Another season, another murky goaltending matter for the Flyers to sort out.
Sharing the net in 2015-16, Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth combined for a .917 save percentage, good enough for seventh-best in the league.
This year? In contract years for both goaltenders, the duo has posted a save percentage of .896, which is 29th in the league.
While neither player has proven himself to be the franchise goaltender, that unclear future came a bit more into focus Thursday, when the Flyers handed Michal Neuvirth a two-year extension.
"This season’s been up and down and I think I got better than I played and I believe that Hexy (general manager Ron Hextall) believes in me," Neuvirth said. "That’s why he got me the contract and for me, I’m just happy to be here in Philly."
With Anthony Stolarz waiting in the wings to make the full-time leap to the NHL next season, it appears for now that Neuvirth has beaten out Mason for the right to wear the orange and black next season.
At this point, it seems likely Mason will be a free agent at season’s end.
"I can't predict the future, other than the fact that I'm here to get the team into the playoffs," Mason said after Thursday’s optional morning skate. "That's my sole focus right now. With Neuvy signing, that's great for him, but at the end of the day, it doesn't really affect me. There's still lots of work to be done to get us into the playoffs."
Mason, who Hextall didn’t rule out re-signing is 17-17-6 with a 2.83 goals against average and a .903 save percentage. He’ll get the chance to show Hextall what he’s got tonight, making his second consecutive start after pitching a shutout vs. Colorado Tuesday.
While Hextall said Neuvirth’s deal "doesn’t suggest we won’t sign Mase," Mason admitted the Flyers never reached out to start extension talks.
"We just had no indication it was in their cards," he said. "I basically just never even planned on it. It would be different if there were conversations but there were none, so you kind of put it on the backburner and focus on trying to win hockey games.
"My signing here I don't think was going to happen during the regular season anyway. We've had no talks. So at the end of the day, it changes nothing for me. My one goal is to get this team into the playoffs, have a playoff run and come summertime we'll see what happens.
"It doesn't change anything for me, it doesn't make me bitter or anything like that. If anything, it just clarifies things and puts your guessing game away from the forefront of your mind. So, clear mind the rest of the way here and hopefully we can have a strong run."
For Neuvirth, the new two-year, $5 million deal still does not guarantee his spot in Philadelphia next season.
With the upcoming expansion draft this summer, the Flyers may choose to expose Neuvirth to selection by Las Vegas in order to protect Stolarz.
"It’s out of my control,” Neuvirth said about this summer’s draft. “For me, I got a job for another two years and I’m going to try and bring my best every day."
Neuvirth, the subject of recent trade rumors, echoed Mason’s sentiment: Cloudy futures aside, there is still meaningful hockey left to be played.
"But right now, it’s over, deadline’s over, so now we've just got to focus on hockey and play our best and win hockey games and make playoffs for Philly," Neuvirth said.
With 20 games remaining, the Flyers currently sit four points behind Toronto for the second wild-card spot.
A win Thursday vs. Florida -- one of four teams they would have to leapfrog to make the playoffs -- would put the Flyers just two points back.
"We're not 10 points out, we're four," Mason said. "So it's within reach. We have to go on a strong run here, we understand that. We understand it's not going to be easy. We can't have these lags where we win the last game, then go lose the next one. We have to put together some real consistent hockey. We need to be scoring goals, we need to keep them out of our net, and everybody honestly just has to focus on doing their individual task. Not worrying what other guys are doing, not getting frustrated with each other, not getting frustrated with the referees. Just focus on our game plan, execute it and if we can do that the rest will take care of itself."
Much like last season, the Flyers will need to catch fire and make a run to reach the playoffs.
That all starts in net, with Mason and Neuvirth simply doing their jobs.
"The entire rest of the season is going to be like that,” Mason said. “We can get within one point, but the next night we might be three behind, who knows? It's going to be a see-saw battle but the only thing we can do is keep gathering points. In gathering points, we're going to take them away from other (teams), too. So it's simple -- do our jobs.