As Flyers' season winds down, big questions loom about Steve Mason

As Flyers' season winds down, big questions loom about Steve Mason

Perhaps the biggest issue Flyers general manager Ron Hextall must address this offseason is what to do about his goaltending.

The fact that he re-signed Michal Neuvirth over Steve Mason doesn't mean diddly.

The oft-injured Neuvirth came at a bargain price. He can be dangled in the expansion draft so the club doesn't have to expose young prospect Anthony Stolarz.

The more intriguing question is what to do with Mason, who earned $4.1 million this season, but like Neuvirth didn't live up to expectations.

Remember, there is a growing stockpile of goalies in the Flyers' system.

In this final week of the season, Mason's overall numbers -- 2.67 goals-against average and .908 save percentage -- don't get you into the playoffs, even with 25 wins. His GAA and save percentage are his poorest since 2011-12 with Columbus (3.39, .894).

Yet, if you look into his last 16 games, Mason is 9-5-2 with a 2.15 GAA and .933 save percentage on a terribly inconsistent club that has underachieved. Those numbers are very good, especially viewed in that light.

Now here's the rub: You can make a case that Mason has been able to do that because the Flyers were pretty much out of the wild-card race -- realistically, not mathematically -- once March began, and the pressure wasn't as great.

A number of players have said that over the last three weeks, as it became clearer the uphill battle was out of their own hands. It also became easier to relax and just go out and play and leave things to fate.

Players universally play better in any sport when pressure is removed.

There are some other things to consider. During his five seasons with the Flyers, Mason has given pause more than once as to whether he has the mental fortitude to overcome the bad. He's been healthy this year and yet his numbers have been subpar.

In trying to ascertain whether to re-sign him -- at a discounted price -- Hextall has to ask himself which goalie is he getting?

Is it Mason from 2013-14, who won 33 games with a 2.50 GAA and .917 save percentage and had excellent numbers in the postseason (1.97, .939) despite losing?

Or is it the Mason of the last two years, who has been inconsistent, having a terrible playoff series (4.09, .852) against Washington last spring?

One more thing: During his tenure here, Mason has been very vocal, very critical, often very honest in his postgame appraisal of the Flyers. That doesn't sit well with a number of players in the dressing room.

Here's a blunt, yet accurate assessment of the Flyers from Mason on Tuesday morning in New Jersey:

"This is a tough week to be a part of right now," he said of playing out the schedule. "I think we realize we did ourselves in with our own play. There's nothing more to it than we weren't consistent enough throughout the year to be a playoff hockey team this year.

"Looking back, it's also frustrating because we've seen some glimpses of a real solid hockey team. But in order to be a solid hockey team, you need to have the consistency and that's something that we clearly lacked and it put us in a position where we're playing out the last three games knowing we're not gonna be part of the postseason.

"Moving forward here, I think everybody, at the end of the year, just has to take a look in the mirror and hold themselves accountable and understand that as a whole and as individuals we've got to be better."

Other players have said that in the past two weeks. Yet, that's the kind of honesty you get from Mason every game.

His criticism of the Flyers for their lack of effort in a losing performance at Winnipeg last month had players grumbling. They didn't appreciate what he said, nor the timing of when he said it.

Hextall realizes some of the players don't care for Mason's candidness. Generations of hockey players believe that's the job of the captain and select skaters -- not the goaltender.

Hextall has to ask himself two questions as it pertains to Mason:

1. Does he deserve to return?

2. If so, is he a goaltender the Flyers will play for? Or is this just a goaltender the Flyers will play in front of?

Loose pucks
The Flyers sent defenseman Sam Morin and forward Colin McDonald back to the Phantoms now that their back-to-back games are done and they don't play again until this weekend. Hextall has said all along he wants the Phantoms' roster complete for the AHL playoffs. Both these players could be recalled, but if the Flyers' injury situation turns around by the weekend, that won't be necessary.

2018 NHL draft position preview — Right wingers

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2018 NHL draft position preview — Right wingers

We’ve looked at the top draft-eligible centers and left wingers. Up next, right wingers. On Sunday, we’ll look at the top defensemen before moving into the best fits for the Flyers.

Andrei Svechnikov, 6-2/188, Barrie (OHL)
Svechnikov is head and shoulders atop the forward prospects in this year’s draft class. He began the year as the No. 1 North American skater by NHL Central Scouting and ended there as well. Finished with 40 goals and 72 points in 44 games this season with Barrie, tops among rookie OHLers. His 1.64 points per game average was best among rookies and fifth in all of the OHL. His brother, Evgeny Svechnikov, was the 19th overall pick by the Red Wings in 2015.

Draft projection: No. 2 overall

Oliver Wahlstrom, 6-1/205, USNTDP
Wahlstrom finished as the seventh-rated North American skater by Central Scouting. The American can play both center and right wing but projects to at least begin his career on the wing. He plays a power forward game with impressive puck skills. He registered 40 goals and 83 points in 54 games for the USA U-18 team in the USA Hockey National Team Development Program, and 22 goals and 45 points in 26 games for Team USA in the USHL. The 17-year-old is committed to play college hockey at Harvard University in the fall.

Draft projection: Between Nos. 4-9

Vitali Kravtsov, 6-2/170, Chelyabinsk (KHL)
Kravtsov, who models his game after Washington center Evgeny Kuznetsov, finished as the third-best European skater by Central Scouting, a seven-spot climb from the midterm rankings. Had a strong postseason for Chelyabinsk, recording six goals and 11 points in 16 games and was named the best rookie for each of the first three rounds. He’s a shifty forward with high-end speed.

Draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

Serron Noel, 6-5/205, Oshawa (OHL)
The Generals winger took an enormous leap in his second OHL campaign, going from 21 points in 63 games in 2016-17 to 53 points in 62 games in 2017-18. Noel finished as the 10th-rated North American skater by Central Skating, a one-spot drop from the midterm rankings. He has a lot of raw talent and has natural size and strength. He’s improved his skating, which has helped his case throughout his draft year. Has drawn comparisons to Jets captain Blake Wheeler. A high-upside prospect with top-line potential.

Draft projection: Mid-to-late first round

Martin Kaut, 6-2/170, Pardubice (Czech)
Kaut’s 2018 IIHF World Junior Championships performance helped put the winger on the radar. The Czech winger jumped from the 11th-rated European skater by Central Scouting in the midterm rankings to the fourth-best in the final rankings. Had seven points in seven games playing for the Czech Republic at the world juniors. Had nine goals and 16 points in 38 games for Pardubice in 2017-18. An effective two-way player with good playmaking ability.

Draft projection: Late first, early second round

A Flyers fan's guide for watching Phantoms' home playoff games

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A Flyers fan's guide for watching Phantoms' home playoff games

Flyers fans still have some hockey to watch.

Some of the organization's brightest prospects will be competing in Allentown, Pennsylvania, from Wednesday into the weekend as the Lehigh Valley Phantoms continue their AHL playoff run in the Eastern Conference Finals.

The Phantoms trail the Toronto Marlies, 2-0, with the series now shifting to the PPL Center for Games 3, 4 and 5 (if necessary).

What should Flyers fans know?

Let's get into it:

1. When to watch
Game 3 is tonight at 7:05 p.m. Game 4 follows Friday at 7:05 p.m. with Game 5 (if needed) Saturday at 7:05 p.m.

2. Where to watch
All three games will be broadcast on NBC Sports Philadelphia+. For which channel in your area, click here.

3. Who to watch
• Defenseman Travis Sanheim returned from a four-game absence (knee injury) to play in the first two games of this series. The 2014 first-round pick had 16 points in 18 regular-season games with Lehigh Valley. When he rejoined the Flyers on March 10, he was a plus-4 over 14 games to help the big club clinch a playoff berth. "When Sanny got back up, I thought Sanny was unbelievable," Wayne Simmonds said last month.

• Winger Oskar Lindblom went scoreless in Games 1 and 2 but has seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine playoff games. He played 23 games with the Flyers this season and impressed alongside Nolan Patrick. The 21-year-old is a building block and the goal will be to make the Flyers out of training camp in the fall.

• Everybody knows Alex Lyon now after his Herculean effort during the semifinals in which he made 94 saves for a five-overtime victory. He's been superb through the postseason, recording a 1.84 goals-against average and .949 save percentage in nine games. It's been a timely stretch for him ahead of an important offseason

• Defenseman Philippe Myers is another exciting piece to the Flyers' future on the blue line. The 21-year-old is 6-foot-5 and developing but fought through injuries in 2017-18. He's making up for some of those tough times with seven points (three goals, four assists) in 11 postseason games.

• Don't forget about Mike Vecchione, a hard-working forward who will be in the picture next season. The 25-year-old put up 40 points in his first year pro and has seven points (three goals, four assists) in 11 playoff games.

4. However …
You won't see touted prospects Morgan Frost and Carter Hart.

With their junior campaigns coming to an end recently, both have joined the Phantoms but are not expected to play; they're simply there for the exposure.

5. This and that
• Lehigh Valley won an AHL-most 27 games at home during the regular season, losing just six times in regulation.

• Toronto is 2-2-0 on the road in the postseason compared to 7-0-0 at home.

• Chris Conner, 34, leads the Phantoms in the playoffs with five goals and nine points.

• Lehigh Valley has allowed a league-high 43 power-play opportunities during the postseason, while Toronto has gone on a league-high 55 man advantages.

• Defenseman Samuel Morin is out for the rest of the playoffs with a knee injury that is requiring surgery, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer's Sam Carchidi.