After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

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After long summer, Flyers excited to get to work

Vinny Lecavalier is excited.
 
“Great guys and some great players here,” said the Flyers' tallest centerman. “That is what is so exciting. This is a really good team. It’s one of the reasons why I wanted to come here.
 
“I looked at the roster and really liked this team. That is why I am excited to start here.”
 
There’s always excitement and anticipation around the start of a hockey training camp. This fall, there truly is a difference as the Flyers open camp this morning at Wells Fargo Center.
 
“For me, it was exciting knowing guys are coming back healthy from where we were last year,” head coach Peter Laviolette said.
 
“The man games we lost, it’s exciting guys are coming back full health for the most part. It wasn’t that way last year. Claude [Giroux] went down and he’ll back. I hope it’s not a problem and I don’t think it will be from everything that I have heard.”
 
Giroux will be here but until his right hand is fully healed, he won’t be playing games, shooting pucks or taking contact.
 
The Flyers fell into the great abyss last season with a 2-6 start from which they never recovered and failed to make the playoffs.
 
They didn’t fire the coach or general manager Paul Holmgren, but they did fire the goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (buyout) and had an emotional farewell presser for class guy Danny Briere (buyout).
 
Then came a long, tortuous offseason.
 
“It doesn’t have the same meaning on the outside as when you are inside and competing [in the playoffs],” Laviolette said. “I think I found late spring and early summer to be hard to handle.”
 
All the while, plans were unfolding to restock the roster.
 
It began with the trade for Islanders captain Mark Streit on defense; then the signing of goalie Ray Emery; finally, the addition of Lecavalier.
 
Not a lot of moves, but critical ones.
 
Everyone in and around the Flyers seem primed for this camp. Fresh start.
 
“I’m ready,” veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen said. “I feel like I’ve been off a really long time. Too long. To have a year like that last year, sometimes, it’s good to settle down and see what we did wrong together -- everybody. Coaches, players, management, everybody.
 
“I hate to say it was good that we didn’t make the playoffs, but at least now everybody realizes we have to work even harder and make better decisions. Sometimes, you need [as a team] to go down to come back up again.”
 
There are a few job openings to be sorted out in this camp, the biggest of which is whether Emery wins the starter’s job over Steve Mason, who was nothing short of superb in just seven games at season’s end.
 
When was the last time the Flyers had genuine competition for the starter’s job in goal? Maybe 2005, when Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki fought it out?
 
“You certainly hope so,” Laviolette said of the competition. “You hope that’s the case. That they push each other and they do it in a competitive way that best benefits the team.
 
“You’re talking about somebody [Mason] who came in here at the end of the year and played well for us and someone who had a terrific season ... I haven’t talked to them or seen them yet. Those conversations will come.”
 
It’s a camp where some older players have something to prove.
 
Lecavalier wants people to know there’s a decent number of goals still left in his stick after his buyout.
 
“Not to prove Tampa wrong or anything,” Lecavalier said. “For me, it’s another challenge the way the year went last year with injuries and not winning, that is more the part of me saying I want to have a good year and help this team out as much as I can.
 
“Everybody has something to prove every year. We’re all going to push forward.”
 
Mason wants to prove his gaudy 1.90 goals-against average was genuine. Emery wants to prove his 17-1 record and Stanley Cup was no fluke, either.
 
Then there’s Hal Gill and Dan Cleary. Gill is on a tryout and says he can “show” the Flyers what he possesses is something this club needs.
 
Cleary has a tryout deal, plus a promise of a three-year contract waiting in the wings but may have gotten a firm offer from Detroit right now. He may or may not be here, though the club expects he will.
 
“[Cleary] and Hal are in the same situation where it’s an opportunity to come into camp and get on the ice and show what they can do,” Laviolette said.
 
“These are veteran players who have been proven to be successful in the roles they served on teams.”
 
The hardest decisions in camp will be who the starting six defensemen are -- yeah the Flyers are actually deep for once -- and who sits as No. 7.
 
Right now, oft-injured Andrej Meszaros could be No. 7. It has to be sorted out in camp.
 
Then there’s the matter of where Lecavalier plays. First line? Second line?
 
Maybe he goes between Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds?
 
“I talked to both of them,” Lecavlier said. “I don’t know who I will play with. I played few shifts with Simmer and Schenn [in the player scrimmages]. Both are great players, great hockey sense. ... Whoever I play with, I am happy to be here.”

Flyers extend qualifying offers to 7 restricted free agents

Flyers extend qualifying offers to 7 restricted free agents

As expected, the Flyers made qualifying offers to seven restricted free agents on Monday.

Goalie Anthony Stolarz, center Mike Vecchione, and forwards Roman Lyubimov and Taylor Leier, all of whom saw some duty at the NHL level last season received offers.

So did forwards Cole Bardreau, Scott Laughton and goalie Alex Lyon.

Flyers development camp is expected to open on Sunday, July 9 at Skate Zone in Voorhees, N.J., which is undergoing extensive upper level renovations which is closed off from the general public.

Camp will be open to the public and admission is free.

Flyers free-agent goalie targets: Steve Mason

Flyers free-agent goalie targets: Steve Mason

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Steve Mason
Age: 29
Height: 6-4
Weight: 217
Last team: Philadelphia Flyers
2016-17 cap hit: $4.1 million 

Scouting report
Selected with the 69th overall pick in 2006 by Columbus, Mason spent his first five seasons in the NHL with the Blue Jackets before being traded to the Flyers in 2012-13.

Mason took the league by storm in his rookie season and took over the No. 1 job in Columbus. He posted a 33-20-7 record with a 2.29 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He won the Calder Trophy and was a Vezina Trophy finalist.

However, Mason never regained his rookie success with the Blue Jackets. Over his next three seasons, he had a 3.16 GAA and .897 save percentage. Columbus traded him to the Flyers at the 2012-13 trade deadline, and he eventually regained his confidence in Philly.

Over four-plus seasons with the Flyers, Mason compiled 104 wins, a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. His 104 wins are third most in franchise history, and his .918 save percentage is second best among goalies who started more than 50 games.

Last season, Mason struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season after having a strong preseason and training camp. He didn't start the season opener despite expecting to and it took a while to recover but he eventually put things back together. He finished the season 26-21-8 with a 2.66 GAA and .908 save percentage.

In his final 20 games, Mason was 12-6-2 with three shutouts and a .927 save percentage. He proved himself as the No. 1 goalie after battling with Michal Neuvirth for the spot throughout the season. An injury to Neuvirth did help Mason's cause and he took control.

Still, the Flyers rewarded Neuvirth with a two-year contract extension in March, leaving Mason without a contract. After the Flyers didn't acquire a veteran goalie at the draft, GM Ron Hextall said Mason is "still in the mix." Mason is open to returning but not in a platoon.

Dougherty's projection
Mason is the Flyers' best option. He's the best goalie on the market. But with Neuvirth in the fold and how he was handled in Philly the last couple of seasons, I'm not so sure Mason would want to come back to the Flyers. With that said, I think it's more likely he'll be back with the team now than it was entering the offseason for a couple of reasons.

Opportunity being the biggest motivation. There aren't many teams in the market for goaltenders. At least starting jobs, which Mason would want. There's one team that comes into mind: Winnipeg. That's it. If the Jets don't go the Mason route, then the Flyers may be the best fit for him. Neuvirth's medical history suggests the other goalie here will get a decent amount of work. There may be more opportunity here than elsewhere for Mason.

For the Flyers, they know what they have in Mason. Sure, he's not keen to platooning, but his play can dictate that. Mason is the goalie I think the Flyers should have extended. It's a buyer's market at goaltender this summer and that will help GM Ron Hextall.

As much as this writer would like to see Mason back, the bridges are already burnt.

Hall's projection
We all know who Mason is.

He's a streaky goaltender and when he's on, he can carry a team. But when he's off, the poor performances tend to trickle into the next start.

I thought Mason made some terrific points at the end of the season about goaltending platoons. I think those points got through to Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol in their exit meeting with the goaltender.

However, there are too many differences in this situation for a re-signing to ultimately happen. 

The Flyers are looking for a term-friendly, placeholder-type deal — more of an insurance policy to place alongside Neuvirth while allowing the goalies of the future to receive further grooming. That's not exactly what Mason is vying for this offseason.

Speaking of Neuvirth, he will see playing time when healthy. Mason made himself clear about the importance of having defined roles in net from the start of a season. If he returned, he would have to accept a similar situation to the past two seasons.

Sure, between the pipes, there aren't many opportunities elsewhere — but with another team, Mason can at least find a fresh start and new chances at fighting for a No. 1 job. 

Mason is a sharp guy and his return should be strongly considered by the Flyers. I just don't see it happening. 

Paone's projection
While some fans may not think so, the bottom line is that Mason played well last season for the Flyers. Was he spectacular? No. But was he downright awful? No. He played well enough to give them chances to win games and deserved better fates than what he was handed on most nights. But such is life when you play behind a defense that struggled to get out of its own way, a penalty kill that lingered near the bottom of the league rankings most of the season and an offense that starved for goals in support of the goaltender.

In his exit interviews, Mason made it clear he does not want to be part of a platoon role he was in last season alongside Neuvirth. It's no surprise Mason's best stretches with the Flyers were when he didn't have to constantly look over his shoulder. He was at his best when he knew he was the guy. Remember when he put the Flyers on his back on their playoff push in 2015-16?

Well, the problem with being a clear-cut No. 1 here is that Neuvirth has his extension in hand and Mason is still wondering what the future is left to hold. This situation is a double-edged sword for Mason. He's the best goalie on a weak free-agent market this season. But the demand for goalies isn't all that high. Teams looking for goalies might include Buffalo, the Islanders, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Colorado. But still, Mason wouldn't be walking into any of those situations as the No. 1 option right away a la Ben Bishop in Dallas or Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas. He's going to have to compete for that No. 1 job he craves.

And while there's a competition here in Philadelphia that's open for the taking, why would Mason want to come back with how that competition went last season? It would be like skating in circles without the end he's looking for.

Nothing is impossible or out of the question, but this is a situation in which it's best for both parties to shake hands and move on to their respective next chapters.