Ottawa Senators goaltender Ray Emery appears headed for a showdown with his team over his erratic behaviour and a work ethic that head coach John Paddock says is unacceptable.
Emery was sent home yesterday after he showed up at Scotiabank Place five minutes before the start of an 11 a.m. practice, which was open to the public and attended by hundreds of minor-hockey players. It was one day after Emery threw a mini-tantrum at the end of Thursday's morning skate, before Ottawa's game against the New York Islanders.
Officially, the Senators' position is that Emery was sent home because he is sick.
"He got here and wasn't feeling good so I told him not to practise," Paddock said.
Though Paddock was toeing the company line regarding Emery's absence, he did not appear to believe what he was saying. The coach candidly explained that he and Emery disagree over what it will take for him to rebound from off-season wrist surgery and reach the form he had a year ago when he led Ottawa to the Stanley Cup final.
"Anyone who reaches any level wants to play and play lots," Paddock said. "Our difference is over what it takes to get back to playing at the level of one of the top 10 or 12 goaltenders in the league for one of the best teams in the league. That might be where the difference is. It's about how you'll get your game back to the form that led a team to the Stanley Cup final last year."
Emery, who missed most of training camp, has yet to regain his No. 1 status and has sat behind Martin Gerber for seven of the past eight games, including back-to-back wins this week over Buffalo and the Islanders.
Paddock has hinted before about the goaltender's need to pick up his pace at practice but yesterday he could not have been more clear about what he believes is holding Emery back.
"[Emery's]missed too much training camp," Paddock said. "Whether you're a goaltender or a position player ... you have to work hard like anybody does. I just think there has to be more put-out and more energy to get a guy's game back. He could be a lot more confident in the net if he'd spend more time working with [goaltending coach Eli Wilson]... He's going through the motions and everyone's seen it."
Athletes are notoriously coy regarding teammates and most of the Senators chose their words carefully yesterday when asked about Emery.
"Hey, it's cold and flu season," said Dany Heatley to a scrum of incredulous reporters. "I don't think [Emery's absence]is out of the ordinary."
However, captain Daniel Alfredsson agreed that Emery's work ethic at practice has been below expectations.
"If he was our No. 1 goalie right now and we lived and died by him, then it would be a different story and we would expect more from him at all times," Alfredsson said. "But Gerber is our goalie right now. Ray's mission right now is that if he wants to get back in there, he's got to show the coaches he wants to do it."
Paddock suggested there have been issues with Emery's work ethic at practice in the past, but that players who are in a groove often get more slack from coaches than those who are slumping. Additionally, he suggested a goaltender who plays every night isn't expected to work as hard at practice as one who is supposedly trying to play himself back into game shape.
"You put up with a lot when things are going well or a player's on top of his game," Paddock said. "Whatever [Dominik Hasek's]quirks were two years ago, if you're stopping the puck who cares? There's things you close your eyes to for a while but in the end you have to address them.
"If you aren't playing you have to put more into your game. I think he possibly got into the mindset where he was so successful last year ... but it's different this year. It's one thing when you're on top of your game and something else when you're not. We need to get more work out of him. He needs to give us his co-operation and get his game back and we'll go from there."
Paddock's address yesterday was the most public admission yet the Senators have a problem on their hands in the 25-year-old Hamilton native. And yet this is far from the first time Emery has made news for his off-ice behaviour.
Last spring, Emery missed a team flight for a playoff game in New Jersey when he crashed his Hummer SUV on the highway. This past summer, Emery was accused by a senior citizen of threatening to kill him in an alleged road-rage incident.
Ottawa general manager Bryan Murray met with Emery on Thursday to address his actions at practice before leaving yesterday for Europe.