Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Ray Emery

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

Ray Emery came into the season vying for a starting goalie job. He was quickly overtaken by Steve Mason on that front. But how did he do once relegated to the backup role?

Ray Emery

Age: 31 (September 28, 1982)
Contract Status: Unrestricted free agent

2013-14 Stats

GP SV % ES SV% PK SV% GSAA*
28 .903 .920 .840 -7.74
Shots Faced Saves Shutouts W-L Goals Against Average
711 642 2 9-12-2 2.96

* Emery's GSAA, or "Goals Saved Above Average", is the difference between the number of goals that Emery gave up and the number of goals that a league-average goalie would have given up in the same number of shots. See here for further explanation and see here for a list of league leaders in the number in 2013-14.

Falling behind early

The Flyers' signing on the first day of free agency last summer that brought Ray Emery back to the team made a lot of sense. Coming off of a really good year as Corey Crawford's backup with the Cup-winning Blackhawks, Emery had been linked to the Flyers before free agency had started, and very shortly after Ilya Bryzgalov was bought out from his deal.

Emery's one-year, $1.65 million deal was a good fit on both sides: Emery was looking for a team to give him at least a shot at a starting gig, and the Flyers were looking for someone to compete with Steve Mason for not a lot of money. At the time of the deal, Emery looked to have the upper hand on the starter's spot, but a friendly competition between him and Steve Mason would hopefully bring out the best in both sides.

Unfortunately, whatever the cause (an iffy preseason for Emery, a strong first few games for Mason), Emery fell into the role of backup/number-two goaltender within the second week of the season. Perhaps Craig Berube thought there was a bigger gap between the two goalies than Peter Laviolette did, given the fact that out of Berube's first nine games as a head coach, Mason started eight of them.

That said, Emery didn't do a ton to help his own case. He gave up four goals in both of his two starts in October. He also gave up four goals in his first appearance in November ... though his performance in that game -- a 7-0 loss to the Capitals -- was more noteworthy for what he did out of the net. Namely, the rather inexplicable decision to skate down the ice in the third period and beat the stuffing out of a rather unwilling Braden Holtby following a line brawl between the two teams.

At that point, Emery was taking a lot more heat for his actions outside of the crease. But his actions as an actual hockey goaltender hadn't been so hot either, and there were legitimate questions about whether or not the Flyers' now-backup could bring much of anything to the table. His side-to-side quickness (or lack thereof) was getting him burned too often, and the occasional real bad goal didn't help matters much either.

Stabilizing the backup position

However, the team began to lean on Emery a bit more in the season's next couple of months, and things started to turn for him. A shutout win over New Jersey and an outstanding showing in a 2-1 victory over Pittsburgh highlighted an excellent remainder of November, and from there it became fairly clear that he would be a key part of the goalie rotation even despite some long runs of consecutive starts by Mason.

Often, backup goalies are trotted out against weaker teams, or teams that don't score a lot. That wasn't the case with Ray Emery this year: of his 21 starts, 14 of them came against eventual playoff teams -- including all five of them after the Olympic break, when he faced a ridiculous stretch of starts that included Chicago, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Boston.

And for the most part, the team's trust in Emery was rewarded. In his 25 total appearances (including 19 starts) following that bad evening against the Capitals in November, Emery put up a .910 save percentage -- not great by any means, but perfectly adequate for a backup. If you exclude one really bad evening in Chicago in December where he let in six goals on 18 shots (a bad game from him, for sure, but also by no means whatsoever all his fault), that number jumps up to .917. That's about as much as you can ask for from your backup, and Emery was able to bring it.

Like any goalie, Emery had his fair share of ups and downs. He had a handful of really good games where he stole the Flyers at least a point if not two -- among those, a 65-minute shutout of the then-Western-Conference-leading St. Louis Blues in April (before a shootout loss, of course) and an outstanding effort in the team's Game 2 win over the Rangers in the playoffs come to mind. He also had some bad outings. Some bad goals squandered a strong team effort in a late-season loss to Tampa that cost the Flyers a shot at home-ice in the playoffs, and he let in a couple goals he'd have liked another chance at in the Flyers' loss to the Rangers in Game 3 of the postseason.

All in all, Emery completed the year with a save percentage of .903 -- towards the lower-end on the performance spectrum even by backup standards. However, his performance in only even-strength situations paint a slightly more optimistic picture, as his .920 save percentage there was just a touch under league average and more than acceptable for a backup.

The discrepancy between Emery's standing at evens and on the penalty kill (an .840 save percentage, third-worst among all NHL goalies who played in at least as many games as him) makes some sense -- Emery's weakness that was exploited most frequently this year was a lack of post-to-post quickness, and teams are able to key in on something like that a bit more easily when there's one fewer defender on the ice. We saw this a lot in the first two games of the series against the Rangers.

But in total I'd say that Emery was pretty much an adequate backup this season, which -- once it became clear that Steve Mason was the full-time starter -- was more or less all the Flyers needed.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Ray Emery and see what we thought could happen with him this year.

Best case...

In an attempt to get a multi-year contract next summer, Emery puts together an effort similar to what he did last season in Chicago. The competition with Steve Mason and a real chance at a starter's spot brings out the best in him, he posts a save percentage around .920, and he gives the Flyers a good option in net.

Worst case...

Asked to start more games than he's had to in a single season in years, Emery falls apart this season, whatever the cause may be -- added pressure, added workload, injury, regression, etc. He and Mason don't push each other to success and the team's goaltending isn't any better than it was last season.

Verdict

With an overall save percentage of .903, Emery's performance probably wasn't quite where the team was hoping it would be when they brought him on last summer. He had more than a few starts that were pretty rough, and in particular his struggles against the power play led to an unflattering set of overall numbers. It seems like his continued recovery from his hip injury has certainly sapped some of his speed, which can bite him if teams key on it (like the Rangers clearly tried to in the playoffs).

That all said, in terms of save percentage, Emery was an improvement over what the team had in its backup goaltender spot for each of the two seasons prior. At even strength he was perfectly adequate, and managed to steal the key game here and there. And while this isn't something I can conclusively prove, I do think that he and Mason had a good relationship, and that Emery being the favorite to take the job coming into training camp helped push Mason to the strong start to the season that he had.

I don't think it's overly likely that Emery is back with the Flyers next year. Even though there's an opening at the team's backup goalie position, my hunch is that the Flyers look to go in a different direction. However, I think Emery's still a capable backup goalie in the NHL, and hopefully he'll get a chance to be that somewhere next season.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Ray Emery's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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