Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said Steve Mason’s salary demands were not why he severed ties with the goaltender. Mason signed a two-year deal with Winnipeg with an annual salary-cap hit of $4.1 million, which is $1.35 million per season more than Brian Elliott received from Philadelphia.
In the end, Hextall said change was needed for all parties.
“I think it’ll probably be good for Mase,” Hextall said Sunday in a conference call with reporters. “And for us, Brian being available certainly played into it. We didn’t know if he was going to be available or not, and we acted on it.”
Hextall, who last week said the “door is still open” for Mason to return, has admired Elliott since his days as an assistant general manager with the Kings. Back then, Elliott was with St. Louis.
“When I was out in L.A., we played against him in the playoffs a couple of times, and obviously we played them a lot and I saw the West a lot back then,” Hextall said. “First of all, you do your homework and find out everything about the kid. He’s a real good team guy, which is important. His work ethic is at a high level, his [will to] compete is at a high level. Teammates want to play for him. There’s a lot of things when you look at goalies that you look for, and Brian checked a lot of the boxes off.”
The fact that Elliott played well in a tandem also played a role in the signing, Hextall said.
Mason said he wanted to play in a system in which there was a defined No. 1. The Flyers will go with Elliott and Michal Neuvirth in a shared role this season.
“The way the schedule is and how tight games are and the demands on our players these days, it’s really hard to find a [goalie] who can play 65 games,” Hextall said. “So we’re really comfortable with our tandem.”
Hextall reiterated that, because of Neuvirth’s history of frequently being injured, he didn’t feel comfortable with Anthony Stolarz as the backup — and the potential to be playing lots of games. Stolarz played well in a seven-game stint with the Flyers last season.
“Anthony Stolarz has improved every year in the American League,” Hextall said. “If the situation was different here, if we had Marty Brodeur here, it might have been a consideration” to have Stolarz as his backup.
In his career, Brodeur played a bulk of the games each season.
“With Neuvy’s track record of injuries, we didn’t feel comfortable with bringing Stolie in at this time,” Hextall said, adding that the “guy we all forget about is [the Phantoms’] Alex Lyon. He’s done a pretty good job down there, too. Those two guys will go back down there and battle it out and we’ll see where it goes, but they’re two very good young goalies.”
Elliott, 32, had a 2.55 goals-against average and a .910 save percentage with Calgary last season, while Mason, 29, had a 2.66 GAA and a .908 save percentage with the Flyers.
“I’m not going to sit and compare Brian to Mase,” Hextall said. ”I can tell you we’re extremely excited to have Brian. He’s a very competitive guy, and he has a really good work ethic. He played in a tandem in St. Louis prior to Calgary, so he’s played very well in a structured system. A lot of the things we felt were important kind of fit the criteria.”
Besides Elliott and Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Antti Niemi, and Anders Nilsson were among the other free-agent goalies on the market
“We looked at everybody out there and, quite frankly, we felt Brian was the best fit,” Hextall said.
Hextall said he didn’t expect to make any other additions to the roster. … Assuming that Oskar Lindblom, Robert Hagg, Sam Morin, and Nolan Patrick earn roster spots, the Flyers will have about $2.5 million in cap space when the season starts. … Hextall heaped praise on Scott Laughton, who will battle Mike Vecchione for the fourth-line center spot. “Scotty had a terrific year,” Hextall said of Laughton’s play with the Phantoms. “He improved a lot in his focus and his professionalism. Quite honestly, I think Scotty really grew up last year. So Scotty certainly will be given an opportunity to make the hockey club, along with Michael. Michael showed some good things toward the end of the year.”