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.”