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The best 6 Philadelphia Flyers stories of 2014

It wasn't a great year, but there was still a lot to love about 2014 and the Philadelphia Flyers.

Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

6. The Phantoms return to Pennsylvania.

After five long years away from the Commonwealth, the Phantoms returned home to Pennsylvania in October, moving into a beautiful new building in the center of Allentown. They might not be in Philadelphia any more -- and you know what? There's a damn parking lot where the Spectrum used to be and they really had no reason to knock it down, but that's a rant for another day -- but the Lehigh Valley really is the next best thing.

Not only does having the AHL team in the area reap huge benefits on the ice -- less travel time on call-ups, more face time between NHL bosses and AHL players -- but we get to see AHL talent up close and personal much more often than we did when they were playing games in upstate New York. It's good to have the Phantoms home again.

5. Steve Mason is actually pretty good.

Most of us were rightfully critical and pessimistic about Steve Mason when he came over from Columbus at the 2013 trade deadline. And most of us remained pessimistic even after he had an impressive run of things during the stretch of that 2012-13 season with the Flyers, and even for most of the first half of 2013-14.

But Mason has now played more than 5,000 minutes in orange and black. He's faced 2,657 shots against, and there's no other way to slice it: he's been a strong goaltender for the Philadelphia Flyers. Despite his history and in the face of the doubters and the tall task that comes with playing his position in this city, Mason has just simply been good.

Mason's save percentage since the start of the 2013-14 season is on par with Henrik Lundqvist, Jonathan Quick and Corey Crawford. This season, his save percentage at even strength is fourth in the NHL among goaltenders who have played at least 1,000 minutes. Mason might never be the best goalie in hockey, but he's proven himself to be more than capable in the Flyers net, and that's even with a putrid defense in front of him. He's good enough to help this team win a Stanley Cup ... now they just need to build that team in front of him.

4. The NHL Draft comes to town.

The NHL Draft came to Philadelphia in June for the first time ever, and it was a huge success. Not only did the Flyers put together a pretty good draft, with a strong focus on talent instead of size and grit throughout all seven rounds, but the event was just flawlessly put together. You have yourself to thank for it, too.

3. Shayne Gostisbehere dominates the Frozen Four.

Another pretty special event came to Philly for the first time in 2014: the NCAA Frozen Four. And it would've been a cool event regardless of the teams or players involved, but this 2014 edition was really awesome. Not only did we have an amazing buzzer beater in the North Dakota-Minnesota semifinal game, but we also saw two lights-out performances from Flyers prospect and then-Union College defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere.

Ghost took his Dutchmen on his back, putting shot after shot on opposing netminders from Boston College and Minnesota, and notching five points in the two Frozen Four games. He had a goal and two assists in the National Championship game and two assists in the semifinal, enough to win him MVP honors for the Frozen Four. And he did it all at the Wells Fargo Center, his future home.

2. Claude Giroux, Jake Voracek are the league's most dangerous duo.

Says it all, really.

1. Ron Hextall named general manager.

Hextall taking over as Flyers general manager hasn't paid any immediate dividends, and in fact, the Flyers are a worse team this year than they were under Paul Holmgren a year ago. But that doesn't mean anything: Ron Hextall taking over as general manager is the biggest thing to happen to the Flyers in 2014.

For the first time in a long time, the Flyers' plan is more than just "win the Stanley Cup." Of course that's the plan and it's always been the plan, but there's never seemingly been an actual vision on how to get there. Hextall has a plan, though: build through the draft and from within, and put together an organization that can compete routinely, year-in and year-out, in the salary cap era.

He's barely had time to begin implementing that plan, but I have a feeling he'll pull a few levers here and there in 2015, when things start to really take shape. Give it time. 2014 wasn't the best year, and 2015 might be a little touch and go. But have faith in Ron Hextall, and remember that 2014 was the year it began.

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