Ever since the Flyers re-signed Michal Neuvirth to a two-year contract extension the day of the trade deadline back in March, it’s felt like a bit of a long shot that Steve Mason — who will be an unrestricted free agent in 17 days — would be back in orange and black come training camp next fall. Ron Hextall has basically come out and said the team is going to sign another goalie to play alongside Neuvirth next year, and though he didn’t rule out re-signing Mason at the start of the offseason, the odds of a reunion felt slim.
If recent comments from Mason’s agent are any indication, those odds are looking even slimmer by the day.
Sam Carchidi of the Inquirer spoke with Anton Thun, Mason’s agent, on Wednesday, and nearly everything Thun was quoted as saying points towards the Flyers and his client going their separate ways in the near future ... if they haven’t (unofficially) even done that already, which Thun makes it sound like they more or less already have [emphasis ours]:
Thun said Wednesday that he and Flyers general manager Ron Hextall have talked recently, but have not had any formal contract negotiations. “Unless something changes between now and July 1, he’ll be going into free agency,” Thun said.
“In all honesty, he would have hoped the Flyers would have been interested enough to enter into contract negotiations with him right now, but they didn’t, so you move on,” Thun said. “That’s business.”
The fact that Mason and the Flyers haven’t even engaged in negotiations, while new, isn’t terribly surprising. At no point in the past few months have there been any reports of developments on a new contract. And as Carchidi pointed out in his piece, Mason’s press availability at the end of the season certainly had the feel of a press conference for someone who was on his way out the door, as he more or less directly criticized the coaching staff for its lack of clarity in how it handled its goaltending this past season.
Additionally, it always seemed tough to believe that the Flyers would be re-signing both of the primary goalies from a team that finished 26th in the NHL in save percentage last season. With Neuvirth under contract, Mason’s return has seemed unlikely since March. Thun made note of that as well:
“If I was running the team, I’d sign Steve Mason, but of course I’m biased,” Thun said. “They made a decision to sign Michal Neuvirth, which was their choice. I think it probably surprised a bunch of people, but, again, that’s the Flyers’ choice, and we just have to react to that.”
Even with Thun’s and Mason’s comments on the matter (as well as the no-comment that Hextall gave Carchidi for this very article), it’s not impossible that Mason ends up back with the team next year, but the scenarios under which it could happen seem unlikely. There’s the chance that Neuvirth gets taken by Vegas in next week’s expansion draft, an event that would leave the Flyers without any established NHL goalies under contract 10 days before free agency. This could at least make them consider giving Mason a call before we reach July, though it still seems unlikely (if the Flyers didn’t want to negotiate with Mason for the last three months, why would they up and start now?).
The path that seems more feasible (though, still, a long shot) is one that our own Charlie O’Connor pointed out on Twitter this evening: one in which, essentially, both sides misjudge their side of the goalie market and end up reaching out for what’s left.
Still an unlikely path to Mason returning, but it's same as it was in April: PHI strikes out on UFA targets, Mase only gets backup offers.— Charlie O'Connor (@BSH_Charlie) June 14, 2017
It’s possible that whichever guys the Flyers have in mind end up going elsewhere, and it’s possible that the market of teams looking for starting goalies (which, by the way, isn’t a very big market) is too small to give Mason the chance he’s looking for. At which point, the two sides could agree on a short-term deal that would maybe give them both what they’d need — for the Flyers, a short-term answer in net; for Mason, a chance to re-establish his value and try again soon.
But even acknowledging the paths by which it could happen, everyone close to this situation — from Flyers management to Mason himself — has made a reunion sound unlikely for a while now, and the words from Mason’s agent today hammer that point home even further. The Flyers will almost certainly have a new goalie in net come opening night in October.