Wednesday January 30th, 2008

Looks like Ray Emery will have to go without a new suit this week.

The troubled Senators goaltender, owner of a dizzying array of fine men's wear -- but apparently neither an alarm clock nor a day planner -- was dinged nearly $15,000 by his employers on Tuesday after yet again arriving late to a team practice.

The fine, which comes to 1/187th of Emery's salary, was a stern message from GM Bryan Murray, who clearly is tiring of the temperamental act. At least, it was as stern as it could be under the CBA, which is to say, it wasn't much more than a slap on the wrist.

Still, it was a very public rebuke, with an unspoken element of last-chanciness to it. Murray has to hope that element of the reprimand will finally knock some sense into the enigmatic Emery. Because, really, what other option does he have?

After falling short in the Stanley Cup Final last season, Ottawa's stated goal is to win it all now. While Murray's Sens pack sufficient offensive punch to cruise through the preamble, he knows no team captures the Cup without sublime goaltending. That's something he hasn't seen much of lately and he's fully aware that, for all Emery's flaws, he provides Ottawa's best chance of getting it.

And that's really the bottom line here. If the Sens are to complete their journey to the Promised Land, it won't be on the back of Martin Gerber, he of one career playoff win. Twice in the past two seasons, Gerber's team has battled to the Cup final. And each time his coach has shown him a spot on the bench and advised him to keep it warm.

Sure, Gerber was solid this season early on, especially when he won 13 of his first 15 starts while giving up just 28 goals over that span. But his 23-8-1 record reflects more on the firepower of the team in front of him than his own heroics, a fact best illustrated by his 2.64 goals-against average (23rd overall) and .913 save percentage (13th overall). Not bad numbers, but not the sort of Luongo-esque performance that billows a team's sails with confidence.

And Ottawa's goaltending savior won't come riding in on a white horse, either. All the trade talk, particularly the Chicago rumor involving Nikolai Khabibulin, is so much fluff. Murray made it known that he's tried to find help, but there's a very good reason that the teams willing to deal right now are in a position to do so: they have lousy goaltending. And if you think former Cup-winner Khabibulin's the answer, you probably haven't caught his act this season in Chicago. All you need to know is that he's been splitting time with Patrick Lalime, who is best remembered in Ottawa as the last goalie to be run out of town on a rail for his postseason failings.

So it all comes back to Emery, the man who got them to within two wins of the chalice last year, but who has made more news this season for his tardy tendencies, stick tossing and willingness to mix it up with octogenarians over driving habits than he has for his goaltending.

It's obvious that at 25, an age by which most players have figured it out, Emery still has some growing up to do. The guy's clearly self-centered, and more than a bit of a flake, but not so much that it couldn't be forgiven if he could get his game back on track. After all, if every team ditched their goaltender when he became a little loopy, we'd be left with a league of snipers shooting at tiny holes in Score-O boards.

It's a bit apples and oranges, but compare the situation to the one the Boston Red Sox have faced. The team has dealt successfully for years with Manny Ramirez, a player who has raised distraction into an art form, but whose talent has been a key to winning two World Series championships in the past four seasons. The Red Sox clubhouse had leaders like David Ortiz and Jason Varitek who knew when to let Manny be Manny, and when to rein him in.

That's something that Ottawa should have working in their favor. After all, these aren't the Blackhawks or the Coyotes. These are the Senators, a veteran-laden squad that should be no more distracted by Emery's silliness than they would by a boisterous crowd on the road. Their room is filled with character players, men capable of taking charge. It's time for that leadership to manifest itself in no uncertain terms. When he's winning, Ray can be Ray. Until then, lettermen like Daniel Alfredsson and Chris Phillips need to make certain that he gets in line, and fast.

That's really the best case scenario for the Sens at this point. Of course, if all else fails, Murray could threaten to send Emery someplace in the offseason where he's forced to buy his suits off the rack.

That should straighten him up real quick.

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