Life's a rollercoaster for NHL goalies

A number of NHL-caliber goalies find themselves in search of employment with just a few weeks before training camp.

Consider the plight of an NHL goalie.

The position of goaltender is a tough one. There's constant pressure.

You're the toast of the town, and a hero if the team wins, and the goat and butt of people's jokes if the team loses. There are only 60 jobs in the NHL for a goalie, and with the salary cap in place, the No. 1 guy can count on a pretty healthy dollar sum, but the majority of back-ups collect between $450,000 US and 900,000 per year.  Plus, they rarely have the long term stability of a starter.

Take Ray Emery. He was exiled to Russia last season after numerous on- and off-ice incidents which aided in the collapse of the Ottawa Senators last season and his eventual buyout with the team. He had no suitors last summer from the NHL.

Ray packed his bags and headed off to make some money overseas, get his head screwed on right and prove to NHL GMs that he had learned his lessons.

Then there's Scott Clemmensen's path. He's a career back-up goalie and minor leaguer.

When Martin Brodeur got injured last November, Clemmensen came up from the minors to hold the fort for the New Jersey Devils 3 ½ months while Brodeur recovered from elbow surgery.

Clemmensen played like a man possessed. His play was far superior to veteran Kevin Weekes, and Clemmensen played a large role in getting the Devils into the playoffs and finishing first in the Atlantic Division. 

Clemmensen parlayed his strong year into a three-year, 3.6 million dollar deal with the Florida Panthers. No doubt, we'll see Clemmensen more than the handful of appearances a year he made while backing up Brodeur.

This summer, there are plenty of goalies still out on the open market but few jobs remain available. Job prospects are limited, with the likes of Martin Gerber and Mikael Tellqvist signing in the KHL.

After being Philadelphia's starter last season, Marty Biron has taken a chance with the Islanders on a one year deal for 1.5 million dollars. New York already employs two starting netminders. The team committed to Dwayne Roloson on July 1 to back-up incumbent Rick DiPietro for 2 years and 5 million.

DiPietro, of course still has 12 years to burn off on his record making 15 year contract. Multiple injuries though have prevented the American from making a full impact with the Islanders since the massive contract was signed.

With the salary cap a factor, many teams are going with untested, affordable rookies as their back-ups. That's the route being taken by Boston, Detroit, Chicago, New Jersey and San Jose.

God help these teams if their No. 1 goalie suffers an injury that keeps him out of the line-up for an extended period of time, the way Brodeur was. 

So now it's decision time for NHL-caliber goalies in contract limbo.  Do you go the Ray Emery route and say goodbye to your friends and family, and your way of life in North America and take a chance and play hockey in Russia? 

If it were happening to me, I think I'd suck it up and ride the buses in the American Hockey League. It's a tough pill to swallow for an NHL veteran for sure, but using Scott Clemmensen as the model, if Brodeur hadn't been able to come back in March from his injury and lead the Devils to the playoffs, it would have continued to be Clemmensen's opportunity.

When it's all said and done, hockey players are usually found to say the same thing, there's nothing like playing in the NHL, it's the greatest hockey league in the world and it's every boy's dream to win the Stanley Cup.