Does Steve Mason Spell the End for Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly?

Does Steve Mason Spell the End for Ilya Bryzgalov in Philly?

The Flyers lost out on Ryane Clowe, who wound up going to
the New York Rangers. They sat on their hands as Jaromir Jagr was shipped off
to the Boston Bruins. And according to reports, they were beat out for
26-year-old netminder Ben Bishop, who the Ottawa Senators wound up sending to
the Tampa Bay Lightning instead.

The Flyers did not come away empty-handed at the trade
deadline however, nor without a goalie, sending Michael Leighton and a
third-round pick in 2015 to Columbus in exchange for Steve Mason. With that, it
didn’t take very long for speculation to swirl over the future of one Ilya
Bryzgalov, because of course it didn’t.

Mason, 24, has been trending downward ever since his stellar
rookie season in 2008-09 when he led the NHL with 10 shutouts. He played just
46 games last season – the lowest total of his career – and finally surrendered
the starting job to Sergei Bobrovsky this year, posting a 3-6-1 record with a
2.95 goals against average and .899 save percentage.

Some have described it as ironic that the Flyers traded for
Bob’s backup. The real irony here is that they had to trade a goaltender
(Leighton) for goaltender help. But I digress.

Despite the fact that Mason has been increasingly less
impressive as the years have gone by, the natural leap is this acquisition sets
the team up to amnesty Bryzgalov in the offseason. This is fueled by several
factors, chiefly that there is some dissatisfaction with Bryz’s performance and
contract, but also that the Flyers were chasing young goalies at the deadline
to begin with.

There’s also the matter of Mason’s contract. He’ll become a
restricted free agent this summer, when at that time if the Flyers would like
to retain the player’s services they must render a qualifying offer that
matches his salary of $3.2 million, with a contract length of up to two years.

When combined with Bryzgalov’s average salary of $5.67 million,
that would be almost $9 million tied up in goaltending for the next two seasons.
That sounds like a lot.

So  a case can be made
that the Flyers are preparing to separate from Bryz, and the first step was to
acquire a cheaper option, in this case a salvage project. Paul Holmgren didn’t
exactly pour cold water all over the possibility, either. The general manager
told reporters the organization views Mason as part of the future.

“We see him as one of our two goalies, not only the rest of
this year, but moving forward," Holmgren said. "We’ll just leave it
at that for now.”

Then again, Homer was also optimistic they could reach a
deal with Mason that would pay him less than the value of the qualifying offer.
If that were true, it changes the dynamics quite a bit.

The Flyers have had to learn the hard way about going cheap
on a backup. We understood the reasoning behind it, that being Bryz is a goalie
who commands a lot of ice time, and they were up against the salary cap as
usual. Unfortunately it’s backfired. Head coach Peter Laviolette literally could
not afford to use Leighton or Brian Boucher, so Billy will be starting his 20th
straight game on Wednesday.

This trade may very well boil down to nothing more than
filling an obvious need. There’s even evidence to support that line of thinking.
Ed Snider defended Bryzgalov as recently as this past weekend, essentially
absolving the maligned netminder of the club’s issues.

“I don't think Bryzgalov has been the problem,” Snider said.
“I mean, he's had to face so many breakaways and 2-on-1s where we turn over the
puck suddenly. I think it's the team. I think we're fine in goal.”

Digging even further into the theory that ownership stands
behind Bryz is the reality that Snider wanted Homer to put an end to the goalie
carousel in Philly once and for all. You can argue whether signing the
cosmonaut to a nine-year deal – not to mention his 15-14-3 record, 2.81 GAA,
and .900 SV% this season – has truly accomplished that or not, yet where
exactly does Mason fit in with that vision?

Not to rule out the organization using amnesty on Bryzgalov
completely, if for no other reason than the Flyers might not wish to cut him
checks up to his 40th birthday, but this move doesn’t quite lend the appearance
that is indeed their intent. Bryz’s salary is not as excessive as many people
like to make it seem (8th in average salary among goalies this year), and the
front office doesn’t believe he’s the problem.

We shall see. As for the trade itself, it’s no blockbuster,
but certainly wise to pick up somebody that might be able to give Bryzgalov a
breather. Meanwhile, Mason flashed serious potential early in his career, so
who knows what could happen if he can recapture it. I’m just not convinced you’ll
ever see that for Philly on any kind of regular basis.

Flyers acquire goalie Steve Mason from Columbus [CSN]

>> Flyers trade for goaltender Steve Mason [Frequent

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In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

In long-awaited NBA debut, Joel Embiid treats Sixers fans to a show

The crowd erupted as Joel Embiid stepped to the free throw line. They chanted a phrase Embiid has been repeating for the past two years, a fitting welcome to his NBA debut.

“That was great,” Embiid said after the Sixers' 103-97 loss to the Thunder on Wednesday (see Instant Replay). “That’s my motto, 'Trust the process.'”

After two years of rehabbing foot injuries, Embiid has his first regular season game behind him. Embiid scored a team-high 20 points, shooting 6 for 16 from the field, 1 for 3 from long range and 7 for 8 from the line. He also recorded seven rebounds, two blocks, four turnovers and four fouls in over 22 minutes. 

“The beginning I was nervous, but once you make that first shot it just goes away,” he said. “The fans were so into the game that it was fun. I love having fun.”

Brett Brown enjoyed watching Embiid on the court as much as he liked being on it. Brown has seen the 7-foot-2 center grow and develop during his rehab. Finally, he was able to utilize his versatile skills in a real game setting.

“I can't say this loud enough,” Brown said. “For the city to be rewarded with a player that we all understand has unique gifts, special gifts, for him to go through all the things he has been through and play like he did on opening night, the city deserves it. Most importantly, he deserves it.”

Now that Embiid has been cleared to play, he would like to do so for longer periods of time. He began the preseason at 12 and was increased to 20 in segmented spurts for opening night. Even though he exceeded that limit by over two minutes, Embiid is itching to be cleared to play more extensively. 

“It sucks,” Embiid said. “I feel like I could have played more but you know you’ve got to trust the process, got to trust those guys. If I have my minute restriction at 20 minutes, I guess I’m going to go with that. But obviously I want to play more and more and I think it can help the team better. But they have a plan for me and I’ve got to follow it.”

Embiid has maintained he wants to be a clutch player. Brown looked to him toward the end of the game as the Thunder pulled ahead late in the final quarter. He drained a fade away jumper to tie the game at 97 apiece with 50.7 to go. 

Later trailing by four with 10 seconds left, the Sixers went to Embiid. While he was whistled for an offensive foul, Brown was glad to have a go-to unlike in years past. 

“You have a target,” Brown said. “We tried to get the ball to him a lot. … By and large, to have somebody like Joel, where the mystery is solved like, 'What do you do?' You get him the ball as much as you can.”

The more the Sixers found Embiid, the more the Thunder had to try to defend him. Thunder head coach Billy Donovan knew what his team was going up against. He watched Embiid as a high schooler and coached against him during his tenure at Florida. 

“He’s gifted and skilled,” Donovan said. “It was probably our guy’s first time seeing him … I knew the talent, the gifts. The one thing with him is, he’s got great footwork. He’s hard to guard because he’s herky-jerky. He moves. He’s got a lot of (Hakeem) Olajuawon to him.”

Opening night had been two years in the making. Even though the Sixers didn't win, the significance of the evening didn't disappoint. 

"I thought this moment was going to be special," Embiid said, "and it was just great."

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

Best of NBA: Davis' 50 points not enough in Pelicans' loss to Nuggets

NEW ORLEANS -- Jusuf Nurkic scored 23 points, Will Barton added 22, and the Denver Nuggets survived a dominant performance by Anthony Davis to defeat the New Orleans Pelicans 107-102 in both teams' regular season opener Wednesday night.

Davis had 50 points, 16 rebounds, seven steals, five assists and four blocks. His production helped New Orleans trim a deficit as large as 14 late in the second quarter down to two points in the waning minutes. He simply didn't have enough help.

The rest of the Pelicans combined to shoot 21 of 58. Tim Frazier scored 15 for the Pelicans. E'Twaun Moore added 10 points, but missed a 3-point attempt that could have tied it with 24 seconds left.

Danilo Gallinari scored 15 for Denver and Wilson Chandler added 12 points (see full recap).

Celtics top Nets in Horford's home debut
BOSTON -- Isaiah Thomas had 25 points and nine assists, Jae Crowder added 21 points and Al Horford pitched in 11 in his Boston debut on Wednesday night as the Celtics survived a late scare to beat the Brooklyn Nets 122-117 in their season opener.

Bojan Bogdanovic scored 21 for Brooklyn, including a 3-pointer to make it 120-117 with 47 seconds left after the Nets erased most of a 23-point deficit against the Boston bench. But he missed one with a chance to tie it after Joe Harris intercepted Thomas' cross-court pass, and the Celtics were able to hold on.

Justin Hamilton came off the bench to score 19 points and grab 10 rebounds for the Nets in coach Kenny Atkinson's debut (see full recap).

Turner's opening act leads Pacers past Mavs in OT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Myles Turner scored 30 points, tied his career high with 16 rebounds and made a 3-pointer with 1:18 left in overtime to start an 8-0 run that allowed the Indiana Pacers to close out a 130-121 victory Wednesday night over the Dallas Mavericks.

Three-time All-Star Paul George added 25 points, including another 3 with 55 seconds left to seal Indiana's fifth season-opening win in six years.

Deron Williams scored 25 points, while J.J. Barea and Dirk Nowitzki each added 22 as the Mavs lost their fifth straight in the series. They still haven't won in Indianapolis since February 2014.

Dallas didn't tie the score or take a lead until the fourth quarter, yet still forced overtime when Harrison Barnes' open 3-pointer made it 115-all with 2.3 seconds left.

Turner could have won it with a long buzzer-beating 3, but it bounced off the back of the rim (see full recap).