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Flyers bring skilled goalie Emery back from Russian exile

JEFF CARTER had to laugh, because he knew exactly why he had been summoned to the Flyers' practice rink. His former junior hockey teammate and soon-to-be new teammate, Ray Emery, had reached a 1-year deal with the Flyers for $1.5 million and would be coming in pulling a trailer-sized load of baggage from his stay with the Ottawa Senators.

JEFF CARTER had to laugh, because he knew exactly why he had been summoned to the Flyers' practice rink.

His former junior hockey teammate and soon-to-be new teammate, Ray Emery, had reached a 1-year deal with the Flyers for $1.5 million and would be coming in pulling a trailer-sized load of baggage from his stay with the Ottawa Senators.

"[Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren] asked me a couple of weeks ago if I would be willing to come in," Carter said. "He wanted me to come in and show my support.

"I've know [Emery] through juniors and he figured you guys would have some questions."

Some questions? That was the understatement of the day. Everyone on the face of the NHL planet knows about Emery.

His reputation as a fiery competitor is well-documented. His ability as a goalie was on display in Ottawa from the year they drafted him in 2001 through the Stanley Cup finals in 2007.

But what got Emery more attention were the stories of the incidents on and off the ice during his final season in Ottawa; the fights, missed practices, drop in level of play, speeding tickets, all things that persuaded the Senators to buy out his contract and led to his year of NHL exile in Russia last season.

So Carter was on hand as sort of a character witness, someone to quell the notion that the Flyers have signed a powder keg they ultimately will be unable to control, who will be a detriment.

"The on-ice stuff is just his competitiveness for the game, his just hating to lose coming out," Carter said. "I don't know about any other stuff. But I think it will be good for us, the fire that he brings to the rink every night."

In that there is no question. There is and never has been a problem with a goalie who controls his crease and hates to lose. There really isn't even anything wrong with a goalie who is not afraid to fight, especially in Philadelphia.

But this is different. Emery comes not just with a reputation for being a talented and fierce competitor, but one who comes dangerously close to being hockey's version of Terrell Owens - talented but hard to control.

And in that the Flyers appear to have taken a risk, apparently walking away from unrestricted free agent Marty Biron, the starter of the last 2 years who is looking for an expensive, long-term contract that the Flyers just can't afford right now.

"Where there is perceived risk in business, a lot of times there is great opportunity, and we see this as a great opportunity for the organization and a great opportunity for [Emery]," said Peter Luukko, Flyers president and chief operating officer of Comcast-Spectacor.

"We spent a lot of time with Ray, Paul [Holmgren] has spent a lot of time with Ray, [team chairman] Ed Snider, and myself . . . he had a bump in the road and that bump in the road I personally perceive as a great opportunity for the Flyers."

And also for Emery, who did not miss the chance to express that.

By his own account, Emery's last year in Ottawa was a disaster. He came in out of shape, did nothing to change that and instead of getting better, he got caught up in a whirlwind of controversy.

In his year in Russia, the 26-year-old said he put that behind him, and he is now ready to be back in the NHL.

"First of all, I'm just happy to be here," Emery said. "It's an exciting day for me. As far as the negative questions and the way things ended in Ottawa, for the most part I had a great time in Ottawa.

"We had a good team and in the last year I was there, things obviously took a turn for the worse and there are a lot things I wished I could have changed.

"I can definitely say I've learned from those bad experiences, maybe more than from the good times we had there. I went through a lot in the last year or so, 2 years or so, and I realize that I had a great thing going there and lost a lot of people that I enjoyed hanging out with on a daily basis.

"I want to get back to having those relationships and enjoying the work place and the sport. It's a great position to have and a great job to have and that's the reason I'm going to change because I realize that, those good things far outweigh the mistakes I decided to make in those last days there."

For the Flyers, if Emery really can move beyond his past issues and be the goalie he was for Ottawa, they have made a good decision. They get talent and they get it at a bargain price, one that does not tie their hands at a time when they want the salary-cap room to make some upgrades on defense.

Over five seasons in the NHL with the Ottawa Senators (2002-08), Emery compiled a 71-40-14 record, 2.71 goals-against average, .907 save percentage and eight shutouts over 134 career regular-season games.

He posted an 18-12 record and a 2.46 GAA in 30 career Stanley Cup playoff games, including 13-7 with a 2.26 GAA and three shutouts in 2007 to help lead the Senators to the Stanley Cup finals.

"I really appreciate the opportunity being given to me," Emery said. "I lost that once before and have that in the back of my mind . . . I'm not saying I'm not going to be a fiery guy. I love playing hockey . . . I'm not going to do anything to jeopardize that opportunity and the people giving it to me."

But the Flyers are not foolhardy, and the 1-year term of the deal suggests that Emery will spend this season in Philadelphia under the microscope.

"In talking with [Emery's agent] J.P. Barry, we came to the conclusion that this was the best situation for now, not just for Ray, but for us as well," Holmgren said. "It gives both sides of the table a chance to look at things and see how it goes.

"I have no question about Ray's ability as a goaltender, I believe that he recognizes a good opportunity for him and he doesn't want to disappoint anyone, but moving forward in terms of a long-term relationship, I realize it's probably going to cost more than this 1 year has cost, so we'll move on from there."

Most of this is going to fall on Emery. It will be his job to keep his temper under wraps, to meet team schedules, to drive within the posted speed limits, but a lot of it will fall on the shoulders of Flyers coach John Stevens.

Former Ottawa coach and current Phantoms head coach John Paddock knows firsthand what can happen if Emery spins out of control.

It's part of what cost Paddock his job.

Stevens, however, said he is not worried and has had lots of conversation with Emery about the future.

"I feel good about Ray," Stevens said. "I believe in this guy and I believe that he has learned from his past and I think that part of the fire that we see that gets him in trouble is the fire that makes him a good goalie." *