Two days ago, as he prepared for yesterday's Game 6 against the Pittsburgh Penguins, goalie Marty Biron was asked whether he thought his strong playoff performance had shown he deserved to stay with the Flyers beyond this season.
Biron, the locker room's most magnanimous personality, made a kick save on the question. That is, he deflected it off to the side.
He did it gracefully, gently explaining there would be a proper time to address his contract status.
"Hopefully, in about six weeks," he said with a smile.
He meant he would address his free-agent status after the season. Six more weeks would have put the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Finals.
We interrupt Biron's optimism for sobering news: The Flyers, in their biggest home collapse in a playoff-elimination game in their history, blew a 3-0 lead yesterday and lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-3, watching their season come to a shocking end.
Biron, who could be faulted for only two of the Penguins' goals, had tears in his eyes and his voice trailed off. No one in the locker room felt worse.
"We'll talk about that in a few days," Biron said when asked whether he hoped to return to the Flyers. "I mean, I really enjoyed my two-plus years here, and I'm looking at seeing what happens in the next couple of months, and we'll talk about it in the next couple of days."
It was interesting that Biron used the word enjoyed. Past tense. As if his stint here were over.
Biron, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 (with teammates Antero Niittymaki, Mike Knuble and Andrew Alberts), has said if all offers are equal, he wants to stay with the Flyers.
But do they want him?
If the price is right, perhaps. If not, well, they will explore other options, because their cap limitations will make it almost impossible for them to better his 2008-09 salary of $3.5 million.
"I thought Marty played great," general manager Paul Holmgren said of the goalie's postseason performance (a 2.29 goals-against average entering yesterday). "For the most part, he gave us a chance to win every game."
Asked whether he wanted Biron back next year, Holmgren said: "We've talked off and on during the year. I'm just going to sit back and reflect here for a little while and map out a plan."
Not exactly a stirring vote of confidence.
The Flyers need to reduce salary to make room for raises owed to players - and to add a few pieces. They could re-sign Biron and go with recently signed free agent Johan Backlund, who will be cheaper than Niittymaki, as their backup.
Or they may pursue a mid-level free-agent goalie and re-sign Niittymaki, a productive backup who has faltered every time he has had a chance at the No. 1 spot.
The Flyers have interest in Florida free-agent goalie Craig Anderson, who will turn 28 next month.
Anderson, who made just $575,000 this season, is intriguing. As Tomas Vokoun's caddie, he had a 15-7-5 record with a 2.71 goals-against average this season, and his .924 save percentage was third-best in the NHL. He had even better numbers the previous season (2.25 GAA, .935 save percentage), but the knock on him is that he's too much like Niittymaki, that he excels in a backup role but stumbles as No. 1.
Still, he might be just blooming.
Scott Clemmensen, who saved New Jersey's season when Martin Brodeur went down with an injury, is another intriguing unrestricted free-agent goalie. And, like Anderson, he should be much cheaper than Biron. Clemmensen's numbers - 25-13-1, 2.39 and .917 - deserve attention, though they can be partly attributed to the Devils' strong defensive system.
The free-agent goalie list includes Manny Fernandez and Nikolai Khabbibulin. Are any of the free agents that much of an upgrade over Biron? Not really.
Atlanta has had scouts at the Wachovia Center and may be willing to trade goalie Kari Lehtonen. Again, is he really an upgrade?
As for Biron, he has been inconsistent in the last two regular seasons, but has raised his game in the playoffs, yesterday's game notwithstanding.
Fans want a shutdown goalie, and they say that should be the Flyers' off-season priority, noting they haven't had anyone who fit that description since the days of Ron Hextall.
It just wouldn't seem like a Flyers off-season without a Great Goaltender Debate.
"It's like quarterbacks in - what's a good town where they're always doubting the quarterback? - New York," Knuble said Friday.
A shutdown goalie would have enabled the Flyers to get a higher regular-season seeding than No. 5 and, theoretically, given them an easier first-round playoff matchup.
Based on e-mails, I'm in the minority of those who think the Flyers can compete for a Stanley Cup with Biron, whose unflappable temperament is a perfect match for the playoffs. But they need to add a shutdown defenseman, like Montreal's Mike Komisarek, a potential free agent.