Steve Mason

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.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Steve Mason

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: 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.