April 15th, 2014 has been an especially eventful day for your Philadelphia Flyers. With game one of the Flyers-Rangers opening round playoff series just two nights away, not much was expected of this rainy Tuesday. Instead, several important stories dealing with past, present, and future have come down the shoot. First, past-wise, remember that hit goaltender Steve Mason took in Saturday’s win over the rival Penguins? Well, now it appears as if the resulting injury might be more serious than anticipated. More on that in a minute. As for the present, to the surprise of most, deadline acquisition and former Islander defender Andrew MacDonald will be staying a Flyer for the foreseeable future, as he inked a 6-year, $30 million extension. Pricey, I know, but most likely necessary. And finally, NCAA Frozen Four MVP, and 2012 Flyers draft pick Shayne Gostibehere has inked his entry-level contract instead of returning to Union College for his senior campaign. Some good, some bad, but important news nonetheless.
Now here’s a closer look:
- Steve Mason: Mason has had his ups and downs this season but he’s also clearly established himself as the Flyers unquestioned #1 netminder. Unfortunately during Saturday’s overtime victory against the Pens, Mason was run over in his crease by Pittsburgh’s Jayson Megna. While the hit didn’t look especially serious, Mason laid in the net for an extended amount of time before returning to action. He then was unable to finish the contest, which the Flyers front office referred to as a simple precaution. However, it now appears that our #1 goalie, and backbone of the team, is questionable for Thursday nights opener at Madison Square Garden. Now, backup Ray Emery is no stranger to playoff hockey (he backstopped the ’07 Senators club to the Cup Finals), but most Flyers fans would probably sleep a lot better knowing Mason is ready to go. Especially after third-stringer Cal Heeter’s performance (6-5 SO loss) in the season finale against Carolina. As of right now Mason is questionable, so keep your fingers crossed. It’s very unlikely that this Flyers team could run the postseason table without their most important player (outside of Claude Giroux).
- Andrew MacDonald: 6-years, $30 million, quite a price-tag for a guy who’s never put up more than 28 points in a season. But those who have watched the 27-year old since his arrival in Philadelphia will understand that MacDonald’s importance goes far beyond his scoring statistics; the guy is an intelligent, mobile, two-way threat. And he’s probably better than any free agent defender that would’ve been on the market. Defense has become the premium position in the NHL over the past decade and when you find a good one, you hold on tight. Did GM Paul Holmgren overpay? Absolutely, but that’s just the current economic landscape in the NHL. Many “experts” laughed when the Flyers gave Mark Streit his contract; well 10 goals and 44 points later it appears as if the Flyers front office has had the last laugh. MacDonald will never put up that kind of offense but he’s a much needed steadying influence, with the ability to escape trouble in tight spaces. And he’s already had an amazingly positive effect on the game of Luke Schenn. Schenn looked lost before he was paired with “MacD”, but since then MacDonald’s mobility has allowed him to play his physical, shot-blocking game. Don’t think of this as just a $30 million investment in one player, but rather as an important investment in the entire team defense. Maybe it’s a mistake, but only time will tell.
- Shayne Gostisbehere: If there’s one Flyers prospect that is seriously exciting scouts it’s this kid. On display in Philadelphia this past week for the NCAA’s Frozen Four, the Union College junior defender out-shined his competition (and that includes “Johnny Hockey”, Johnny Gaudreau) in leading the Dutchmen to the National Championship. And instead of returning to school for his senior campaign, the slick defenseman decided the time was right to turn pro; a decision that the Flyers front office couldn’t be happier about. Drafted in the 3rd round of the 2012 draft, little was known about the 5’11” 160-lb string bean blueliner. But a whole lot has changed in three seasons. In fact, this season he was even a top-10 finalist for the Hobey Baker award, the college hockey equivalent to the Heisman. He’s been most often compared with Torrey Krug of the Boston Bruins. With electric speed, soft hands, and a booming shot, expect to see “ghost” (as he is called) in the NHL sooner rather than later.