Goalie Brian Boucher leaves one pressure cooker (San Jose) for another (Philly)

July, 3, 2009

I had to circle back today to a transaction that occurred in the madness of July 1: Brian Boucher signing a two-year, $1.85 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers.

There were too many Marians and Mikes receiving big paydays that day to really absorb the Flyers' second goalie acquisition of the offseason.

But I remember having a bit of a chuckle when I saw the Flyers' release. Less than five weeks ago I interviewed Boucher for a column on the carousel of goalies in Philly over the past 20 years, and he was quite insightful on the subject. Never did I realize he yearned to go back for more punishment from those goalie-eating fans!

"It is a tough place to play, but you know, the fan base is passionate," Boucher, 32, told ESPN.com on Friday. "Is there pressure to play there? Sure. But at the same time, as an athlete, those expectations lead to excitement around the team. When it goes well, it's great; when it goes bad, it's not so great."

Looking back at that column in February, one realizes Boucher had a pretty positive perspective on his first go-around in Philly, the first three seasons of his NHL career in which he went 46-38-12-3 with a 2.45 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.

"I have good memories there. It's not like I dread going back there," Boucher said from his offseason home in Rhode Island. "I really do like Philly a lot. I would not have signed there if I didn't like it. It's a good team right now. The East is tough, but I think Philly is a team now with [Chris] Pronger and [Kimmo] Timonen on the back end. Those are two of the most solid D-men to have, plus a good young core around that. It's exciting."

He returns where he began his career exactly a decade ago, but he's a different netminder.

"I feel like I'm a better goalie now than I was 10 years ago," said Boucher. "I feel like I've learned a lot. Sometimes you don't have the evidence or the stats to back that up, but it's what you feel. I feel like I'm way more knowledgeable on and off the ice now. And I don't feel like my body is banged up. I don't feel old. I still feel like I'm in my 20s."

Boucher was solid last season when Evgeni Nabokov was injured for a stretch and overall went 12-6-3 with a 2.18 goals-against average and .917 save percentage for San Jose. Just where he fits in now with the Flyers will be interesting to watch. Newly acquired Ray Emery will be given every chance to be the No. 1 man after returning from Russia, but the Flyers added some important insurance in Boucher.

His exact role has yet to be discussed.

"I didn't need any assurances or guarantees or anything like that," said Boucher. "It's just the case where I feel I can be an asset there in any capacity they want to use me."

Boucher said he hasn't had any conversations with the Flyers about playing time. He just signed the contract and put a smile on his face. He's happy to be back no matter what's in store for him.

"I'm going to come in ready and hope to push," he said. "I think Ray probably wants to come in wanting to re-establish himself as a bona-fide NHL No. 1 guy. For me, my expectations are not so grand as far as my ambition just being an asset to that club in any way. If that means playing a lot of games, I'll do that. If it means spot duty, I'll do that. If it means to be ready at all times, I'll do that. If it means being good in the locker room and supportive, I'll do that. Winning is paramount for me right now in my career. I feel I can be a real asset to the Flyers going forward and give them a chance to be a winner."

The interview could not end without touching on the Sharks. Once again, a great regular season was followed by playoff frustration. Boucher saw it firsthand two seasons in a row.

"Yeah, you know, it's hard to pinpoint what was the problem," said Boucher. "The only thing that I come back to is that we had such a good start to the season; the first 50 games, I think we set NHL records for our start or whatever. And I think that ended up hurting us in the end. We kind of hit some adversity in the last 2-3 months of the season. It was almost too easy at the beginning and we didn't seem to know how to handle the adversity in the end.

"When you're going into the playoffs, you need to be playing your best hockey. It's almost like we were trying to regroup at that point. We didn't get it done and now there will be changes and guys looking into the mirror."

Boucher left one pressure cooker for another, and he wouldn't want it any other way.

Pierre LeBrun

ESPN Senior Writer




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