With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

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With Jets on tap, Flyers have proven better off without Steve Mason

WINNIPEG, Manitoba — Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth sat side by side in their cramped stalls Wednesday afternoon at Bell MTS Place in Winnipeg and shared a laugh after coming off the ice from their midday practice. 

The two NHL goaltenders have learned about sharing space, especially in net. If the NHL ever had a timeshare presentation, Elliott and Neuvirth could probably sell you on its benefits.

Financially, they’re both making nearly identical salaries, with Elliott at $2.75 million and Neuvirth $2.5 million.

Neither guy came into October expecting to be the No. 1 in net, and if they did, they certainly downplayed it within the media. It’s a ho-hum tandem that just goes about its business, which is quite the contrast from the past four seasons.

With Steve Mason, you knew what was on his mind, almost to a fault. 

He despised the shootout. He talked about facing the pressure, a lot. There was an admission a few years back that he vented to his parents, sometimes swearing, after a bad start or a string of rough outings. He was naturally upset he wasn’t named the starter for the season opener in Los Angeles. There was the disappointment of not having a contract after last season, and then the “clarity” of moving forward after the Flyers re-signed Neuvirth and not him. 

Whereas Ilya Bryzgalov was the organizational migraine, Mason was simply a wave of nausea. Perhaps he came at just the right time following the most disastrous contract ever. 

For a franchise that gets nearly as much grief for its goalies as the Cleveland Browns do with quarterbacks, finding one that is relatively low-key, along with a propensity for stopping the puck, should be high on the Flyers’ list.  

Privately, a few former and current Flyers told me Mason had a way about him that could rub players the wrong way. There was his body language and staredown after giving up a goal. Then on a few occasions he called out his teammates following a lackluster performance. Ironically, last season’s game right here in Winnipeg, a 3-2 loss, was a prime example: 

“It was up to us to make them feel uncomfortable,” Mason said after the March 22 game. “We're also facing a goaltender (Michael Hutchinson) who hadn't had a start in two months, and I don't think we made it hard enough for him. We need a better effort.

“We keep playing like this and we'll be mathematically eliminated before you know it. We've got to stop this win-one-lose-one [habit]. We have to have some growth on the team here.”

While there may have been some truth to Mason’s words, one could argue it wasn’t his place to point fingers. That’s especially the case on a team with a coach who keeps most of his criticisms in a clenched fist.

Not once can you recall Mason’s teammates calling out their netminder following a horrendous game or, say, giving up a goal in a first-round playoff game that slides right through the five-hole from 125 feet away.

However, Mason left Philadelphia ranked third on the franchise’s all-time games played list and wins list. Only NHL Hall of Famer Bernie Parent and Flyers Hall of Famer Ron Hextall had more. 

When Mason returns to Philadelphia, I’m sure the organization will have a video tribute for his four-plus years of service in orange and black. However, let’s face it, Hextall wanted no part of Mason moving forward.  

“I had wanted to go back there (to Philadelphia), but seeing that they wanted to go in a different direction, you take it as what it is,” Mason recently told The Winnipeg Sun. “Come the summer, there were no discussions, so you move on. I’m happy to be in Winnipeg.”

No discussions. No chance to stay at a reduced rate. No more Mason.

With the signing of Elliott, Hextall was able to save money, and so far, the Flyers’ pair of Elliott and Neuvirth has saved its share of pucks. The Flyers are currently tied for sixth in the NHL with a 2.61 goals against per game.

On the flip side, Mason has had to recover from a disastrous start, one that included surrendering five goals in each of his first three starts with the Jets. He has also been outplayed by Connor Hellebuyck. Mason finally earned his first win of the season this past Saturday against the Coyotes.

Goaltending may not be the Flyers’ greatest strength this season, but it’s clearly not a weakness. Perhaps more importantly, it’s a quiet corner in the locker room. 

Flyers' dynamic top-6 draws national praise

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Flyers' dynamic top-6 draws national praise

If there appears to be a genuine buzz around the Flyers this season that hasn't been here in a few years now — and not about that weird orange thing they unveiled today — you're not exactly wrong.

This is the first season in the Ron Hextall era that the Flyers enter coming off reeling in a big fish via free agency, even if it wasn't John Tavares.

If there appears to be a genuine buzz around the Flyers this season that hasn't been here in a few years now, you're not exactly wrong. Yes, James van Riemsdyk is a big fish. He's a 30-goal scorer and was the second-best free agent available behind Tavares. It was a huge get, and it's a better fit this time around.

it's not just Philly that believes JVR's addition instantly upgrades the Flyers in 2018-19. TSN's Travis Yost on Monday graded out all 31 NHL team's top-sixes and he reaped praise for the orange and black.

Philadelphia is another notable standout. The Flyers’ offense should be nothing short of ridiculous this season — they are returning three forwards in Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier who all finished in the top 30 in scoring last season. Add another year of playing experience for youngsters Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick, plus a 36-goal guy in James van Riemsdyk, and you have attacking options flooding the lineup.

What's interesting about Yost's analysis is that he didn't even include Wayne Simmonds in the group. Even with a hefty list of injuries, Simmonds scored 24 goals and 46 points last season when it was clear that he wasn't himself.

A healthy Simmonds is a 30-goal scorer, and while he hasn't played in the preseason yet, he should be 100 percent by the season opener Oct. 4 in Vegas.

The Flyers will have seven legitimate top-six forwards this season, which means the third line will have a top-six player on it. That's depth this team hasn't had since … van Riemsdyk was with the Flyers in 2011-12.

If we go back to the 2011-12 season, the Flyers had Giroux, Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier, Jaromir Jagr, Danny Briere and Brayden Schenn. That was a pretty solid group of forwards. That team just lacked a defensive group that could actually skate.

Fast forward to this season, the Flyers' defensive group is younger, a bit faster and, quite frankly, a lot better. A healthy Brian Elliott and the Flyers should be fine.

What we should take away from Yost's column is that the Flyers have caught the eye of national pundits, and that's a good thing. The season starts in 10 days.

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Flyers-Bruins preseason game No. 6: Roster, highlights, how to watch and more

Flyers-Bruins preseason game No. 6: Roster, highlights, how to watch and more

VOORHEES, N.J. — For the first time this preseason, the Flyers will face an opponent that resides outside the state of New York as they welcome the Boston Bruins to the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers and B’s will square off in two of their final three games with the preseason finale Saturday at TD Garden in Boston.

• The Flyers are expected to make another round of cuts Tuesday with the roster currently set at 35.

“Tonight will tell us a little bit more," head coach Dave Hakstol said. "I’ll have a better idea after tonight. Tomorrow is a day off, so that will be a natural time to evaluate it.”

The news doesn’t bode well for forwards Tyrell Goulbourne or Carsen Twarynski, who both skated Tuesday morning and will not participate in Monday’s game. Goulbourne has played sparingly throughout the preseason while Twarynski has been one of the camp’s biggest surprises. 

• Hakstol is still trying to determine who will comprise the third- and fourth-line center positions. Mikhail Vorobyev is inching closer to making the final squad, subbing in for Sean Couturier on the top line with Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny. Once Couturier returns healthy, by every indication, Vorobyev appears to be the team’s third-line center with Jordan Weal, Jori Lehtera and Corban Knight vying for the fourth-line center position.

• As for Knight, who Hakstol coached at North Dakota, he remains an outsider to win one of the two final two forward spots on the team. Knight has spent the past two seasons with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, coming to the organization with limited NHL experience. He has just 29 NHL games under his belt, having last played with the Florida Panthers in February 2016. Knight doesn’t possess blazing speed but plays a very responsible two-way game and isn’t caught out of position too often.      

• After playing one period of action last week at Madison Square Garden, Brian Elliott is expected to split time with Anthony Stolarz. Elliott should see at least 30 minutes of action as the Flyers continue to bring him along deliberately from offseason hip and core muscle surgery. The Flyers are building Elliott up to be as close to 100 percent by opening night, but after his first 20 minutes of action against the Rangers, the Flyers' No. 1 goaltender needs to see work in the final three preseason games.   

New mascot to make debut

As the Flyers unveiled their new mascot, "Gritty," at the Please Touch Museum, there were also plenty of reactions from inside the Flyers' dressing room in Voorhees, New Jersey.

“That’s not my mascot.” - Wayne Simmonds

“At least I’m leaving a mark somewhere.” - Radko Gudas

“Kids will love him. I don’t know about my kids, but kids will love him.” - Hakstol

How will fans respond to Gritty? We’ll find out tonight when the oversized, orange and hairy creature makes his debut inside the arena. 

Here are the essentials for tonight:

When: 7 p.m.
Where: Wells Fargo Center
Broadcast: NBC Sports Philadelphia+
Live stream:

Projected lineup

Claude Giroux-Mikhail Vorobyev-Travis Konecny
James van Riemsdyk-Nolan Patrick-Jakub Voracek
Nicolas Aube-Kubel-Jori Lehtera-Dale Weise
Scott Laughton-Corban Knight-Michael Raffl

Ivan Provorov-Shayne Gostisbehere 
Andrew MacDonald-Christian Folin 
Robert Hagg-Philippe Myers

Brian Elliott
Anthony Stolarz

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