Friday night will mark Ray Emery's return to the city that made him famous for the first time since being bought out nearly 4 years ago by the Senators. It was sort of the ending of an era, although we didn't know it at the time. With the new NHL rules, the turnover is amazing. To put things in perspective, there's only 4 players on our roster from the 2007 Stanley Cup finalist team. Yes 4! Ray Emery could have been the 5th.
He was supposed to be the building block of a team that could compete year after year, but was run out of town in large part because of the media, and because someone had to take the fall for a team that massively underachieved, and the flashy, loud, injured, under performing goalie was the easy victim. Four years later I find myself rooting for Emery. I think he got more than a raw deal in Ottawa, but will the fans feel the same way tomorrow night at SBP?
Let's be clear, in my opinion Emery was never really that big of a problem and I'm including his "transgressions" and his play when I state this. When he was winning no one had a problem with it, especially the Senators organization. They enabled him and then blamed him for everything when things turned sour. Don't believe me? Let's look at some of his so called problems.
The famous cockroach incident: This is where Emery ate a cockroach after teammates bet him he wouldn't. Would I eat a cockroach? Definitely not, but that doesn't mean it's wrong and if anything it would have brought the team a bit closer through team bonding. If it had of been Alfie instead, it would be a legendary story of how he rallied the boys together. Nothing doing here.
The flashy lifestyle theory: So he had some colorful suits, owned 20 watches and had a Hummer and a Lamborghini. So what? Who's business is it what he does with his money. You know who else has a Lambo? Pascal Leclaire, wait bad example. Francis Lessard has a white Hummer too. Most of the guys on the team now have BMW's or Audi's and several have Range Rover's and Porsche Cayenne's but who cares? What vehicle he drove had no barring on how he played. This is just an excuse brought up by people who are clearly against him already. When Emery was the toast of the town everyone celebrated that he wasn't boring and was a character.
He was a bad teammate theory: He was? Because from everything I saw, he always had everyone's back, to the point of getting into several brawls for the guys on the team, something most goalies wouldn't ever do. Even years after being let go from the team he was invited to Spezza's wedding and everyone looked happy to see him. That doesn't happen to people who are disliked in the locker room.
The he went out too much theory: There's always been rumors that perhaps Ray started to get into the nightlife too much and that was part of the problem, but you know what, I don't buy it. I used to see him out quite often and when I did he was always with other players, usually Jason Spezza and I rarely saw Emery have anything alcoholic. Just go to Crazy Horse or Moxie's in Kanata after most games and you'll see half the team out. This happens in every NHL city. They are real people that like to enjoy life as well, as much as many of you like to think they're robots who should only care about hockey. Sitting at home staring at the wall isn't productive or healthy either. Think of yourself at 23 and I think you'll find he behaved a lot better than most of you did.
The snowmobile to work complaint: This is when I knew the media were out to get Ray. They criticized him for taking a snowmobile to SBP for practice and gave him shit for it. What's the big deal? It's isn't illegal and you know who else did it regularly? Daniel Alfredsson. But you never heard about that did you? The media can manipulate a lot of things and this was one of them. How Emery didn't go nuts and point that out speaks to his character to me.
The he got into an accident on the queensway story: You all know this one. Emery was late and trying to get to the airport in time to catch the flight for a playoff game, when he got into a minor fender bender on the queenway in the infamous white Hummer. By all accounts he was more than pleasant, signed autographs and took pictures and stayed there until the police came and wrote the report. Who hasn't been running a little late for something or been in a minor car accident? This is just life people. He wasn't charged with anything and more than fulfilled his obligations at the scene. Non issue.
The he was late to practice stories: This one is a little harder to defend. Look, of course you should always be on time for work, especially when you get millions of dollars to play a game, but let's be honest here, I bet at least half of you reading this are late at least once every 2weeks and some of you are 5-10 minutes late every single day, and if you're not you have a friend or a co-worker who is. It's a very common problem in society. I don't wanna quote Allen Iverson here but "we talkin' bout practice". Should he have been there on time? Absolutely! But he was late the year before but it never mattered because he was winning. If you want to find a reason to hate on Emery this is the one decent excuse, but he always showed up for games.
In the 2006-07 season, the Ottawa Senators made it to their first Stanley Cup Finals in modern franchise history and the city had a severe case of Sens fever. Guess which goalie backstopped them all the way there? Yep Ray Emery. He played very well in those playoffs too and very hard, so much so that he injured himself over the course of the post season but kept playing because he cared about the team.
So in the offseason he has corrective surgery to get back in game shape and what did the Senators proceed to do? They completely threw him under the bus and never gave him a fair shot in my opinion to regain his starting job that now belonged to the "amazing" Martin Gerber. They gave him enough starts in theory with 31, but to those who remember, he was never given more than 3 starts in a row, so he wasn't able to get back in his groove after having to play catchup due to missing the start of the year. Not exactly the way you treat the 24 year old guy who just helped you get to the finals is it? So who could blame Emery for being a bit grumpy at work. I'm sure many of you are grumpy over a lot less.
They said his play had really fallen off, and that argument was fairly valid. In his last season with the Sens he posted a 12-13-4 mark in 31 starts, to go with a .890 save% and a poor 3.13 GAA. Hardly stellar, but remember his hand never healed properly and he was never given a legit opportunity before they banished him from Ottawa. The numbers weren't great, but definitely not bad enough to give up on such a young, promising netminder unless you had an agenda.
Let's take a look at his number during his time in Ottawa shall we. He played 134 games as a member of the Sens, posting 71 wins, 40 losses, 14 OT losses and 8 shutouts, while posting averages of a very solid .915 sv% and a decent 2.5 GAA, though the goals against were bumped up considerably by the 3.13 he had in his injured year. Those numbers are pretty solid if you ask me. Emery got us points in 85 of the 134 games he played in and he had potential to get better. So why was he the only one blamed for our problems?
When he was let go I was somewhat mad as I didn't think he deserved it and I didn't like the idea of letting go a goalie with potential for nothing in return. Especially when part of his salary would be on our books for years to come still. I was even more shocked that not one NHL team would take a chance on him given the desperate need for quality goalies in the league.
He was forced to be humble, sent to the KHL in Russia because they were the only one's offering him an opportunity. He played well, quite well in fact and stayed out of trouble for the most part minus a scuffle with a trainer on the team. Though given the horror stories you read about the KHL I'm more than willing to let that one slide.
He's been back in the NHL for parts of 3 years now, with 3 separate teams taking chances on him. All 3 of them have been contending teams at the time. His number have been solid too since coming back, especially when you consider he currently only makes 600k from Chicago. In his 3 seasons since coming back to the NHL he's played in 65 games, winning 35, losing 21, with 3 losses in OT or a shootout, and 3 shutouts to go along with averages of a .912 sv% and a 2.54 GAA. See anything familiar about those numbers? They're almost identical to his days with the Sens. At 600k he is a bargain for a goalie with those numbers, yet his reputation continues to follow him, so his play goes largely unnoticed and under appreciated.
He's done all of this without any hint of any off the ice trouble. It's safe to say that people can change and that his role in the demise of the Senators was largely exaggerated. It seems like a lifetime ago that he played here, but I'm glad he's doing well and I'm glad I finally get to see him back at SBP finally.
I have only good memories when I think of Ray's time as a Senator and I hope most Sens fans do too. From every one I've ever talked to about the Emery mess, they all shared my point of view as well. I think that for the most part, it was a media created problem that was an easy subject to write about that eventually picked up enough steam, and with the season going down in flames, the loudest guy took the fall. Simple as that. Every good story needs a villain and it was easy to paint Emery with that brush.
But hopefully all that will be forgotten tomorrow night when he steps on the ice he called home for a few great years. He was easily the most exciting personality we've ever had and a will live on in Senators lore for generations to come. I for one have always cheered for him and will continue to do so. Here's hoping that the Sens Army gives him the proper welcome and gives him a standing O when it's time to acknowledge his return. It will be our way of saying sorry.