Ron Hextall: 'Change' main reason Flyers, Steve Mason parted ways

Ron Hextall: 'Change' main reason Flyers, Steve Mason parted ways

Those who followed the Flyers last season, especially toward the end of the year, could read the tea leaves when it came to the relationship between Steve Mason and the team.

Mason, who was playing out the final year of his contract, saw Michal Neuvirth earn a two-year extension on March 1 despite miserable numbers in the Flyers' net. And then during his exit interview following the second playoff-less season in Philadelphia in three years, Mason voiced his displeasure with his platoon role with Neuvirth and made his desire to be an unquestioned No. 1 goalie known.

That wasn't in the plans for Ron Hextall and staff, whom ultimately decided to let the Mason-Flyers marriage end, as the team inked Brian Elliott to a two-year contract and let Mason skate away to Winnipeg on a two-year deal of his own on Saturday.

On Sunday afternoon, Hextall opened up about why the Flyers and Mason decided to part ways.

“In the end, I think the change is the No. 1 reason," Hextall said on a conference call. "I think it will probably be good for Mase and for us.

"Brian being available certainly played into it. I didn’t know for sure if [Elliott] was going to be available or not. He was and we acted on it.”

Mason came to Philadelphia at the 2013 trade deadline in a deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the same team that drafted him in 2006 and the same team with which he won the Calder Trophy in 2009 as the league's rookie of the year. He leaves Philadelphia with a 104-78-36 record. Those 104 wins are third-most in franchise history behind only Bernie Parent and Hextall himself.

His last season in a Flyers uniform was an erratic one as he posted a 26-21-8 record, 2.66 goals-against average and .908 save percentage while splitting time with Neuvirth, who struggled again with injuries and inconsistency as he finished with an 11-11-1 record, a 2.82 goals-against average and a league-worst .891 save percentage. But still, Neuvirth, 29, was the one who got the contract extension, which left Mason to basically see the writing on the wall.

Mason, also 29, will now see the lion's share of the Jets' net alongside 24-year-old Connor Hellebuyck, a fifth-round pick of the Jets in the 2012 draft who was seen as the goalie of Winnipeg's future but struggled last season as he went just 26-19-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .907 save percentage.

And Neuvirth is still here in a new tandem with Elliott, who went 26-18-3 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .910 save percentage with Calgary. But he fizzled in the playoffs against Anaheim with miserable numbers in a four-game Ducks sweep in the first round — a 3.89 goals-against average and .880 save percentage.

But still, Hextall said Elliott was a sensible and attractive name to the Flyers for a few reasons. But a big one was the way Elliott handled a tandem during his recent days in St. Louis from 2011-12 to 2015-16.

"When I was out in L.A. there, we played against him in the playoffs a couple of times, and honestly we played them a lot," Hextall said. "First of all, you do your homework, you find everything out about the kid. He's a real good team guy, which is important. His work ethic is at a high level, his compete is at a high level, teammates want to play for him. There are a lot of things that when you look at goalies, that you look for and Brian checked a lot of the boxes off. The fact that he played in a tandem — Michal Neuvirth is a good goalie, the fact that Brian played well in a tandem, played into it, so there was a number of things that we looked at and in the end, we felt like Brian was the best fit."

Hextall was asked Sunday to compare Elliott and Mason and what each goalie brings to the table, but he refused to get into any sort of comparison.

“I’m not going to sit and compare Brian to Mase," Hextall said. "I can tell you that we’re extremely excited to have Brian. He’s a very competitive guy. He’s got a really good work ethic. He’s played in a tandem in St. Louis to Calgary there. He’s played very well in a structured system, so a lot of the things we felt were important with the guy we signed, Brian fit the criteria. In saying that, Steve Mason did a real good job for us for a number of years here and we certainly wish Mase nothing but the best.”

Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

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Ron Hextall doesn't make move for veteran goalie; Steve Mason 'still in the mix'

CHICAGO — While the Flyers picked up a young first-round centerman in Nolan Patrick — who many feel will be in their lineup this season — at this weekend's NHL draft, they returned home with one major dilemma unresolved.
 
They still don't have a veteran goalie to pair with Michal Neuvirth next season.
 
The draft is usually a pretty good place to piece together a deal for a goalie about to become a free agent or one already under contract who a team might be willing to move.
 
In the Flyers' case, general manager Ron Hextall said nothing came about. That might be because a couple of teams made some moves prior to the draft involving goalies and there doesn't seem to be a rush to fill the spots.
 
"I didn't expect to [do a deal]," Hextall said. "I would have liked to have it done a month ago. But I am not going to do something just for the sake of having something in place.
 
"We are going to do our due diligence. Sometimes you have to wait and sometimes it's part of the process to see what is out there. It's a high priority. We have to get something in place."
 
Three teams have three goalies — Arizona, Dallas and Carolina. And there are several in free agency.
 
Hextall likes to get a jump on free agency but …
 
"I don't know," he replied when asked if that is where he's headed.
 
Maybe a trade? Again, no commitment. Hextall said he's not worried.
 
"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said. "So, there's not six No. 1 spots out there and just one goalie. I have comfort in that.
 
"We are still doing our due diligence and in the end, it's probably going to come down to a guy we take and term and money. I might like this guy, but is he asking unreal term? We'll go somewhere else. I keep telling you, [Steve Mason] is still in the mix."
 
Like a lifeboat in the vast ocean.

Logical choices for Vegas as Flyers prepare to lose player in expansion draft

Logical choices for Vegas as Flyers prepare to lose player in expansion draft

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Taylor Leier or maybe an offer for unrestricted free agent Jordan Weal?
 
Or perhaps 27-year-old defenseman Michael Del Zotto, who will not be re-signed by the Flyers.
 
Those are the logical Flyers choices for the Vegas Golden Knights, whose expansion draft list will be publicly unveiled Wednesday night as part of the NHL Awards gala in Vegas.

And while the Golden Knights will select Pittsburgh's Marc-Andre Fleury as their starting goalie, they still need to draft two more, per the rules of the draft.
 
Vegas general manager George McPhee is obviously familiar with Michal Neuvirth, whom the Flyers left unprotected. McPhee was Washington's general manager when the Capitals selected Neuvirth in the second round (34th overall) of the 2006 NHL draft.  McPhee, however, also knows how injury-prone Neuvirth is and admits that has kept Neuvirth from becoming an elite goalie in the league.
 
Given the other goalies available who don’t have a history of injuries, it doesn’t make sense for Vegas to select Neuvirth.
 
If any of the Flyers coveted, young defensive prospects were draft eligible, you can bet the Golden Knights would be taking one of them. Fortunately for the Flyers, that’s not the case under the expansion draft rules.
 
Del Zotto is interesting because of his age, his experience – eight seasons in the league – and, despite his defensive deficiencies, is a puck-moving defenseman who can assist on the power play.
 
Bellemare was a Flyers assistant captain last season and in terms of line play, like Raffl, can move up and down the lineup.
 
Vegas must select one player from the other 30 NHL rosters.
 
“We’re in a reasonable position,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said last week. “We’re gonna lose a good player, make no mistake. Whoever we lose, we’re gonna lose a good player.”
 
McPhee told reporters on Tuesday, he had at least six deals already in place with teams. He also said some picks won’t stick around very long.
 
“We knew that from the start that we were going to claim 30 players,” McPhee said. “But, your roster can only be 23. ... We understand and I don't know that the terminology is the right terminology, but people call it 'throwaway picks.'
 
“There are some teams where there isn't a whole lot to do and you're going to make a throwaway pick rather than taking on a contract that you don't like.  So, there will be some of those claims, people that won't be qualified, and that sort of thing.”