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.

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Yet, if you look inside 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 postseason (1.97, .939) despite losing?

Or is 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 post-game 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 the 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 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?

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