Steve Mason

Wayne Simmonds: 'The youth can spark' Flyers' veterans

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Wayne Simmonds: 'The youth can spark' Flyers' veterans

TORONTO — Heading into his seventh season with the Flyers, and 10th overall, Wayne Simmonds is looking forward to building off a second consecutive 30-plus-goal season while helping lead a young group back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With everyone from second overall pick Nolan Patrick to blueliners Sam Morin, Robert Hagg, Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim all vying for roster spots, Simmonds, 28, is seeing the game change before his eyes.

“I think I’m kind of getting up there. This year is my 10th year, right? So I see some names, I’m not just saying on our team alone, but in the whole league, game is changing a little bit,” Simmonds said Wednesday at the annual BioSteel Camp in Toronto. “All I can do is lead by example. I’m going to go in there and play the game the way I play and hopefully those guys will follow.”

Following the 2016-17 season, which saw the Flyers go 39-33-10 while finishing 11th in the Eastern Conference, Simmonds represented Canada at the IIHF World Championships, registering two assists in 10 games while helping the Canadians win a silver medal.

Prior to getting into his offseason workout program, Simmonds and his fiancee Crystal Corey took a much-needed vacation.

“I got a chance to go to Jamaica with my fiancee, so we did that at the beginning of the summer after we came back from world championship,” Simmonds said. “We just went to Montego Bay, kept it close, we didn’t want to drive too far from the airport.

“Saw a lot of the island, took a drive to Negril, spent a day in Negril, which was actually beautiful white sand beaches and great restaurants and stuff like that, so it was pretty cool.”

The summer also saw Simmonds lose a few close teammates as the Flyers parted ways with goaltender Steve Mason and forward Brayden Schenn, among others.

“Very sad to see him go, I have a really good relationship with Steve,” Simmonds said. “We played together for a long time going all the way back to world juniors, winning a gold medal with him, so it’s sad to see him go, but it’s just part of the business. Guys change teams here and there and you’ve just got to accept it.”

Despite not playing with Brian Elliott, who was brought in to replace Mason, Simmonds already has a relationship with the goaltender, who spent last season in Calgary.

“I got a chance to talk to [Elliott] a little bit through text,” Simmonds said. “I actually know him and his wife a little bit. His wife is actually the godmother of one of my best friend’s kids, so we’ve got a connection there.”

Simmonds also sees Schenn’s departure as an opening for second-year forward Travis Konecny.

“I think that’s going to give T.K. an unbelievable opportunity,” Simmonds said. “The way he plays the game, the way he thinks the game, the speed he plays it at and the confidence level he was building towards last year — you could see it at the end of last year and at the world championship when he kind of broke out.

“He played unbelievable. He’s probably top three or four in our team in scoring — he’s a great player and I think the more ice time you give him, the better he’s going to get.”

The Flyers saw an eight-point drop-off last season compared to 2015-16, when they made the playoffs, and with an influx of young players expected, expectations aren’t high. The Hockey News predicted the Flyers to once again finish sixth in the Metropolitan Division in its annual yearbook issue. Despite the outlook, Simmonds believes there’s room for his club to build off last season.

“This year we’re going to have a lot of young defensemen coming in and I think it’s going to make our team better,” he said. “With a good mix of youth and veterans, I think the youth can spark the veterans a little bit and the veterans will help bring the younger guys [along].”

The Flyers head into the 2017-18 season looking to avoid missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since going five straight seasons without playoff hockey from 1990-94.

The weight of trying to qualify for the playoffs in a tough Metropolitan Division is no added pressure on the leadership group, according to Simmonds. 

“Go out there, play my game and lead the way I lead,” he said. “There’s no pressure for us. We’ve got to go in there and just play hockey. We didn’t fulfill what we wanted to do last year, so it’s up to us, I think, as leaders of the group to lead the way for the young guys and have everyone pulling the rope in the same direction.”

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.”

Agent: Steve Mason will not return to Flyers, sign elsewhere

Agent: Steve Mason will not return to Flyers, sign elsewhere

Updated: 6:53 p.m.

The Steve Mason era in Philadelphia is officially over.

Mason will not return to the Flyers next season, his agent, Anton Thun, confirmed Thursday to CSNPhilly.com.

The Philadelphia Inquirer first reported the news.

An unrestricted free agent, Mason has drawn interest from the Jets, according to the Winnipeg Sun's Ken Wiebe. The interest from Winnipeg is "significant," via TSN's Bob McKenzie.

Free agents can officially sign Saturday. UFAs have been able to talk with teams since last Sunday, and per Wiebe, "multiple teams [are] interested" in Mason.

Mason, 29, departs the Flyers after four-plus seasons as the team's third-winningest goalie in franchise history with 104 wins and a .918 save percentage, second-best among goaltenders who started at least 50 games with the club.

Last season, he struggled to find consistency with an erratic first half but eventually settled down. He finished the season with a 26-21-8 record, 2.66 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. He had a .927 save percentage and three shutouts in his final 20 games.

Mason's first-half struggles coincided with platooning with Michal Neuvirth. It appeared the decision to start Neuvirth in the season opener had an impact on Mason's mentality.

After a strong preseason and training camp, Mason combined with Neuvirth to provide the Flyers with poor goaltending in the first few months of the season.

Mason began to separate himself statistically from Neuvirth in January, but coach Dave Hakstol continued to role with the platoon. Neuvirth started nine of the Flyers' 11 games in February. Then in March, the Flyers signed Neuvirth to a two-year contract extension — a sign the Flyers were ready to move on from Mason. Neuvirth finished the season with an NHL-worst .891 save percentage.

Injuries to Neuvirth opened the door for Mason to start 15 of the team's final 20 games.

While all signs pointed to Mason leaving, he was receptive to returning to the Flyers at the team's breakup day with one condition: no more platoon.

"Doesn't work," Mason said of platoons. "And it's shown throughout the league, it doesn't work. Tampa got rid of their situation. St. Louis got rid of their situation. It's got nothing to do with Neuvy and I as people. I've got no issues with Neuvy. It doesn't work for the goaltending position."

The Flyers will now turn to free agency, as expected, to replace Mason. Some potential options on the market include Jonathan Bernier, Brian Elliott and Antti Niemi.

It appears Elliott is the front-runner. According to FOX Sports Midwest's Andy Strickland, the "early talk on Brian Elliott is three years with Flyers at $2.75 [million] per."

"My comfort level is there are a number of goalies out there," Hextall said last Saturday. "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."

Mason is no longer in the mix.