Could Emery soon be a Leaf?
So the Leafs are interested in throwing their hat into the ring as netminding bad boy Ray Emery looks for a new home? Somebody should warn Brian Burke about Razor Rayâ€™s aversion to head gear following his altercation with Atlant Mytishchiâ€™s team trainer Roman Sokolov last month. Yes weâ€™ve all had a good laugh on YouTube at the expense of hockeyâ€™s self destructive answer to Britney Spears but hot of his hat phobia fisticuffs Emery has now walked out on the KHLâ€™s second best team for another far more disinteresting reason.
With the Ruble undergoing considerable devaluation in the current economic climate Emery has accused Atlant of using an erroneous exchange rate that has diminished his annual salary by a third and has subsequently failed to report back to the team following the KHLâ€™s mid season break. It proves what an unflattering first season the KHL is having when the exiled Emery immerges from yet more farce as the maligned party and it also leaves Emeryâ€™s name floating tantalizingly about NHL press boxes. Could Sugar Ray be set for a sensational return to the NHL this side of the trade deadline?
Speaking on Saturdayâ€™s HNIC Hot Stove segment Pierre LeBrun and Al Strachan seem to think so with LeBrun going as far as to say the disgraced goalie has beenâ€ discussedâ€ within the halls of the Air Canada while previous rumors suggest Emeryâ€™s name had been mentioned long before the recent pay scandal. Indeed the subplot to Saturdayâ€™s game with Montreal was the increasing lack of patience regarding the play of Vesa Toskala as the Leafs management try to raise the struggling Finns trade value. With minimal competition from veteran Joseph and rookie Pogge the abject trio has proved an almost permanent cause for discourse and after a idiosyncratically unpredictable period of analysis Burke appears to be ready to make a move.
Shoving a fire cracker under Toskala last week, Burke accused the starter of not practicing hard enough in the second public castration of a Leafs veteran within days. While Toskala has since been solid you get the feeling frustration is building on both sides of the boards as few feel Toskala has a future in Toronto, nor have Alexei Ponikarovsky or Nikolai Antropov, but sustained poor performances from the above, alongside conventionally useful players such as Tomas Kaberle, is forcing Burkeâ€™s hand to shop competitive players who could attract favorable offers; players such as Dominic Moore.
Enter stage left the ever late to practice Ray Emery who at the point of his KHL exit had posted an impressive 1.96 GAA and .931 save percentage on route to 20 wins in 32 appearances. Perhaps talk of Emery is just more motivational pressure from the Leafs upper echelons or perhaps another indication that Toskala is on his way out no matter the cost be it at the trade deadline or through an end of season buyout. But could Emery offer up anything better? Impressive numbers in the KHL are comparable to impressive numbers in the AHL. With a pedigree for souring dressing rooms Emery could well be a step backwards akin to Avery in Dallas and yet talk persists.
Subsequently one can be left to assume two possible scenarios, firstly Burke cannot see the Leafs being able to trade or pickup a bona fide starter either at the deadline or in the off season and would prefer to take the risk on a player that fits into his rough and ready model or secondly Burke sees 2009/10 being as much about rebuilding as this year has been. Few doubt that the renovation process will be complete by the end of this season so the answer must lie in a combination of the two leaving one to wonder how little success Burke has faced treading his compatriot GMâ€™s phone lines.
Conventional wisdom suggests that Emery would serve best as a backup than a go to guy, his final season numbers in Ottawa where as weak as Vesa Toskalaâ€™s this term. That would explain why the Leafs greatest competitor in Emeryâ€™s courtship could be the Calgary Flames who, attracted by the allure of danger, are looking for an experienced hand to keep Kiprusoff fresh for the playoffs. Nevertheless where Emery cleared waivers under a year ago there is bound to be further renewed interest if JP Barry comes a knocking, possibly from the likes of the Islanders who were duped by the Jackets over Wade Dubielewicz.
Conceivably Brian Burke hopes to tap into the skepticism that surrounds the troubled goalie to offer the Leafs as a platform for Emery to prove his naysayers wrong, to be renewed as a starter in the NHL; it would be unlikely he would be served that kind of opportunity elsewhere. Regardless Emeryâ€™s name is as much conjecture as a reality in Leafs nation but it does offer up a worrying approximation of how desperate Brian Burke is with the pieces on the board, while many talk of the Sedinâ€™s could Burke be handcuffed come March 4th?
In the meantime reports suggest the former Senator is back in Russia albeit not between the pipes, Vitaliy Kolesnik has taken over the reigns for Atlant and with a .943 save percentage, 1.65 GAA and 14-5-6 record one wonders if the Leafs would be better of barking up the undrafted ex-Avalanche goalies tree. It seems Emery will prove surplus to requirements for the remainder of the season and as long as Vesa Toskala continues to be the worst starter in the NHL Emeryâ€™s name will loom large along the Toronto grapevines.