VOORHEES, N.J. -- It has been the single biggest area of discussion so many times over the course of Flyers history, ever since Bernie Parent and Ron Hextall retired.
What about the goaltending?
That question remains on the front burner this summer and Thursday, Hextall offered little clarity on the issue yet indicated he would prefer to add another veteran on a short-term deal either via free agency or trade.
Which means the Flyers could be signing their 54th goaltender all-time in the months ahead.
"We'll work through our process here and in the end, we'll figure out what's our best option for next year and the following year and after," the general manager said at Flyers Skate Zone. "We do have kids coming, and I think everybody knows it.
"I don't have a lot of interest in getting into a long, drawn-out deal with a goaltender, but again we'll look at our options and move when we feel it's our best option at the appropriate time."
Hextall isn't certain whether Anthony Stolarz, who sustained a lower-body injury Wednesday with the Phantoms and is on crutches, can handle being a full-time backup next season.
Stolarz played well in seven games, yet both Hextall and coach Dave Hakstol considered that a "small sample" only.
While Hextall remains open to re-signing Steve Mason, he emphatically shot down Mason's criticism of the "platoon" system and gave strong support that he expects Michal Neuvirth to rebound next season from a poor performance.
Asked if he's comfortable with Neuvirth and Stolarz, Hextall gave pause.
"That's a question still to be answered," he replied. "We'll use the best option that's realistic for us. Obviously, you've got salary cap, you've got term. There's a lot of factors that go into this. It's not just one."
So what's the future?
"I don't know," Hextall replied and then reiterated what he said before.
Mason said he wants to return but not in a platoon situation. He feels it's paramount to know who the No. 1 is in net.
"I guess if you ask the Pittsburgh Penguins right now, they'd say you need two, right?" Hextall said, referring to Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray, who was injured in warmups before Game 1 Wednesday against Columbus.
"Neuvy and Mase last year were terrific. This year they weren't as good. It worked two years ago. I think Mase played 58 games this year. He played the biggest part of the workload. You have to have two goalies."
Hextall said Mason had to realize no job is yours forever.
"The way pro sports work, the way we work, you earn your ice time," Hextall said. "So, whether you're a defenseman, a forward, a goalie, you earn your ice time. Mase has been pretty much our goalie for the last four or five years.
"He's done a good job for us. He played the bulk of the game as he did this year. I know Mase has his thoughts and we all have our thoughts, but he played 58 games this year. … Mase would want to know if he's No. 1, Neuvy would want to know if he was No. 1, but you've still got to earn your ice time."
Twenty-two of Mason's starts, however, were necessary because Neuvirth was injured and Hakstol was reluctant to throw his trust behind Stolarz.
"Well, but understand when Mase plays a lot of those games, maybe he's starting to wear down and needs a break, so when Neuvy comes back, you're going to give Neuvy a few games," Hextall said.
"I've seen coaches try to say before the season, Mase, Neuvy, Mase. Try to dictate the whole season before the year and you look back and it's almost laughable. It doesn't happen. It's not a perfect science."
If you sense Hextall has issues with Mason's mental strength, he actually doesn't.
"I'd say it's 80 percent [mental strength]," Hextall said. "There's a lot of goalies in the minors with NHL ability. What's separating them?
"The mind. Mase has been in the league for what now, 10 years? Nine years? He's good. Mase is a good goalie. I've got respect for Mase."
Neuvirth has a new two-year contract. The way Hextall was talking, he's coming back. Which means the club will gamble and expose Stolarz in the expansion draft.
Hextall expects a strong bounce-back from Neuvirth next season.
"I think it's human nature," Hextall said. "You have an off year, you're that much hungrier the next summer, you work harder and you're that much more focused come September. I had meetings with Neuvy a couple of times this year, including a couple days ago.
"I really believe Neuvy is going to come back focused. He was really good for us last year. This year he was kind of reflective of our team. He was inconsistent. … I expect Neuvy to come back and be a really good player for us. In saying that, we need two guys."