One of the better battles to watch in training camps this year has been in Chicago for the back-up goaltending spot. The Hawks went out and gave Ray Emery a professional tryout with the team to see if he could earn a spot behind Corey Crawford this season. It’s a no risk situation for the organization as Emery looks to prove that he he’s more suited for the role than rookie Alexander Salak. If he succeeds, the team can give him a short-term contract and let him prove his worth over the course of the season. If he fails to impress in the preseason, then the Hawks show the door and the move forward with Salak.
There’s no pressure whatsoever for the Hawks. For Emery, on the other hand, he only has a few weeks to prove to Chicago that he’s worth longer commitment. Allowing four goals on fourteen shots in the third period isn’t exactly the impression he wanted to make last night. Even though the goals can be attributed to shoddy defense more than poor goaltending, everyone knows that it’s a work in progress. Emery acknowledged the positives:
“I actually felt better tonight than I did the other night [against the Edmonton Oilers],” Emery said. “I’ve got to try and control rebounds and deflections. I thought it was a tough-luck situation. But you can always find things to improve on.”
Whether the goals were his fault or the teams in front of him, Emery had a bit of a sense of humor about the tough-luck nature of the loss:
“I feel better, my hands are feeling better,” he said. “It’d be nice to see it translate into a game here but you have to get the tough ones out of the way I guess.”
It certainly doesn’t help his cause that Salak has played well this offseason. Salak has only given up one goal while playing half of each of Chicago’s first two preseason games. On the other hand, Emery has given up six goals in about the same amount of game action. Hawks coach Joel Quenneville has already acknowledged that they’ll judge him on more than just a single period, but he’ll only have so many opportunities to impress as Corey Crawford will get some playing time to work into game shape.
So what happens if Salak beats out Emery for the backup spot on the Blackhawks? Emery proved down the stretch last season with the Ducks that he’s certainly capable of playing at the NHL level. Not only did he play well, he (along with Corey Perry), put the team on his back and helped carry Anaheim to home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. He posted a 7-2 record with a .926 save percentage and 2.28 goals against average. Those are the numbers of a man who deserves a shot somewhere.
Many people will remember Emery from his high-profile (and headline grabbing) tenures in Ottawa and Philadelphia. Back then, he was a highly talented goaltender that still had plenty of maturing to do. After a career threatening degenerative hip condition, invasive surgery, and painful recovery process, the present-day Emery bears little resemblance to the man who wore his jersey earlier in his career. There must be a spot in league for a player with his perseverance, right?
If things don’t turn out the way he’d like in Chicago, don’t be surprised if he catches on somewhere else this season. San Jose has its share if injury problems in net with Antti Niemi recovering from a cyst removal and Antero Niittymaki out for twelve weeks. There are always teams looking for veteran back-ups—specifically veterans who don’t cost much money. Look around the league and Emery is a good, proven, cheap option that someone should express interest in.
If nothing else, he deserves a chance to show what he can do in games that count this season. If last year proved anything, it’s that he knows how to battle when the games matter.