Rayzer deserved top job from get-go

DON BRENNAN -- Ottawa Sun

, Last Updated: 10:02 AM ET

Arriving at a significant fork in the road last summer, the Senators ignored the obvious and correct route.

They went left instead of right, turning to Martin Gerber when Ray Emery was the man to, at least, start this season as their No. 1 goalie.

Nobody objected much at the time -- probably because the warm July sun had critics either on the golf course or in a mellow, non-hockey state of mind. But they sure deserve to be called on to the carpet for it now.

The decision cost the Senators considerable cap space and ultimately the bucks needed to re-sign Zdeno Chara, who would certainly look good in the extra long No. 3 he wore while growing into one of the NHL's best defencemen. It was a mistake that could also cost them much, much more.

GOT THE JOB DONE

As a rookie last year, Emery showed he could get the job done in the regular season. He set an NHL record for the longest winning streak to start a career (nine in a row). He was also the league's defensive player of the month in March, posting a 12-2-2 record against teams desperately trying to position themselves in the playoffs.

When Dominik Hasek pulled the chute after the Olympics, Emery's steady play helped the Senators finish atop the Eastern Conference standings. One bad post-season game and a 5-5 record in the playoffs was no reason to panic and scramble for a replacement -- especially one that will cost the Senators $11.1 million over the next three years.

Gerber has never proven himself to be worth that kind of coin. No where close. At a ripening 32, he had only been a starter for one full season in the NHL. He had only played in 69 more games than the 24-year-old Emery. His won-loss-tied numbers (55-37-14) were good, but then Emery's 26-11-4 was nothing to sneeze at either.

Last season, Gerber's goals-against average and save percentage were very middle of the road, as he ranked 18th and 17th, respectively. And that was with a Hurricanes team that would go on to win the Cup.

If Ottawa had brought in a proven playoff performer, that would've been another thing. But Emery has had

more post-season experience and success than Gerber, who has appeared in eight games but was the goalie of record for just two (1-1 with a 3.48 GAA).

EXPENSIVE DEAL

Even if Gerber had signed for $2 million a year, it'd be a little easier to swallow. Ottawa would have then had an extra million-plus to offer Chara. But Gerber's making $3.7 million this season and his agent must be laughing all the way to the Swiss bank.

Five games into this season, Emery has outplayed Gerber and shown signs of stealing the No. 1 job from a guy who makes almost four times his $925,000 salary.

The Rayzer should have been The Man from the outset -- and after four more months of experience in that role, had the Senators still not been comfortable with him going into the playoffs, they could have tried to do something at the trade deadline this time.

But at the fork in the road last summer, they turned left instead of right, and finding their way back to the post-season tournament could now be harder than it has ever been.


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