Ilya Is Here! Flyers and Bryzgalov Open Negotiations

Ilya Is Here! Flyers and Bryzgalov Open Negotiations

Over the next two days, the Flyers brass will meet with the goalie whose name they hope to have signed onto a contract in the coming weeks and etched into a certain piece of hardware this time next year. 

Ilya Bryzgalov and his representation have landed in Philadelphia, where they'll spend Thursday and Friday negotiating toward making him a Flyer, or determining that Philly isn't the right fit. Although the team can't actually sign him until the new salary cap number is set, and presumably not until after some cap space is created, the meetings over the next few days will be critical in determining whether it will even be possible. 

The traveling delegation of Bryzgalov, who is set to become the market's top free agent goalie, will need to decide upon the balance between fortune and fame he wants when he signs what will be his most lucrative contract. He's a very good goalie in the prime of his career and can command the top tier salary commensurate with his play. But, Bryzgalov has also known several types of professional frustration while playing in North America. How much it will help the Flyers in their quest to sign him, we don't know.  

Having played his previous few seasons in Phoenix should give Bryzgalov some appreciation of the lack of fulfillment that can define the remaining years of his career if he chooses coin over contender. Few if any NHL situations are as dire as the sadly metaphoric situation of "playing ice hockey in the desert," and Bryzgalov clearly wanted out of the Sonoran. Even without knowing the mind of the Russian goalie, it's probably safe to assume that while the Coyotes' inability to meet his salary demands was a big factor, it wasn't the only reason. 

There's also the frustration of playing for a franchise so damned it needed the league to intervene to keep it alive and in place. On the ice, they were a team that was nothing without its goalie, a reality that can be simultaneously prestigious and confining if you're the guy wearing the mask. Whereas a team like Vancouver can make it all the way to game 7 of the Finals despite being grossly let down by their own All-Star goalie, Phoenix had no shot unless Bryzgalov was unbeatable. Even that may not have been enough. 

The important question only Bryzgalov and those closest to him can answer is, how much will playing for a top franchise influence his decision? Despite already being a Stanley Cup champion, Bryzgalov was not the starter when Chris Pronger, JS Giguere, and the Anaheim Ducks lifted the trophy. I don't think Ilya can truly cross the championship off his bucket list yet. To do so here could cement him as royalty in what is considered league-wide to be a great hockey town. How much motivation will the potential of a sterling, lifetime-and-beyond legacy wield? 

Regardless, it's exceedingly doubtful Bryzgalov will come to the table offering much if anything in the way of a discount, even for the promise of playing for a contender stacked with good forwards and defensemen who will make his life easier than it has been at any time in his NHL career. But will he be willing to take a deal just reasonable enough that the club won't have to dismantle key pieces of its depth and erase its great advantage? 

Obviously, Bryzgalov's camp will be holding the best cards today. They know the goalie has value on the open market, and that Flyers showed their significant interest by trading for the rights to negotiate with him before free agency opened. Plus, ownership has publicly decreed that they will be adding a goalie, possibly at any cost. 

Paul Holmgren is tasked with convincing them that Philadelphia is the best destination for Bryzgalov at this stage of his career. Pointing out the goalie's recent playoff shortcomings won't help bring down the price much, if at all. His agent, Ritch Winter, can just say, "Then what are we doing here? Why did you trade for the rights to sign a goalie if you have doubts about him in the playoffs?" 

The only validity the playoff performance argument will have is within the context of the Flyers' confining cap situation. Homer can point to the fact that the Coyotes simply weren't good enough in front of Bryzgalov for his talent to even matter. In order for that not to happen in Philly, they need to keep the forward and defensive depth intact as much as possible.

A short-term deal isn't going to happen. The extreme opposite very well could. Due to their limited space under the cap, the Flyers would have to get creative in order to make Bryzgalov as rich as he wants to be. This "creativity" could amount to something a little dangerous and scary—a very long-term deal for a goaltender, spreading the money over many years to reduce the cap hit in any given season.   

That would likely be attractive to Bryzgalov, as well as help fit him under the cap. But it binds the Flyers to him far longer than we know he'll be effective. Hell we don't exactly know how effective he'll be in a given season, let alone five or more of them. They're already facing the specter of Chris Pronger's role being diminished just a few seasons into his long-term deal. 

It's hard to say what happens next, but at least the two sides are coming to the table with interest in making Bryzgalov a Flyer. Whether that's the best course of action for the team, given what it will cost in immediate salary cap relief as well as long-term flexibility, is anybody's guess. I doubt very much that Tim Thomas' performance last night and throughout the playoffs has cooled the Flyers' interest in acquiring a goalie, and Bryzgalov is currently at the top of their list. We should know pretty soon whether he'll be staying there.

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).