After a one-year reprieve, the goalie question is once again moves to the forefront of discussions surrounding the Flyers.
The only goaltender question entering last season centered around which of the impending free agents would earn the right to be re-signed as the No. 1 goalie of the future. The answer was that neither goalie was a clear winner. And, despite the re-signing of Michal Neuvirth, it’s not clear either one of them will be back next season.
Neuvirth posted an 11-11-1 record with a 2.82 goals-against average and a poor .891 save percentage. Neuvirth also continued his history of being in and out of the lineup with injuries.
Steve Mason was streaky. He was terrific during the Flyers’ 10-game winning streak during the first half of the season and again down the stretch as the Flyers made a playoff push. But he wasn’t so good during the rest of the season, as his numbers (26-21-8, 2.66 goals-against average, .908 save percentage) indicate.
Mason certainly didn’t earn a long-term contract with that performance, especially not for any more than the $4.1 million he made this season – and maybe not even that much. As far as coming back next season, Mason didn’t help himself with comments earlier this week that he doesn’t think a platoon system works in goal, and he doesn’t want to be part of a platoon system next season.
The only real way in which it seems likely Mason would return would be if Neuvirth is selected by Las Vegas during the expansion draft on June 21. Only players under contract can be selected off of team’s rosters, so the two-year, $5 million contract Neuvirth signed may makes him a possibility to go to Vegas, assuming the Flyers, as expected, leave him unprotected. With Anthony Stolarz expected to miss 3-4 months due to a foot injury sustained this past week with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, the loss of Neuvirth might cause the Flyers to try to bring back Mason before the free-agent signing period begins.
If Mason returns under those circumstances, he would be the clear No. 1 goal, which would alleviate his platoon concerns. On the other hand, the plethora of young goalie in the Flyers organization almost assuredly would make Mason a short-term solution. In addition to Stolarz, the goalies in the organization include Alex Lyon, 2016 second-round draft pick Carter Hart, Felix Sandstrom and Harvard goalie Merrick Madsen, who was tremendous while leading the Crimson to the Frozen Four semifinals.
Regardless of which path the Flyers take – signing Mason or letting him go, entering the season with Neuvirth or a wild card such as Sandstrom as the starter – there will be major question marks at goaltender.
YOUTH WILL BE SERVED: As I speculated might happen in my Flyers Notebook just before the end of the season, the Flyers have told defensemen Michael Del Zotto and Nick Schultz that the Flyers will not attempt to re-sign them, allowing them to become unrestricted free agents.
The Schultz decision is not surprising. The 34-year-old steady defenseman may be at the end of his career. There was some thought, however, that the Flyers might try to re-sign Del Zotto, who will turn 27 in June.
Hextall seems committed to giving young players opportunities to fill those roster spots. Sam Morin and Robert Hagg, both of whom made their NHL debuts with the Flyers during the final 10 days of the season after spending two seasons with the Phantoms, are the most likely candidates. Hagg, in particular, looked good during the season finale against the Panthers. Travis Sanheim and Philippe Myers are two more candidates to make the roster.
Assuming the Flyers sign restricted free agent Shayne Gostisbehere and are unable to unload Andrew MacDonald’s contract (three more years at $5 million per season), the defense next season should consist of MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning and two rookies..
LOOKING FORWARD: The Flyers’ core along the forward lines should remain largely the same. It appears unlikely that the Flyers will re-sign Chris VandeVelde, even though he played for head coach Dave Hakstol at North Dakota. But they likely will try to re-sign Jordan Weal, a potential unrestricted free agent who provided a spark by scoring eight goals during the season’s final stretch.
The Flyers will likely expose Matt Read and possibly Dale Weise in the expansion draft. Both are valuable role players. Read is overpaid for his production (10 goals, 9 assists), yet the fact that he only has one year remaining on his $3.625 million salary might make him a nice pickup for an expansion team. Weise, with three years left at $2.35 million per season, showed signs of being the player the Flyers hoped he would be once he was placed on a line with Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
The status of restricted free agents Nick Cousins and Roman Lyubimov is uncertain. Did Lyubimov need a year to adjust to the North American game? Have other young players passed Cousins on the organizational depth chart? It seems unlikely the Flyers would give up on a third-round draft pick, especially if they can sign him for a low price.
If the Flyers want young players such as Weal, Travis Konecny, Hobey Baker Award runner-up Michael Vecchione and possibly Oskar Lindblom (see last week’s Flyers Notebook), they will have to create some room by trading veterans or exposing Read and Weise in the expansion draft.
PROJECTED LINEUP: There is still an entire offseason to make moves, but, as of now, the Flyers’ projected lineup looks like this:
Goalie: Michal Neuvirth, Anthony Stolarz.
Defense: Andrew MacDonald, Radko Gudas, Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, Brandon Manning, Sam Morin, Robert Hagg
Centers and forwards: Claude Giroux; Wayne Simmonds; Jordan Weal; Valtteri Filppula; Jakub Voracek; Travis Konecny; Sean Couturier; Brayden Schenn; Dale Weise; Pierre-Edouard Bellemare; Michael Vecchione; Michael Raffl; and possibly, Nick Cousins or Oskar Lindblom.
SIMMONDS IS MVP: There wasn’t much suspense for the top awards as the Flyers announced their award winners during the final weekend of the regular season. Wayne Simmonds, with a team-leading 31 goals and 30 assists, was the clear choice as winner of the Bobby Clarke Trophy as the team’s most valuable player. Rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov (6 goals, 24 assists) also seemed a clear pick for the Barry Ashbee Award as the team’s top defenseman.
The Pelle Lindbergh Award for the team’s most improved player went to defenseman Radko Gudas, who remained a physical player while reducing his penchant for taking undisciplined penalties. The Gene Hart Memorial Award for the player with the most heart went to well-respected fourth-line center Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. The winner of the Yanick Dupre Class Guy Memorial Award was goalie Steve Mason. The award, selected by media members, may be both a blessing and a curse for Mason, who was sometimes considered too blunt in his postgame critique of the team’s performance and effort.
OH, CANADA: There are reports that Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds will join Ron Hextall and Dave Hakstol with Team Canada in the International Ice Hockey World Championships. Hextall is the general manager of Team Canada. Hakstol will serve as an assistant coach.
FAREWELL TO SOUTHERLAND: Bill Southerland, who scored the first goal in Flyers history and the first goal at the Spectrum, died at age 82. PhillyPhanatics.com sends condolences to friends and family of the Sutherland family, as well as to the Flyers organization.
WORKING OVERTIME: The Stanley Cup playoffs got off to a roaring start, with the top-seeded Capitals falling into a 2-0 hole before rallying for a 3-2 victory over the Maple Leafs in Game 1. As sometimes happens, Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen made two spectacular saves moments before whiffing on a shot from the right boards by Tom Wilson, who might be the last Capital forward many would choose to score the overtime goal. There have been several fantastic finishes – and the playoffs are only a few days old.
REMEMBERING SNIDER: As I wrap up my final Flyers Notebook of the season, let’s take a moment to remember Flyers founder Ed Snider, who died a little more than one year ago. Without Snider, who set the tone for the franchise for its entire existence, we wouldn’t have this franchise to discuss and argue about. Philadelphia might have eventually received a hockey franchise, but it wouldn’t be the Flyers.