This offseason will be very interesting for the Philadelphia Flyers. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth are both poised to become free agents, leaving the Flyers without an experienced NHL goalie under contract after this season.
The Flyers have options to fill the void but Mason and Neuvirth are seasoned veterans, whereas the other options have played in a combined four NHL games. That means that some big decisions are looming for general manager Ron Hextall. The decision becomes even more complex when you consider the stats of the two NHL goalies and put them up against the goalies that are waiting in the wings.
So what will happen with the Flyers’ goalie situation?
A Goaltending Free Fall
If you were to ask any Flyers fan at the beginning of the season what the team’s biggest issue is, goaltending would have been at the b0ttom of the list.
Steve Mason has had his ups and downs in the Orange and Black, but overall he has been a consistent force between the pipes. He’s now spent almost half of his NHL career with the Flyers and in those five seasons, he has posted a .918 save-percentage and a 2.50 GAA. The goals-against stat isn’t too hot, but that can be attributed to a sub-par defense. His save-percentage, however, has been very good.
The only glaring issue with his play for the Flyers has been his playoff troubles. Back in 2014, Mason came back from an injury to help the Flyers force seven games on the Rangers but ultimately fell short. That was his stellar performance.
His last playoff performance was something to forget. Mason had a .852 save-percentage and a 4.09 GAA in six games against Washington last year. That performance echoed his dismal showing during the 2009 playoffs with Columbus, where he had a .878 save-percentage and a 4.27 GAA.
Michal Neuvirth, on the other hand, has been a very formidable backup for the Flyers and was one of the league’s best last season. His career numbers in Philadelphia are a .913 save-percentage and a 2.55 GAA. That’s very acceptable for a backup goalie.
The tale of the tape changes when you talk about the 2016-17 season.
The Flyers are now 29th in save percentage and 29th in goals against. Part of that can be attributed to below average defense, but some of it should be carried by the goaltenders.
The Flyers possess the same goalies as last season and largely the same defense. They finished last year tied for 5th in the NHL in save percentage and this year everything has fallen apart. It’s especially bad for the Flyers as a team, when you consider that Mason and Neuvirth could be hitting the road after this season is over.
Priming the System
As I mentioned above, the Flyers’ goaltending this season has fallen off a cliff compared to last season. With Mason and Neuvirth both in contract years, the Flyers may not see any desire to re-sign them.
Mason has been a mainstay in net for the Flyers since the Ilya Bryzgalov disaster. He struggled early this season, but there wasn’t much cause for alarm because, in his career, he has often struggled early.
He has looked significantly better since November, but it still may not make sense for the Flyers to re-sign him. With everyone focusing on the Flyers’ defensive prospects, it’s easy to miss the fact that they are absolutely stacked with prospects in net.
Anthony Stolarz came up when Neuvirth was injured and backed up Mason. He only started in two games, but he looked good. He won both of those games, and one with a shutout.
Alex Lyon was scooped up by the Flyers after his junior season at Yale University where he led the NCAA in save percentage, GAA and shutouts. He is currently among the top three in wins among goaltenders in the AHL. If there is a goalie that could become a mainstay in net for the Flyers, it could be him.
The Flyers also have Carter Hart and Felix Sandstrom in their system, both of whom faced off against each other in the World Junior Semi-Final this year. While Sandstrom and Hart may be a little far off from NHL-ready, Stolarz and Lyon could be ready for consistent NHL action in the near future. The AHL experience they’ve gained this season will bode well for the Flyers as soon as next season.
So what does that mean for the guys who guard the net now?
Changing of The Guard
Despite Neuvirth and Mason’s sub-par stats this season, the real issue is where the Flyers will be cap-wise after the season.
Steve Mason is a starting goaltender in the NHL regardless of what team he is playing for. He’s going to want the money and contract length to back that title. That may not be in the best interest of the Flyers.
The Flyers need a goalie that can bridge the one or two year gap between season’s end and when one of the four prospects I mentioned above is ready to become the starter. They also need to manage the cap so that they can keep their young guys and build around them.
If the Flyers were to re-sign Mason, his cap hit would likely be higher than it is now, somewhere in the neighborhood of $5 million per year. For a team that is consistently right against the cap, that won’t work.
It would make more sense to have one of the young guys come up with a small cap hit and use the money to sign a veteran defensemen or depth player. Neuvirth would also provide a cheap and steady option to bridge the gap to the next generation of goalies in Philadelphia.
Given the depth that the Flyers have in goal and how strapped they are against the cap, Steve Mason probably won’t be back next season.
Matt is a contributor for the Philadelphia Flyers at The Hockey Writers. He has previously covered the Flyers for GrandstandU. He enjoys playing hockey and making music in his spare time.