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.”

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Flyers-Jets 10 observations: Lackluster effort, wasted opportunity

Our recap of Tuesday's underwhelming performance by the Flyers in Winnipeg.

Their Tragic Number is now 13, meaning the number of points either lost by the Flyers or accrued by the second wild card -- Toronto -- that totals 13 will eliminate the Flyers from the playoffs.

Sean Couturier said it best prior to the road trip: Unless the Flyers won in Winnipeg, then anything positive they achieved in coming from behind to beat Carolina was wasted.

And it was.  

If you watched the telecast with John Boruk, Alfonso Morganti and myself, you already know how I feel about the loss.

But for those of you who are gluttons for further punishment, here's 10 Things I think, I think, as Bill Lyon used to say:

1. A couple players gave everything they had to make a difference in this game. Radko Gudas had eight of the Flyers' 17 hits. Michael Del Zotto had five strong shots from the point, two of which were almost goals. Shayne Gostisbehere had four shots, two of which almost gave them a goal.

2. The Jets had five injured defensemen out of their lineup, which meant the Flyers' forwards should have been attacking them at the net. Again, the only offense generated for 50 minutes was from the point and not down low, where the Jets were vulnerable.

3. Valterri Filppula matched up against Patrick Laine and held him -- with help from Steve Mason -- to no points, a task in itself. Laine generated five shots and two prime scoring chances that Mason took care of.

4. Jets rookie defenseman Julian Melchiori had played just eight NHL games and had a total of four shots. He had three in the first period alone Tuesday and tied Laine with a team-high five for the game. He was more determined to make something happen than most of the Flyers. That should embarrass coach Dave Hakstol, who insisted the Flyers come out strong. They didn't.

5. Winnipeg moved up and down the ice well in transition. They came into the zone with speed and spread their attack out. Blake Wheeler's goal that made it 2-1 in the third period was the result of the Jets' precise puck movement from Mathieu Perreault to Mark Scheifele to Wheeler that demonstrated nothing moves faster on the ice than the speed of the puck. Wheeler got the puck with a wide-open look inside the right circle. The Flyers didn't have a single play during the game that mimicked that rush.

6. Although the Flyers' penalty kill units gave up a 10th goal in their last 24 chances, they shut down the Jets' the final four power plays of the game, including the four-minute double-minor to Ivan Provorov in the second period. The PK got no help from the power play (0 for 3).

7. Mason had four saves during the Jets' four-minute power play, which should have given the Flyers some momentum for the remainder of the second period and into the third. He also had a terrific stick save on Laine in the slot after the PP that left the rookie so angry he was jamming his stick violently into the ground on the Jets' bench.

8. Following up on that, why were the Flyers hesitant in the third period, tied 1-1, while the Jets peppered Mason at the outset? Where's that sense of desperation Hakstol's team should have shown? This is precisely what happened in Boston a few weeks ago. Game tied going into the third and instead of playing for two points they absolutely had to have, the Flyers were playing to get the game into overtime and earn at least one. That strategy failed spectacularly in Boston when the Bruins won the game in the final 5.6 seconds of regulation and failed again Tuesday.

9. Hakstol talked about effort and determination, yet the numbers say otherwise. With 13:34 left in regulation, the Flyers had just two shots in the period. Two! In the final seven minutes of the game, their sense of urgency finally kicked in when they kept the puck in Winnipeg's zone to the end and even scored shorthanded. That again raises this question: Where was that urgency at the period's start when it was 1-1 and not 3-1?

10. Finally, the Flyers had three power plays in this defeat. During their second power play, trailing 2-1, Winnipeg's lowly PK unit generated two shorthanded chances and cleared the zone four times. On the Flyers' final power play -- they trailed 3-1 at that point -- Hakstol pulled Mason to create a 6-on-4. The Flyers generated several scoring chances. They have scored three times this season under that scenario. Young goalie Michael Hutchinson, who had a 4.06 goals against average head-to-head against the Flyers, had a couple of terrific saves, including one on Wayne Simmonds in the slot. Where was that pressure on Hutchinson earlier in the period? Or earlier in the game?

Steve Mason critical of Flyers' effort in road loss to Jets

Steve Mason critical of Flyers' effort in road loss to Jets

BOX SCORE

WINNIPEG, Manitoba -- Steve Mason sat alone in his stall, clearly dejected by what he'd just witnessed. His team, supposedly fighting for its playoff lives, had come out with one of its flattest efforts of the season.

Where was the push? Where was the desperation? Mason certainly didn't see it.

"I don't think anyone is too pleased with this game," the candid Flyers goaltender said following Tuesday night's 3-2 loss to the Winnipeg Jets (see Instant Replay). "It's frustrating for everybody, considering the situation we are in. We need to be a more desperate hockey club. I don't think we were tonight."

Mason did his part, stopping 30 of 33 shots he faced (see feature highlight). At the top of his list of complaints was the eight consecutive minutes in penalties the Flyers took in the second period. Winnipeg would score the tying goal during one of those four power plays and seemingly steal all momentum away from the Flyers.

"It gets everybody out of rhythm, gets key guys sitting on the bench for too long a period of time," Mason said. "It definitely just disrupted any chance of making a push during the second, for sure."

Forward Jordan Weal said he expected more as his team began the third period with the score tied 1-1 and the result still very much up in the air.

"Our killers did a great job to keep us in that game," Weal said. "Guys that didn't kill need to come out in the third and come up big. There just wasn't enough push in that third."

The Flyers remain seven points out of the final wild-card playoff spot but now have just 10 games remaining (see standings).

"If you want to be a playoff team, we've got to be more consistent in what we do," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said. "We need to find ways to get it done every night."

Head coach Dave Hakstol bemoaned his team's play on the road as of late; it has now dropped four straight in enemy territory.

"It's been a difference for us," Hakstol said. "That's how it is right now. This is one we needed here that we didn't get tonight on the road."

Mason said struggling away from home speaks to bigger issues with the team.

"We haven't been a good road team and it's cost us. It's put us in the position we're in right now," Mason said. "It's easy to have a good record at home. You're comfortable there. But we have to elevate our games on the road. It's a little bit more difficult to feel good about your game on the road, but it's all about hard work and working for it and we're not doing a good job."

Giroux said they were aware Winnipeg was without several key players, especially on defense, but didn't do enough to take advantage.

"I think we could have cycled that puck a little bit more and created more chances," he said. "At the end of the day, we need to focus on our game. We're a better team than what happened tonight." 

Mason noted that Winnipeg goalie Michael Hutchinson was making his first start in two months, but the Flyers failed to generate much in the way of scoring chances.

"I don't think we made it hard enough on him. We need to have a better effort," Mason said. "We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before we know it. We've got to stop this win one, lose one. We need to have some growth as a team here."