International flights can be such a hassle. You have to make sure your passport is up to date. The Customs people dig through your stuff. And that transoceanic travel can be terribly draining.

Despite what must have been an awfully taxing trip, Ray Emery returned from his yearlong exile in Russia and looked to be in pretty good spirits. The Flyers' new goaltender obviously remembered to bring back to the States his copy of PC-approved athlete talking points. But the big question is whether his well-publicized baggage made the trip or if it was left behind on a Russian tarmac.

"I really appreciate the opportunity I've been given here," Emery said. "I've lost that opportunity once before, and I have that in the back of my mind."

Forget about how talented he is as a goaltender and whether he makes the Flyers better. Ignore, for a moment, his discounted salary and the reality that the Flyers will save some money by going with him instead of Marty Biron. The larger issue has less to do with what happens between the pipes and more to do with what happens between Emery's ears.

In the past, we've seen all sorts of fire-starters in Philly. Randall Cunningham, Charles Barkley, Allen Iverson, Terrell Owens - guys who made news because of how they played, but also because of how they acted. We don't really have anyone like that in town right now. Or at least we didn't until Emery came along.

The 26-year-old has been called Sugar Ray because he's fond of fighting, and Speed Racer because he's fond of mashing the pedal to the floor when driving. He's made news for adorning his goalie mask with renderings of Marvin Hagler, Jack Johnson and, most curiously, Mike Tyson. (The last one was particularly strange. These days, Iron Mike looks more like Buffet Mike.)

He has missed practices and team flights. And before getting banished by the Ottawa Senators, he was involved in a very public case of road rage.

"On the way to the rink, I had a little argument with a dude," Emery told a Canadian news service. "He swerved in front of me and started throwing fingers all over the place and so I decided it was time to talk it over."

Everyone knows throwing fingers is impolite. Probably painful, too.

More recently, he got into a heated shoving match with the trainer on his Russian hockey team. The trainer was trying to put a hat on Emery's head. No one puts a hat on Emery's head. That's a bigger offense than throwing fingers.

My favorite Emery story is the one about his winning a $500 bet by eating a cockroach off the floor, then using the money to buy a tattoo that says "anger is a gift." According to the Ottawa Citizen, former Senators teammate Jason Spezza sometimes called Emery "T.O." and was quoted as saying "he's definitely not normal."

All of which makes you wonder: Will Emery actually change? Can he? Is it possible for someone to suddenly wear a totally different (goalie) mask in public?

"I can definitely say I've learned from those bad experiences, maybe more than from the good times we had there," Emery said. "It's a great position to have and a great job to have, and that's the reason I'm going to change."

If Emery can't pull off the metamorphosis, we'll know soon enough. It's hard to miss the circus when it rolls into town - tends to make a lot of noise.

I can't be sure, but I'm guessing the Flyers would rather skip that show.

Seems as though ESPN The Magazine is going all Cinemax soft core porn on us. In an interview with USA Today, the magazine's editor-in-chief said the publication is "toying" with the idea of putting out its first "Body Issue" in October. The magazine said it's approaching amateur and pro athletes to pose completely nude.

Doesn't sound very Disney, does it? Then again, Mickey Mouse has been prancing around naked for years.

Not to worry. The editor-in-chief said it would be tastefully done, and that the magazine would "use equipment and pads and bats and goalposts and soccer nets and pucks and helmets" to obscure all naughty parts.

Everyone knows that no clothes trumps some clothes (or body paint). Your move, SI.

ESPN NFL blogger Matt Mosley put together a top 10 list of "NFC building blocks" - guys who would serve as the core of a Super Bowl contender for the next three years if you could draft them right now and start a team. Three Eagles made the list - Asante Samuel (No. 4), Jason Peters (No. 5), and Brian Westbrook (No. 10). Eli Manning was No. 1 overall. . . . Finally. The new season of True Blood starts this Sunday on HBO at 9 p.m. I was going through "V" withdrawal.

Contact columnist John Gonzalez at 215-854-2813