by SENShobo on 10/29/10 at 02:25 PM ET
As far as anyone can tell, no NHL player has come back from the type of hip surgery the 28-year-old underwent in April. Diagnosed with avascular necrosis, essentially the top of the ball in his right hip deteriorated to its core, Emery underwent an elaborate operation that featured bone grafted from his lower leg being inserted in the ball of his hip. In the past, his condition would have necessitated a full hip replacement but this very specialized procedure avoided that.
“Usually when you have this type of thing done, they just want you to walk again,” Emery told ESPN.com Thursday during a break in his rehab in downtown Toronto. [...] “The doctor was understanding of what I wanted,” Emery said. “I told him that I could care less if I can’t walk in five years, but I want just want to play hockey for five years.” [...] “It gave me a chance to chill out and take stock of things,” Emery said.
Could it be that Emery has come a long way since eating a cockroach on a dare, nearly missing team flights, let alone team meetings? Could it be that he’s found a glimmer of that which every team seeks, and which Ottawa always seems to completely pass over?
Having to find work in Russia two seasons ago in the KHL was the first dose of reality. But now his career was hanging by a thread after his surgery and painful recovery.
“This is something I love to do and I don’t want to take it for granted,” Emery said. “You can look at this as a bad thing or you can look at it as a chance to really realize that you should give it all you got because it’s not over yet. Give it your best to get back at it.” [...] “I appreciate what I’ve been afforded in playing a game for a living,” Emery said. “I’ve had a lot of bumps along the road that were partially self-inflicted and partially just a bit of bad luck. But I’m definitely not going down without a fight.”
I would not advocate bringing Emery back, let me start by saying that; we would never want a repeat of Yashin’s post-holdout season.
But it has been a problem in Ottawa for as long as they’ve been a team: players who never showed that they were playing for the team, the fans, or anything more than a piece of paper every week with a bunch of zeroes on it. Emery showed every sign of belonging to that group while he wore the centurion, even as he might now finally get what he never could understand before.
Maybe that has changed, and Emery now sees the big picture, sees that to succeed and in his case overcome the worst kinds of adversity, you need something that never shows up on a scoresheet.
No one will forget Daigle, when being drafted first overall by the Senators, saying that nobody remembers no.2, least of all Burke and his pick, Chris Pronger. The rookie salary limits come directly from that very forgettable player’s exorbitant deal, which he could never match with passion on the ice, commitment to all aspects of the game, or results that would keep him in the NHL.
All the more ironic that the deal would upset Yashin, Ottawa’s other disaster of a pick. Far more talented, he too let the team down when he held out, wanting a renegotiation of his contract, failing to live up to the character expected of a captain. Once Milbury traded for him and handed him a deal a decade ago that would still eclipse the salary of Crosby, his game would fall too.
What makes Ottawa find such things in its stars? In hastily rushing to sign Redden, rather than Chara, or than wait to work with both on a way to keep them both in Ottawa, management brought Chara to tears, and chose a player who couldn’t live up to the commitment even before the contract was signed.
I won’t even get into Heatley, Corvo, or the issues with the younger Nikulin, but Meszaros offers an even more pointed example. Also seeking loads of money without ever panning out as the team hoped he would, he was traded to Tampa. However, had Murray gone toe to toe and forced an offer sheet to come down, had Tampa been able to reacquire their 3rd round pick to make it, Ottawa may well have had the chance to take anyone at the 2009 draft not named Tavares.
That would include a now well-known Matt Duchene. As the Kings took Doughty despite some rating Bogosian higher in the 2008 draft, they got a player who had always wanted to play for the Kings. Duchene admitted that he would draw the Avalanche logo as a child, and as a rookie last year showed every shift how valuable that kind of intagible connection and dedication can be. Heck, if Toronto hadn’t traded for Kessel, himself disillusioned with Boston and a leader only on the scoresheet for the Leafs, they could have had Seguin, an admitted childhood fan of the Leafs.
You can’t always know for sure what you’re getting when you draft a player, nor can you know for sure that Hasek will throw more passion into the Olympics, where he was injured, than he threw into the team, in a year when they could have arguably gone as far or beyond where they did a year later in falling to Anaheim. But it’s with the few Alfredssons out there that a team has to make its stand. You avoid those who couldn’t care less about the crest on their jersey, especially those who show it publicly, but you cannot let go of the players who realize they play for the guys in the stands as much as those on the bench (and the one in Barbados).
You can’t afford that in a town that wants to win and breed success. You can’t afford that in a town where half your divisional rivals have their jerseys more well represented in the stands and their jeers more thickly muffling the air when they visit your rink.
The Senators might once have had a guy like that, when Detroit almost traded Yzerman to Ottawa for a package highlighted by Yashin. But Yzerman proved as he always does that he was exactly that kind of character off the scoresheet and away from the rink that he managed to stay, and the rest is history.
A guy like Yzerman, stories like Seguin’s, Duchene’s, and Doughty’s, they can’t be transferred to any of the other 29 teams, and that’s why you have to hold on to them and those who show that extra element missing from the rest with every ounce of strength you have. Alfredsson, for Ottawa, marks one case of that which will come to an end in a few seasons; the team can’t let it be the last.
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