last weeks of the season or a playoff run?

That seems highly unlikely.

Why would the determined goalie fit in Philadelphia? Well, this year he wouldn’t. The only way he could fit is to be signed to a two-way contract which would put him through the waiver system. There’s no guarantee he would make it through the system to the Flyers. But then again, teams may not want to waste their time with a reclamation project in the minors.

What we know is that Emery loves Philadelphia. He visited with his former teammates after a December victory in Toronto and has had nothing but positive things to say about them. General Manager Paul Holmgren gave the goalie a chance when no one else would after playing a season in the KHL. One would think that there’s some type of mutual respect that exists between the two parties because of that. If Emery wants to play in the NHL this season for the Flyers, it will not happen.

Although, when the goalie positioned is evaluated for next season, that’s a completely different story. Bobrovsky will be in line for the top spot next season almost indefinitely, and Boucher will be an unrestricted free agent. Michael Leighton is in Adirondack with the Phantoms, and there’s no guarantee that he’ll ever play with a Flyers crest on his sweater again. However, next season the team will most likely have Leighton as the favorite for the spot of backup goalie. Needless to say, that spot would be by default. Joacim Eriksson has stated that he hopes to stay in Sweden until 2012 and Johan Backlund is far from NHL material. So why not give Emery a shot?

For Emery, it would make sense on a few levels. He would be able to step into a situation with plenty of upward mobility. As good as Bobrovsky has been for much of the season, he’s still a bit of an unknown quantity. Is it probable that Emery could win a starting job? Maybe not. Although, he is certainly more than capable as a backup goaltender, and at the top of his game he could still be a number one NHL goalie. Obviously the Flyers organization felt the same way when they signed Emery in the first place, and with a cheap price tag he may look enticing. The Flyers have found recent success in giving players a chance on low-risk, high-reward deals like the one that Emery would need to take.

The most important fact about Emery’s recovery and subsequent shopping for a team is that he must be healthy. For as difficult as his comeback attempt has been, it’s equally hard to assume that he will be able to complete it. If he is healthy, there’s no reason to ignore Emery’s ability in net and his hunger to make it back to the highest level of competition. In Philadelphia, Emery found a comfort zone that he seems to sorely miss. For the Flyers, having him as a reclamation project may provide a similar comfort zone.

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