2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

2016-17 Flyers evaluation: Goaltending

We begin our series reviewing the Flyers' 2016-17 roster with a look at the goaltenders. This is the first part of a four-part series.

What should have been a genuine competition in net for two players to win the prize of a long-term contract never did pan out for the Flyers this season.

Coming out of training camp, general manager Ron Hextall said goaltending was going to be the club's biggest strength with two goalies -- Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth -- essentially being 1-A and 1-B.

Instead, they both failed terribly with inconsistent performances that mirrored the skaters in front of them.

With Neuvirth already locked up for next season, all signs point to Mason leaving via free agency. That means Hextall has to find a replacement for Mason.

"We'll use the best option that's realistic for us," Hextall said recently. "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. It's not just OK, let's go out and get the best goalie, whoever that might be.

"If we can get him, there's more to it than that. 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. 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 is our best option at the appropriate time."

Here's our look at the goaltenders (alphabetically) this past season.

Steve Mason 
Age: Turns 29 on May 29
Record: 58 GP; 26-21-8
Stats: 2.66 GAA; .908 SV%
Cap hit: UFA who earned $4.1 million

We've got to give Mason this much credit: For a guy dealing from the bottom of the deck, he has a lot of guts. How else can you explain how he went into Hextall's office on breakup day and asked to know his status ASAP and oh, one more: I didn't like Dave Hakstol's goalie platoon idea, and if you want me back, that's a dealbreaker. This was Mason's poorest season among the four full ones in Philadelphia. He, like Neuvirth, was maddeningly inconsistent right from the get-go until the final 17 games, when he produced some impressive numbers as the club's true No. 1 -- 10-5-2 record, 2.14 goals-against average, .926 save percentage and two shutouts. In between, anything else was possible. There's a reason why the Flyers didn't re-sign him in-season like they did with Neuvirth. They feel he's going to want more term, more money and they have a slew of talent in the minors and Europe itching to get a chance to play in Philadelphia. At least one of the four goalie prospects will be NHL-ready within two years. Mason talked like a goalie going out the door down the stretch and yet, he played like one deserving of a new contract over the final month-plus. His unedited yet honest criticism of the team on a nightly basis earned him the respect of the media but did little to gather support within the room from teammates. Many felt he needed to shut his mouth. There are two kinds of goalies: those you play for and those you play in front of. The feeling was more than a few Flyers would choose the latter and those are not the type of goalies teams rally around to win Stanley Cups. It appears management realizes that could be a problem. He'll most likely go to free agency.

Michal Neuvirth 
Age: Turned 29 on March 23 
Record: 28 GP; 11-11-1
Stats: 2.82 GAA; .891 SV%
Cap hit: $2.5 million (re-signed in-season)

After a strong playoff performance in 2016 in which he showed he could be a No. 1 goalie again, Neuvirth came into the season much like Mason, knowing a good year would mean a new deal. Well, he got a two-year contract at a reduced price because of injury. A left knee strain caused him to miss 24 games this season. His start was poor -- e.g. four goals against on 16 shots vs. Chicago -- and despite a few wins, he continued to give up too many goals, showed some promise in February, but never really gained his footing in the crease. To his credit, he doesn't pout when he's not playing and he almost never criticizes the club in such a way as to offend his teammates. And teammates respect him for that. Near the end of the year, he collapsed in net from a sinus infection and dehydration and then concussed himself by passing out backward onto the ice. Hextall is convinced he'll have a bounce-back season next year, but the bottom line is that he'll never survive a full season and 30-32 games played is the most you can count on from him. Given the club chose him over Mason to re-sign, it's unlikely he'll be exposed in the expansion draft.

Anthony Stolarz
Age: Turns 24 on Jan. 20 
Record: 7 GP; 2-1-0
Stats: 1.93 GAA; .936 SV%
Cap hit: RFA, who earned $753,333 (pro-rated)

Remember the movie There's Something About Mary? Well, if the Flyers produced such a movie, it might be titled, There's Something About Stolie. As in, there's something about this 6-foot-6 giant that the organization doesn't like. Maybe it's his mechanics, which seem awkward at times. Or maybe it's because some in the Flyers' organization feel he makes the tough saves but gives up the easy one down low, or whiffs with the glove hand. He only had seven appearances this season. Hakstol flatly refused to play him when Neuvirth was injured -- Mason got 22 starts -- and that showed a lack of confidence. That apparently extends to Hextall as well. When asked during his after-the-season press conference whether he would be comfortable with Neuvirth as his starter and Stolarz as his backup next season, Hextall didn't answer the question in affirmative fashion. With Alex Lyon, Carter Hart and Felix Sandstorm all vying for the same opportunity Stolarz got in limited doses, the position of backup on this club remains unsolved. The door is not shut on Stolarz yet, but it's not fully open either. Stolarz suffered a torn meniscus in his left knee at season's end with the Phantoms and will miss up to four months. All meniscus tears require surgery. This is worse than an MCL sprain. The 23-year-old needs to have a great training camp to change people's minds in the organization that he's the real deal. And that's complicated by the fact his injury now sets him back. Expect him to be exposed in the expansion draft.

Up next: A look back at the defense.

Ron Hextall prefers short-term veteran goalie, disagrees with Mason's platoon thoughts

Ron Hextall prefers short-term veteran goalie, disagrees with Mason's platoon thoughts

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."

Michal Neuvirth details scary collapse, thoughts on expansion draft, future with Flyers

Michal Neuvirth details scary collapse, thoughts on expansion draft, future with Flyers

VOORHEES, N.J. -- Not so vividly, Michal Neuvirth recalls staring up at the Wells Fargo Center rafters and seeing concerned faces peering down.

He had no idea why he lay on the ice in front 19,911 fans, arms and legs widespread covering the blue-painted goalie crease.

All he knows now is that he doesn't want a clearer picture of that April 1 night when he suddenly collapsed playing in net during the first period of the Flyers' 3-0 win over the Devils.

"To be honest, I didn't watch it," Neuvirth said Tuesday at Flyers Skate Zone. "I heard about it a lot. I didn't watch it. I haven't seen it -- I don't think I'm going to watch it.

"It was scary, a lot of people were afraid. It was a tough situation. I didn't watch it."

Ten days after the incident, at his end-of-the-season interview, Neuvirth said he is "feeling good, feeling better," aside from "little headaches." He explained everything he could from his hellish final game of a 2016-17 season he would like to forget.

"I remember getting dizzy and my vision was a little off," he said. "I was seeing double. … The first thing I really remember was sitting in the locker room."

Neuvirth, who said he suffered a slight concussion and neck injury from the fall, was trying to play while still overcoming a sickness. Starting goalie Steve Mason was unavailable because of illness, while emergency call-up Anthony Stolarz was not yet in Philadelphia.

"I didn't feel good," he said. "I was battling flu or some cold, sinus virus for a few days. As a hockey player, you want to be tough, you want to play through injuries, through sickness. Sometimes you have to be smarter.

"It was kind of a tough situation with Mase sick, Stolie not even at the game. It was only me, the only goalie to play.

"I thought I could do it, I was drinking a lot of fluids, I had a good nap before the game and I thought I was good enough to go."

After being hospitalized and undergoing multiple tests, it's still uncertain if there was an exact cause to Neuvirth's fainting.

"Some of it [dehydration], fever," he said. "They don't really know. They did all the testing: they checked my heart, my lungs, they scanned my head. All the tests, the results were good. I'm healthy and that's really huge for me."

In a contract season, Neuvirth did not have the year he expected. Ironically, though, he got a two-year contract extension at the March 1 trade deadline. He missed nearly two months with a left knee injury, played only two full games after re-signing, and finished 11-11-1 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .891 save percentage. Among goalies with 15 or more games played, his save percentage was an NHL worst.

"It was extra pressure, contract year, all the speculating of who's the guy, who's not the guy," Neuvirth said. "But for me, I was trying to put all those things behind me and just try to focus on myself. I know it was a tough season for me, a lot of ups and downs. I know I can be better and more consistent than I was this year. I'm going to use this year as motivation and work hard in the summer and come back and be ready to go."

Despite his contract extension, Neuvirth's future remains somewhat murky, as is the Flyers' situation in net. Stolarz, 23, looks like the franchise's goalie in grooming. Mason, who turns 29 in May, can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but said Tuesday general manager Ron Hextall wasn't ruling out keeping him on a new contract (see story).

Neuvirth, 29, could be exposed and selected in the June expansion draft as the NHL welcomes the Vegas Golden Knights in 2017-18. Vegas general manager George McPhee was GM of the Capitals when they selected Neuvirth in the second round of the 2006 entry draft.

It's unknown which players Hextall plans to protect or leave exposed. The Flyers' GM is scheduled to address the media on Thursday and that will be a topic of discussion.

Does Neuvirth think about it?

"Not really," he said. "It's out of my control. I have learned in this business that I can only focus on things that are in my control. For me, I am just going to go home, work hard and hope that come August, I'm going to be a Flyer.

"My mindset is that I'm coming back to play for the Flyers and that's what it is. I love the team here, I love the guys, it's a great organization. Even when I was getting sick here in the last week, they took such good care of me, starting from the trainers to the doctors -- just high class."

And Neuvirth believes he can return to 2015-16 form, his first season with the Flyers in which he went 18-8-4 with a 2.27 goals-against average and .924 save percentage, as well as 2-1-0 with 103 saves on 105 shots in the playoffs.

"That's my motivation," he said. "Just to prove to everyone that I can be the same goalie I was last year."