Looking resplendent in his gray-and-white striped suit, new Flyers goalie Ray Emery was not sure where to sit at yesterday's news conference at the Skate Zone in Voorhees.
General manager Paul Holmgren came to his rescue.
"You get the middle one," said a smiling Holmgren as he pointed to a chair between himself and Comcast-Spectacor president Peter Luukko. "The hot seat."
The hot seat is also where the volatile Emery will find himself this season as he tries to end the revolving goaltender situation that has plagued the Flyers for most of the last two decades.
At the news conference, the 26-year-old Emery sounded contrite for his well-publicized misadventures. He also sounded sincere when he said he was thankful to be given a second chance at playing in the NHL, where he spent parts of five seasons with the Ottawa Senators.
"I've learned from those bad experiences, maybe more than I learned from the good times," he said. "I went through a lot the last two years or so. I realize 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 good relationships and enjoying my workplace and the sport because it's a great position to have."
The Flyers said they had agreed to a one-year deal with Emery. The contract, worth about $1.5 million, will become official July 1, when the free-agent signing period starts.
"I don't view it as a big gamble," Holmgren said. "I view it as a real good opportunity, and I have a real strong belief it's going to work out very favorably for us."
Said Emery: "This is a fresh start for me. I'm excited that they're giving me the opportunity. This is a great young team. . . . I came back to a Stanley Cup-contending team. Any goalie in the league would want to play here, so I consider myself lucky."
"I see him adding some competitive fire," Luukko said. "I think that's very important. You know, we did pretty good with a guy named [Ron] Hextall, and I think Ray brings a bit of that element."
In 2006-07, Emery had a superb regular season (2.47 goals-against average, .918 save percentage), sparking Ottawa to the Stanley Cup Finals. But he struggled the next season (3.13 GAA, .890 save percentage) and was involved in several incidents that caused Ottawa to buy out his contract.
There were many confrontations with teammates, and when combined with missed practices, his partying lifestyle and his long list of driving violations, Ottawa was happy to say au revoir.
"Ray achieved a certain success in Ottawa and forgot his roots, forgot how he got there," Holmgren said. "And in the league now, it's so competitive and so good that if you fall asleep at the wheel for a little bit . . . in your work habits, you're going to find yourself in trouble. I think Ray realizes that."
Emery played well in Russia last season but longed to return to the NHL.
"I really appreciate the opportunity I'm being given here," Emery said. "I've lost that opportunity once before, so I have that in the back of my head before I do anything [stupid]."
The Flyers hope that Emery's size (6-foot-2, 196 pounds) will make him tougher around the net than his predecessor, Marty Biron (6-3, 175).
"Sometimes it looks like an NFL line of scrimmage," Holmgren said of the battleground in front of the net. "And the goalie has to fight to see pucks; he has to fight for loose pucks in front of the net, so Ray's competitive fire gives him a distinct advantage in that area."
Coach John Stevens recently spent several hours with Emery. "He was willing to take responsibility for what happened," Stevens said, referring to the player's off-ice problems. "If he wasn't willing to do that, I would be a lot more concerned about the prospect of bringing him in here."
Breakaways. The Flyers are considering re-signing backup goalie Antero Niittymaki. The team also is negotiating with potential free agent Mike Knuble. . . . Emery on Philadelphia: "It's a great city, and the fans are even better. It's the toughest place to come in and play as an opposing player. The fans are wild here and I love that." . . . Emery is the fourth black player in the Flyers' history, following Claude Vilgrain (1993-94), Sandy McCarthy (1998-2000), and Donald Brashear (2001-06).