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.

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

Pete Mackanin on Odubel Herrera's slump: 'He needs to battle his way out'

After an 0-for-5 day at the plate, Odubel Herrera isn't heading to the bench a day later.

He's leading off. 

Pete Mackanin chose to move the slumping centerfielder atop the lineup card for Friday's series opener against the Reds despite Herrera's striking out in all five plate appearances Thursday.

"I think he's a .290-plus hitter as a leadoff man and I'm not going to sit him," Mackanin said pregame. "He needs to battle his way out. You figure you're the leadoff hitter once a game. After that, it's wide open."

While he hasn't batted leadoff this season, Herrera spent the majority of his time in that spot last season. In 76 games there, he batted .285 with a .359 OBP and .417 slugging percentage. 

The leadoff hitter this season has been Cesar Hernandez, who has a day off with a groin pull he's dealt with the last 10 days. Herrera primarily has been the No. 3 hitter this season and his average is down to .226 with 49 strikeouts to just 11 walks. 

Mackanin hopes the leadoff role can help change Herrera's approach at the plate.

"He was drawing a lot of walks at leadoff, so whether he has that mindset or not, I'm not sure," the manager said. "I just want to get him as many at-bats as possible. We need to get him going. We need him and [Maikel] Franco to get going."

May specifically has been tough on Herrera. He has four hits in his last 36 at-bats and has seven strikeouts in his last two games. He has just seven hits in 22 games this month. 

"I think he's at the point where he's grinding and sometimes when you grind, sometimes there's that feeling where you get lost," Mackanin said. "I've been in situations as a hitter where I've gone up to the plate saying, 'I don't care where it is. I'm going up there and just hacking.' Because you start thinking and that's not working.

"And you look for a pitch and then all of a sudden you say I'm going to take a pitch to get a look at and it's strike one. Then he throws you a nasty slider and that's strike two and your plan is out the window. So I've gone up to the plate myself saying, 'I'm just looking down the middle and swinging. I'm not thinking.'"

When asked, Mackanin said the team had not discussed demoting Herrera or Franco to the minors to take pressure off the duo.

While Herrera tries to hit his way back into a groove, Howie Kendrick is in the midst of working his way back to the majors. He was hit by pitch twice in a rehab appearance Thursday but is back in the lineup Friday in left field. 

Mackanin said Kendrick needed four days minimum in his rehab assignment and will therefore play Friday and Saturday before the team sees how he feels.

The manager also said the team would give more playing time to backup catcher Andrew Knapp. He started consecutive games for the first time on Tuesday and Wednesday. 

"I'm going to try and see him as much as possible and keep him as sharp as possible instead of once a week," Mackanin said. "That's tough to hit, once a week. It's tough to hit twice a week if you don't hit back-to-back. There's no ulterior motive."

Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

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Report: Brett Brown accuses longtime friend of defrauding him of $750,000

Sixers head coach Brett Brown is in Australia this week, where he has accused longtime friend and former Australian men's national team assistant coach Shane Heal of defrauding him of $750,000, according to the Australian Associated Press.

Brown invested $250,000 into each of three companies for which Heal was the sole director. Brown wasn't given a legal title regarding the companies and didn't know the specifics of how the money would be used.

"I assumed that the money was going to be used for what Shane told me it was going to be used for," Brown said. "Because it was a friend that I had for 25 years."

Heal was charged last year by the Australian Securities and Investments Commission following an investigation relating to alleged misconduct in 2008, 2009 and 2010, according to the AAP.

The sides return to court in Brisbane on July 20.

Heal played in the NBA for the Minnesota Timberwolves in 1996-97 and was with the San Antonio Spurs in 2003.