Have The Flyers Found The Razors Edge?

When the Flyers signed  former Ottawa Senators goalie Ray Emery earlier this month, two questions came to mind - what took them so long and how long will the marriage last?

Ray Emery at the age of 26 stands alone on an island – hockey’s goal crease. He is the last line of defense and the gate. Any individual between his opponent and pay dirt should be hell to get through – in the NBA it comes in the form of Dwight Howard, the NFL produces Ed Reed. This isn’t to say that Emery is the NHL’s best but for his position, he can hold his own…literally.

The Philadelphia Flyers are historically known for their physical play – be it the Broad Street Bullies of the 1970′s or the Dave Browns or Tim Kerrs of the 1980′s no one wanted any part of coming to South Philly. From the late 1980′s to mid 1990′s there was one player that was the face of enforcement for the Flyers… goalie Ron Hextall.  In my eyes Emery is Ron Hextall and I truly believe Flyers GM Paul Holmgren (a former teammate of Hextall) had Hextall in mind when acquiring Emery.

There are similarities between Hextall and Emery - both are fiery emotional players unafraid to mix it up with opposing players, or Emery’s case even his own. Both even led their teams to the Stanley Cup Finals very early in their careers. But it is their differences that cause intrigue in a city that hasn’t won a Stanley Cup in almost two generations.

Ray Emery lives a Diddyesque lifestyle in sport ill prepared for someone engrossed in the Hip Hop culture. The tattoos, several (his nickname “Razor” across his chest) and hanging out with celebrities is something that has made the NHL very uncomfortable.  Being a Black goalie in the NHL is not the issue concerning Emery, some of his perceived behavior is. After reading up on Emery, I sense fear and reluctance on the part of the NHL to deal with Emery and anyone else of color that resembles his personality. While most NHL players are laid back guys Emery is out and about and what do you expect from a 26 year-old athlete? It seems that the major sports leagues have come to the conclusion that this is the way of the world for today’s athletes.

It’s time for the NHL to fall into line.

File:Ray Emery mask.JPG

An incident involving Emery in 2006 shows how far the NHL has to go in terms of dealing with it’s players born during or after the Reagan Administration. Emery had his goalie mask painted (as all goalies do, it normally depicts the city or something/one inspirational to the goalie) with the image of Mike Tyson, after speaking to the Ottawa Senators’ brass, they came to a “mutual” understanding that Tyson’s image on the mask was inappropriate for hockey because his conviction as a rapist. Emery has since had Muhammad Ali and Floyd Mayweather painted on his mask. It’s apparent that the NHL is trying to avoid the image issues that have affected the NFL, NBA, and MLB. Prevention is one thing, ignorance is another.

Emery’s incidents range from missing practice to fights with teammates in practice, he has also been known to be late and in some cases absent from practice. These issues raised flags following the 2006-07 season in which Emery led the Senators to the Cup Finals and signed a three year 9.5 million dollar deal the following year. Trade rumors surfaced but there were no takers for Emery. Following seasons end it was announced that Emery would not be on the Senators 2008-09 roster. Emery would play with Atlanta in the Moscow league this past season, that would end in Emery disputing his salary at mid-season and a run-in with the team trainer.

The blackball was in full motion.

On one hand there’s Todd Bertuzzi who (then-Vancouver Canucks) ended Steve Moore’s career with a blatant cheap shot, and got away with basically a 20-game suspension, he was allowed to play on team Canada during the 2006 Winter Olympics and has since become a sympathetic figure in the NHL. On the other you have an upstart goalie who has had maturity issues that he has put behind him and only one team in the league was willing to take a chance on him. He’s not a bad goalie, his .902 doesn’t make him Bernie Parent but he isn’t Garth Snow either.

If one thing has kept the Flyers from winning the Cup in recent years it’s been the breakdown at goalie in the playoffs. They’ve never been quite the same since Hextall’s departure. Help at the defenseman spot has been a lingering issue as well. Without making many moves this off-season, the additions of Emery and defenseman Chris Pronger may be the cure for its aling fanbase.

7 Responses to “Have The Flyers Found The Razors Edge?”

  1. Patrick says:

    Brotherreport,

    I am not going to lie, but I am not really much of a hockey fan and just recently I was able to sit through two consecutive soccer matches and didn’t go to sleep, but soccer games did keep my interest this particular time when the U.S. team faced Brazil and Spain.

    I was reading your piece about Ray Emery, and there is a little side story about his time in Ottawa in regards to the type of hockey mask he wore..

    ……”On January 30, 2006, Emery was the target of many critics as a result of a design which was painted on his goalie mask. Emery, an avid boxing fan, wore a mask with a picture of Mike Tyson painted on it.The mask attracted controversy due to Tyson’s reputation, notably his past rape convictions. After speaking to the Senators’ management, Emery decided not to wear the mask as they both felt it was inappropriate for hockey.He would wear the Tyson mask for only one game, a 5–0 loss against the Boston Bruins.During the 2006 NHL playoffs, Emery wore a new mask featuring Canadian heavyweight boxer George Chuvalo.In the 2007-2008 season Emery’s mask also featured Muhammad Ali. Emery finished the season off with Floyd Mayweather on his mask….”

    Well, the only reason I bring that up is that recently the Atlanta Thrashers recently drafted 17 year old Evander Kane over the weekend. If I am not mistaken Kane is the Thrasher’s first black player–ever. Then Waterloo, Iowa-Forward Jordan Samuels-Thomas was the SECOND black player in one day to be drafted.. (I was shocked…) The Thrashers have struggled on the ice (only made the playoffs once since its inception) and their attendance has been down since they have been here, so I guess ownership is thinking outside the box with the drafting of Evander Kane (especially selecting him 4th overall) –and it similar to when David Justice replaced Dale Murphy and Vick was drafted in 2001.

    Will Evander Kane have the same impact as a Vick did with the Falcons?

    “You’re going to look good next to Ilya Kovalchuk,” general manager Don Waddell told Kane right after taking him with the No. 4 overall pick in the first round of the NHL draft Friday.

    http://www.ajc.com/sports/content/sports/thrashers/stories/2009/06/26/thrashers_draft_kane.html

    As for the origin of Mr. Kane’s first name, Evander, his father was a huge BOXING FAN just like Emery, and the father and grandfather was a big fan of Evander Holyfield (Atlanta native) and was given the name when he was born in the early 1990′s.

    I don’t know if Evander will be hockey’s version of Terrell Owens or Michael Vick, but I was struck by your comment you made in your piece…

    …”I sense fear and reluctance on the part of the NHL to deal with Embry and anyone else of color that resembles his personality. While most NHL players are laid back guys Embry is out and about and what do you expect from a 26 year-old athlete? It seems that the major sports leagues have come to the conclusion that this is the way of the world for today’s athletes….”

    NHL is the most conservative, least diverse (and least profitable) of all the professional sports leagues. However, they have always wanted to be part of the sports mainstream and be more relevant. Tiger Woods brought more attention to golf, not necessarily diversity. And maybe the acceptance of more and more black players is a sign that more and more general managers are willing to be more open-minded that inclusion is a better long-term strategy (financially and globally) than trying to exclude, limit or restrict players of color from having an impact of the sport.

  2. I don’t think the NHL is trying to exclude Black players at all, I do feel that once they get there there will be a more magnified scope on these players as opposed to any other sports league,

  3. Patrick says:

    The word ‘exclude’ was too tough of a word to use. I take that back.

    Could Evander Kane be the next Jarome Ignila? I believe they both play the same position of power forward. It seems the potential is there for Evander.

    Ignila is also an ambassador with the NHL Diversity program, which supports youth hockey organizations that offer economically disadvantaged kids the opportunity to play.

    Evander is only 17, but once he gets established and becomes successful, it would be cool to see Kane emulate some of the off-the-ice projects that Jarome has established in Calgary.

  4. clowntooth says:

    The culture of hockey is an interesting (if sometimes unappealing) one in that it’s probably the most corporate of the major sports. Perhaps because the NHL is dominated by white Canadians from farm towns, it’s the least tolerant of blatant displays of ego, and even personal style. NHL players don’t drive Hummers; Ray Emery does (or did).

    This intolerance comes partly from the violent nature of the sport; behavior on or off the ice that’s taken exception to by the opposition is punishable by revenge attack on one of your teammates. (See the Bertuzzi incident.) David Stern and the NBA have been infinitely more panicky in their reactions to black style or hip hop style than the NHL, which isn’t to suggest that the Ottawa Senators’ reaction to Emery’s mask wasn’t misguided by racist principles. He was encouraged to replace the Tyson image, but did get away with Muhammad Ali, which isn’t half bad.

    I’d love to see more black players in the NHL. It’s a league filled with pretty bland personalities, especially in the context of other, distinctly American, sports like basketball and football. Get more Americans playing hockey and hopefully we’ll start to see some more black players and superstars in the NHL. Canadian small towns are still probably whiter than those of the American mid-West…

  5. Temple3 says:

    TBR:

    I’m not sure I see your point about Emery with respect to bias from the league. Why would a professional sports league promote the visual cannonization of a convicted rapist (regardless of the circumstances of that case)? It seems foolhardy. I can understand Emery’s identification with Tyson (on many levels), but the NHL was well within their rights to suggest another direction.

    Now, would they hold someone else to the same standard? That’s debatable. After all, the US glamorizes the rapist Thomas Jefferson every chance it gets. It does the same thing with Woody Allen. Canada is not the US — so maybe they have a higher ethical standard :)

    —-

    With respect to save percentage, if Emery played a generation ago, I’d say you were right on. The problem is that the game has changed. The rules have changed. There are 22 active goalies with a higher save percentage. So, this may be part of the reason why Emery is not the object of everyone’s desire. I’m not saying he’s a buster (clearly not that), but his performance has been outdone by many others at least on a night in-night out basis. He has to improve.

    Racism, as we should all know by now, is sustained by its ability to reward mediocre white folks and buy their ongoing endorsement and complicity. The folks at the top use this and other -isms to dole out patronage (just like the Communists did with their “Party.) So, Emery has to be more attractive than a mediocre white goalie… no news there.

    When Ottawa went to the Finals, he was TIGHT. .918 save percentage; 2.47 GAA. Giguere was much better though in the post-season. It happens.
    ————

    As for Flyers lack of success since the Hextall days…I’ve got to say that I think two issues were at least as important as goaltending. I am aware that a HOT goaltender can cure ALL ills in the playoffs. With that said, the Flyers post-Hextall teams often had a number of older players (LeClair, Recchi, Primeau, Roenick, etc.) These guys were excellent players, but they had their hands full keeping up with younger squads — whether it was New Jersey or Ottawa or someone else.

    Also, these Flyers, for all their size had a weak spot — Eric Lindros. The Devils’ Scott Stephens made a point of making sure that Lindros NEVER hurt the Devils. Boom, crush, bam!!! Season over. The Devils were tougher than the Flyers and whooped that ass on a regular.

  6. Temple3 says:

    Patrick:

    I’m willing to bet that the Tiger Woods Effect in golf is just beginning. Woods reached prominence around the time he turned pro in 1996. I’m not going to say that kids ran out and picked up clubs right away — but I believe there were more than a few folks who said, “If he can do it, I can do it.” I think you’re going to see a few “mini-explosions” of Black and brown and other golfers in the next few years all over the country. I’m fairly certain some of these kids are already doing their thing in states where access and the climate cooperate.

    It takes about 10 years to develop a “world-class” proficiency. It’s coming.

  7. michelle says:

    I think the NHL has welcomed black players with open arms. Just not something we do too much. I’m a huge fan. I’m a Flyer’s fan and am happy about Ray’s signing along with Pronger. Ray and Chris will add some much needed sponk and muscle to the Flyers squad.

    Nice piece TBR!!!! You aren’t showing any signs of rust.

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