Who’s Out: Martin Biron (New York Islanders), Antero Niittymaki (Tampa Bay Lightning), Scott Munroe (New York Islanders)
Who’s In: Ray Emery (Atlant-Mytischi, KHL), Brian Boucher (San Jose Sharks), Johan Backlund (Timra, Elitserien)
Who Will Shine: Ray Emery, Goaltender
- Feuds with police, fights with Canadian pedestrians, brawls with Trainers of former teams – yeah, Ray Emery’s seen his fair share of negativity in the spotlight. However, let’s not forget his positives: in ’06-’07, Emery staged a 33-16-6 record in leading the Ottawa Senators to the Stanley Cup Finals, and last year he won 22 games as a KHL “Rookie”, and appeared in the league’s all-star game. That being said, it’s pretty obvious that this season can be summed up by one phrase for “Ray-Zor”: Do, or Die. If Emery chooses the first of those two options, he will resurrect what many considered to be a dead career, and instantly include the Flyers amongst the favorites for the Stanley Cup in the upcoming season. If he chooses to “die”, his NHL career will be over, and he likely will not be a Flyer by season’s end. So, which Emery will we see? Well, judging by the category I’ve placed him in, it’s safe to say I believe we will see a new Emery in ’09-’10. He knows that this is the cross-roads of his career, and he knows that the Flyers have done what many other teams were too hesitant to do: give a “headcase” a second chance. How will Emery perform? The truth of the matter is that Emery doesn’t have to be great this year, he merely has to be good. He has a juggernaut of a defensive unit in front of him, and if the preseason is any indication, he will likely see only 25-28 shots a night, meaning that he will just have to manage games for the Flyers, not win them. Emery certainly is capable of standing on his head and taking the Flyers deep into this year – he has done it once in his career as I mentioned earlier in this post – but I want to re-emphasize a simple point here: he won’t have to. Why do I choose him as the player who I believe will shine in ’09-’10, you ask? It’s simple: a successful season by the Flyers equals a successful season by Emery. If the Flyers go out this season, gain 100+ points, finish in the top four spots in the Conference, and have a long playoff run, Emery will be hailed as the next Flyer goalie. It won’t matter if his statistics are average in comparison to the league’s other top netminders, and it won’t matter if he’s nominated for the Vezina Trophy (NHL’s Best Goaltender) or not. If the Flyers are successful with Emery in between the pipes, regardless of the degree to which Emery is responsible, he will be re-signed and kept here as the goalie for some time. You know what? If their winning games and Emery’s helping out the team, then who can honestly argue with that?
Who To Keep An Eye On: Johan Backlund, Goaltender
- Let me make something clear on this: Johan Backlund will not be a Flyers regular this season unless something either goes wrong with the Emery-Boucher tandem, or the injury bug bites one of the two (Boucher actually is hurt right now, so Backlund likely will make the trip to Carolina). Another item of business to clear up: Johan Backlund is NOT the re-incarnation of Pelle Lindbergh. It’s silly to think that just because Backlund is a Swedish goaltender – albeit, he is rather talented – he draws comparison to arguably the best ‘keeper to come out of Sweden in the past thirty years, and possibly ever. Lindbergh busted onto the scene with the Flyers in a big way, gaining NHL All-Rookie Team honors in ’82-’83 and made consecutive All-Star Games as well as garnering the Vezina Trophy all before his untimely death at the age of 26. Getting back to Backlund, he will never be the next Pelle. What he can be, however, is Johan Backlund. When I say that, I mean that he can write his own chapter of Flyers Swedish goaltending lore, when he gets the shot with the Big Club. However, if this pre-season is any indication, Backlund has a long way to go to get to the pinnacle of professional North American hockey. After spending his whole previous career overseas, Backlund has shown sparks of a talented keeper during points of the pre-season, but also has looked lost and rattled at times between the pipes. Last night, he entered the game against the Minnesota Wild a 3-1 lead for the Flyers, only to stop 11 of the 14 shots he faced, blowing the Flyers’ lead in the process and ultimately resulting in a shoot-out loss, in which three Wild shooters found the back of the net. Obviously, it’s very early, and every-day time in the Adirondack mountains will be extremely beneficial to Backlund. However, how long will it take him to get a grasp on the NHL game? The answer is not known at this point, but have no fear, this talented net-minder will find his niche as soon as he gets a grasp on the North American style of play.
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: the Flyers goaltenders do not have to be amazing this season. Their defense is incredibly solid, and their forwards can score at will. The goaltenders on this Flyers team strictly need to be good. They don’t have to win games, they have to manage games and keep the Flyers in them by saving shots they should save. They likely won’t be peppered as Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki were in years past, because this defensive unit will have opponents thinking twice about bringing the puck towards the front of the net in the offensive zone.
Ray Emery will have to get his head on straight this year for the Flyers to be successful. He lives a very flashy life-style, which is often mis-construed by the media. Living in Philadelphia won’t help his cause out too much, as he will be consistently hounded by the press. I attended his Press Conference and he truly was heartfelt in saying that he appreciates the Flyers giving him that all-important “Second Chance” and that he is more than eager to prove to not only the Flyers, but to the rest of the NHL that he is still an elite goalie. When I heard him speak these words, and listened to the sincerity in his voice that June day, there was no bone in my body that didn’t believe Emery wasn’t serious. He’s looked solid in the pre-season, and off the ice it’s been so far, so good for Rayzor. Being an intense player, it’s hard to believe this season won’t come and go without a few bumps on Emery’s behalf. For the sake of the Flyers organization and their fans, let’s just hope their minor.
2009-2010 will also mark the return of the second best stadium chant behind the old “FALLOOOOOOOOON” chants that ran through the Spectrum walls when winger Pat Falloon used to don the Orange and Black. Of course, I’m referring to the free-agent signing of Brian Boucher and the “BOOOOOSHHH” chants that will surely be reverberating through the Wachovia Center walls many times over the course of this season. Boucher is comfortable being back in the city where his career took off, and it’s shown. He’s one of the loosest guys in the locker room, and hasn’t been shy at all to talk to Ray Emery and help him with anything he has desired. Having a capable, well-liked back-up ‘keeper like Boucher will only add more chemistry to the Flyers’ Dressing Room this season. The fact that he knows his role, and isn’t looking to overrun Emery, just help the young netminder out, will add more confidence to Emery’s game, as well.
As far as this season’s concerned, it’s a whole new slew of talent between the pipes. Marty Biron couldn’t work out a deal with the Flyers, and found a home in goaltender-abundant Long Island with the division rival New York Islanders. Antero Niittymaki had been rumored to be out before last season even came to a close, and after apparently signing with the KHL, he changed his mind and will remain in the NHL this year with the Tampa Bay Lightning, where he will likely compete very aggressively for his first ever NHL starting job. So, that leaves the Flyers. With Niitty and Biron out, Ray Emery and Brian Boucher come in. It’s a different duo, both physically and emotionally. Biron was seldom emotional on the ice, more of a talker off it. Chances are Emery won’t be one to hold back his emotions during gameplay. Niitty barely spoke English, and often was too quiet in times when he needed to be more passionate. No worries on that front this year, as Boucher is an American (hails from Woonsocket, RI), and is always willing to chat it up with anybody, anywhere. When it comes to this season, it’s about managing games, not winning them. Emery and Boosh know that. They will be buying into that creed all year, and hopefully it will translate into the ultimate goal in June.