Neuvirth, Mason Each Have Eyes on Flyers' No. 1 Goalie Job

VOORHEES, N.J. - Ron Hextall is typically coy, never wanting to reveal his hand when it comes to talking publicly about the roster moves concerning his Flyers team.

But when asked Wednesday about the possibility of trading one of his two goaltenders, Hextall, a former goalie himself, revealed his stance on potentially having two No. 1's between the pipes come October.

"I don't believe that's a strength that you want to weaken," Hextall said. "The old saying, Wayne Gretzky got traded, right? So I'm not going to sit here and say no I wouldn't trade anybody on our team, because the reality of it is, if the deal was right, it's my job to strengthen our team and the organization. It's certainly not something we're focusing on or looking to do."

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Bluffing or not, that's probably the right approach, despite the other saying that goes: If you have two goalies, you don't have one.

The 2015-16 season was living proof how important it is to have depth at that position.

That being said, it'd be understandable if Hextall wanted to get value out of Steve Mason or Michal Neuvirth. Each will be entering the final year of his contract and it's probably unlikely they're both on the 2017-18 roster. One? More likely. But that's not a decision that needs to be made just yet.

Without Neuvirth, the Flyers may have dug a deeper hole when Mason was struggling - both on and off the ice - at the beginning of the season. And they may not have reached Game 6 against Washington after Mason was lifted following the first three games of the playoff series.

And without Mason, who started 12 straight games while Neuvirth nursed a knee injury, the Flyers probably don't make the playoffs.

So unless something drastic changes, expect another platoon of sorts come next season.

"To have inner competition is a good thing, so we get two good goalies and I think as we saw this year, it's nice to have," Hextall said. "If we have one of them this year, then we're probably nowhere near the playoffs. They were a strength of ours and I give them both credit for giving us a chance to win those nights."

Neuvirth, 28, who has had injury issues his entire career, said Tuesday that he wanted to be the No. 1 goalie. His play on the ice showed flashes of that ability. Before missing those 12 games from mid-March until after the Flyers clinched a playoff berth, Neuvirth was having one of his best seasons. He posted an 18-8-4 record with a 2.27 goals-against average and a .924 save percentage.

Then there was that Game 5 in Washington last Friday, when Neuvirth wowed a national audience with a 44-save gem to somehow extend the series.

"I think that Michal Neuvirth has a belief that he can be a number one, maybe for the first time. Maybe when he was younger he did," Hextall said. "He proved it to himself, he proved it to us, and on the other hand Mase did the same thing. Mase played the last month-and-a-half and was terrific."

In the final two months of the season, Mason, 27, was quite possibly the main reason the Flyers made the playoffs. His 2.14 goals-against average and .923 save percentage helped the Flyers secure a playoff spot with a 3-1 win over Pittsburgh on the last Saturday of the season.

"I think the last few months of the season I played some really strong hockey and I was happy with the way that the regular season ended and obviously getting into the playoffs was a big thing," Mason said. "It's not the way I wanted playoffs to end, but I'm not gonna judge my season based off two outings, which were obviously at an unfortunate time. Overall, I think the year made me stronger in certain areas."

But so did Neuvirth, who says the biggest thing he's going to do this offseason is focus on working out and finding better ways to stay healthy and in shape, including playing tennis and riding a bike.

And if he stays healthy, he's starting to once again show the capability of being a No. 1. Both will be proving themselves for their next contract. So what gives? Hextall said, like in most positions, there will be an open competition over the summer. Both goalies expressed belief that the tandem worked. But they both want to play.

"I think over the course of the summer I'm going to prepare to be a No. 1 guy," said Mason, who played in 54 games. "Nothing is given. Nothing was given this year. Both of us had to earn playing time, so I think I'll just go into next season not expecting to be given anything and having to come in and earn everything."

His counterpart, who played in 32 games, said the same.

"It's been a very good year," Neuvirth said. "Mase has been good as well. I think it's going to be open for anybody. My goal is to be a No. 1. That's what I'm looking for.

"I never look at myself as a backup. I saw a good opportunity. I've been moving a lot the last couple of years."

At least initially, it doesn't appear he'll be moving this offseason.

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