Michal Neuvirth over Steve Mason? Flyers bungle yet another goalie situation

Michal Neuvirth over Steve Mason? Flyers bungle yet another goalie situation

It seemed like a fitting end to Steve Mason's career in Philadelphia -- once again proving he's better than the goalie the Flyers decided to keep -- pitching a 33-save shutout Tuesday to snap a two-game skid to get the orange and black a much-needed two points.

The news began to bleed out on social media during Mason's blanking of the Avalanche that the Flyers were negotiating a contract extension with Michal Neuvirth less than 24 hours before the trade deadline. If they re-signed Neuvirth before the deadline, could Mason be traded? Speculation flowed until a little after 1 p.m. Wednesday -- two hours before the deadline -- when the Flyers made their choice.

On Wednesday, the Flyers signed Neuvirth to a two-year, $5 million extension in a move general manager Ron Hextall described as giving the team options for the expansion draft -- they now have the option of choosing between two goalies to expose rather than one -- and a deal that gives the Flyers flexibility. And re-signing Neuvirth "doesn't suggest we won't sign Mase," Hextall said, as the deadline passed with Mason staying put. But it did signal something to Mason and the rest of us.

The Flyers are ready to move on from Mason after this season.

"It just clarifies things and puts your guessing game away from the forefront of your mind," Mason said Thursday. "We just had no indication it was in their cards. I basically just never even planned on it. It would be different if there were conversations, but there were none. You kind of put it on the backburner and focus on trying to win hockey games."

So where do the Flyers go from here? It's true -- re-signing Neuvirth does not necessarily mean Mason's tenure in Philly will end come July 1. Mason could still sign with the Flyers. Re-signing Neuvirth could simply have been a move to have a goalie to expose to Las Vegas that isn't 22-year-old Anthony Stolarz. But a two-year contract suggests Neuvirth is the Flyers' stopgap goalie until one of their highly-touted goalie prospects are ready.

In reality, neither Mason nor Neuvirth will be the goaltender here when the Flyers are ready to compete for a Cup. Either one would have been a placeholder until a kid is equipped to take the reins of the No. 1 goaltending job. Neuvirth's contract also suggests Hextall believes one of them will be ready to be the guy in three years and that Stolarz will be able to handle an NHL backup role next season. The long view says re-signing Neuvirth for two years at a reasonable $2.5 million annual average value isn't a killer. From a cap perspective, it computes, too. (Mason will likely carry a higher cap hit in his next deal.) Why pay a goalie more money than you have to if you don't see him as the future?

But the immediate reaction is the Flyers bungled another goaltending situation, fell in love with Neuvirth and placed a goalie who's consistently been above average since coming here in the doghouse. Some things never change, even when the future remains bright.

There is no argument that Neuvirth has been solid since signing here in July 2015 ... when healthy. That's the thing with Neuvirth: He's injury prone and has been his entire career. It's part of the reason why Neuvirth has yet to find himself a long-term contract. He's an athletic goalie with plenty of talent. The argument is, well, Neuvirth is not the better goalie of the two. And if playoffs are the goal this season, next and the year after, Mason would have been the right goalie to go with.

This season, neither goalie has played out of his mind. The overall product of both has been mediocre at best. Still, Mason has been the stronger of the two.

The numbers back it up, too. Mason has a .905 save percentage; Neuvirth's is .887, an NHL-worst among qualified goalies. Mason has a 2.78 goals-against average to Neuvirth's 2.90. Mason has two shutouts; Neuvirth has none. Neither stat line is respectable.

A fair argument could be made the Flyers should move on from both Mason and Neuvirth after this season. That still remains a possibility if the Golden Knights take Neuvirth in the expansion draft. There is a connection with Neuvirth and Vegas GM George McPhee from when McPhee was the general manager of the Capitals. McPhee did draft Neuvirth in 2006. It also remains possible Vegas takes Neuvirth in the expansion draft and the Flyers re-sign Mason. We don't know the end game yet, but right now it doesn't appear Mason will be back.

If this does signal the end of the Mason era in Philadelphia is coming, Mason deserved better.

Now in his fifth year with the Flyers, Mason came at a time the team needed stability in net after the Bryz-aster. He provided just that. Mason came from Columbus after losing his way mentally and found his confidence under the tutelage of Jeff Reese, who left the Flyers in the middle of the 2015-16 season, reportedly over the Flyers' handling of Mason's injuries.

When Mason's time in Philly comes to an end -- the writing's on the wall -- he'll depart the Flyers as one of their most underappreciated players, at least by the fan base. Mason's 96 wins with the Flyers rank third in franchise history. His .918 save percentage is second to Roman Cechmanek's .923. Not too long ago, Mason returned from a concussion in Game 4 to nearly lead the Flyers past a much better Rangers team in a seven-game series loss in 2014. He was a major reason why they made the playoffs last season.

The knock on Mason is that he's fragile in the confidence department. The competition with Neuvirth hasn't brought out the best of Mason, and he plays better when he knows he's the starting goalie. When Dave Hakstol decided to start Neuvirth over Mason in the season opener despite Mason's strong preseason, it appeared to impact Mason.

When we digest the Neuvirth extension, one question that remains: Why would Mason want to re-sign here now?

There aren't many reasons he would want to come back. Neuvirth's contract signals the Flyers want a reasonable cap hit in net, which suggests they'd want Mason to take a pay cut from the $4.1 million he's making this season. Why take a pay cut to split time and be a band-aid?

Factor in the situation with Reese, Hakstol's handling of the tandem this season and what's coming, and there isn't much incentive for Mason to return. He'll be an attractive item on the free-agent market. Dallas, where Reese is the goalie coach, could be an option.

Signing Neuvirth for two seasons aligns with the Flyers' overall course. But remember, they opted to go with the lesser, cheaper of the two while the kids grow up. And really, that's OK.

But what do you know? It's 2017 and we're still talking goaltenders.

Welcome to Philadelphia.

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Senators' Brady Tkachuk fined maximum allowable amount for crosscheck on Flyers' Scott Laughton

Suffice it to say Scott Laughton got the best of the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

He was the first star in the Flyers' 4-3 victory, scored the game-winning goal during the third period, added an assist, stood up for his teammates and got under the skin of Ottawa forward Brady Tkachuk.

So much so that Tkachuk went after Laughton, crosschecking the 25-year-old forward in the back and jumping him during the final minute of regulation. The NHL reacted quickly to the play, fining Tkachuk $2,486.56, the maximum allowable under the CBA.

Following his third-period marker, Laughton had words for the Senators' bench. He was fired up, especially after Ottawa's hits on Travis Konecny and Joel Farabee, which led to some fights. Laughton could not partake in the dropping of the gloves because he recently returned following surgery on a broken finger, which is still healing.

I knew it was coming. It’s part of the game when you do that stuff and chirp the bench, you know it’s going to come. I just can’t drop my gloves right now with my finger and everything. I’ve got some padding there so once I do that, I guess it’s a penalty or something. That’s just the way it went.

- Laughton

But Laughton still had the backs of his teammates. He was physical throughout, especially after the first-period hits on Konecny and Farabee. He also allowed his game to do the talking.

Laughton has four goals in his last six contests and the Flyers are 6-1-1 since his return following a 13-game absence because of the finger injury.

Would Laughton have liked to fight?

"Yeah," he said.

He did plenty enough.

Tkachuk's crosscheck and check to the league are proof of Laughton's work.


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Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Multiple fights, a potential costly injury to Travis Konecny and a different kind of Flyers win over Senators

Updated: 4:22 p.m.


The win was ugly.

But a really good one for the Flyers.

A lesser opponent tried to work them up, throw them off, and the Flyers still found a way to pull out a 4-3 decision over the Senators on Saturday afternoon at the Wells Fargo Center.

They did so while losing their best player during the first period and despite being outshot 30-21.

Scott Laughton was superb yet again with a multi-point game. He was physical when the game became physical and he scored the game-winning goal, his fourth marker in the last six games.

The Flyers (17-8-5) showed they can win when they’re far from their best, which is a good sign. They are 12-3-4 with 28 points since Nov. 1. The Capitals entered the day with an NHL-leading 28 points over that span.

The Senators (12-17-1) have lost six of their last seven games.

• The biggest storyline to come from Saturday’s game was Travis Konecny leaving the ice and never returning following a crushing hit by Mark Borowiecki in the first period.

The fights then broke out with Jakub Voracek and Joel Farabee doing the honors (see story).

The 22-year-old Konecny already had a goal in the game and has been arguably the Flyers’ most important piece to their turnaround through two months of this season.

Konecny was presumably getting checked for a concussion. If he were to miss any time, it would be a significant loss for the Flyers, who are 2-4-4 when Konecny goes scoreless in a game.

After the game, head coach Alain Vigneault said Konecny had an upper-body injury and the Flyers would have further updates Monday.

• Ivan Provorov kept on humming Saturday, matching his goal total of seven from last season by sending home a third-period missile to put the Flyers ahead 3-2 (see highlights).

The Flyers are 15-5-4 since Oct. 21. Over that stretch, Provorov has six goals, nine assists and a plus-10 mark.

• The Senators’ game-tying goal in the second period was an inexcusable one to give up by the Flyers. Carter Hart and Shayne Gostisbehere misread each other terribly, which allowed Anthony Duclair to swoop in for a shorthanded marker.

Both Hart and Gostisbehere need to be more aware in that situation.

The good news is Gostisbehere continues to push offensively and Hart has been awfully good since Nov. 1 — really, all season for that matter.

Gostisbehere has three goals in five games following a three-game benching. The 26-year-old defenseman had one goal in his previous 22 games.

Hart finished with 27 saves.

• Morgan Frost picked up his first point in eight games on Konecny’s goal.

Before the game, Vigneault expressed his confidence in the 20-year-old center who is centering the Flyers’ top line.

The 2017 first-round pick deserves some patience just like a lot of young players.

• Next week, the Flyers open a three-game road trip, which features matchups with the Avalanche on Wednesday (9:30 p.m. ET/NBCSN), the Wild on Saturday (7 p.m. ET/NBCSP) and the Jets on Sunday (5 p.m. ET/NBCSP+).


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