'YOU EVER WATCH Mike Keenan?" Ron Hextall was asking.
"Mike Keenan had Vezina Trophy winner after Vezina Trophy winner, and he yanked goalies all the time."
That was one of Hextall's responses yesterday when asked whether he was comfortable with how coach Craig Berube managed the Vezina-caliber season Steve Mason cobbled together against the odds.
Mason, 26, set a Flyers franchise record for save percentage (.928) since the stat became official in the NHL in 1981-82. It was good enough for third in the league.
His even-strength save percentage since Nov. 1. (.950) - which removes the factor of the Flyers' putrid penalty kill - was far and away the best in the league, better than Carey Price (.944), Andrew Hammond (.941) and Devan Dubnyk (.939).
Yet, Hextall apparently doesn't think Berube handled Mason poorly. In fact, the former goaltender does not think Mason should be treated any differently from anyone else.
"If I'm looking back and the goalie had a great year, the coach must've done a good job with him, right?" the general manager said. "Here's my issue: You're highlighting the goalie. The goalie is one of 20 players. Goalies shouldn't be handled any more delicately than anyone else on the team. He's part of a team. There's no 'white glove' for 'Mase.'
"Do we want today's society to get so soft?"
Mason was used in three separate, questionable situations with injury in January and February, most notably being inserted cold into a Feb. 26 game in Toronto in the second period, only 16 days after 60 percent of the meniscus in his knee was surgically removed.
Mason was told by a team trainer, not Hextall, before that game that he would be inserted only in an emergency situation with Ron Zepp. Berube yanked Zepp after two laser goals by the Maple Leafs.
After Mason was invited by Team Canada to participate in next month's World Championships, Hextall advised him not to play because of his knee problems.
"He didn't get reinjured," Hextall said firmly. "Injuries happen. If you're out for a month, all of a sudden, your first game back, you're more susceptible to injury - I don't care who you are - just because your muscles haven't been firing at that speed. So we can all get hypothetical here."
Then, Mason was shockingly pulled in a March 19 game in Calgary after two goals, including a shot that video showed he clearly never saw. Berube said postgame that Mason, late in a stellar season, needed to "fight through screens better" as his reasoning.
"You can't look at one little thing where 'Mase' got pulled," Hextall said. "Sometimes when you pull a goalie, or grab a guy into your office and pull a strip off a player, it's part of motivating a player. The next game, you get a little edge on you, you get pissed off."
Except, well, Mason responded by suddenly bowing out of his next start in Edmonton after warmups with an illness.
Other news and notes from Hextall's media session:
* Hextall said buying out Vinny Lecavalier's contract will not be an option this summer.
"It hasn't worked," Hextall said. "It hasn't worked for them and it hasn't worked for us. Where we go from here, quite frankly, I don't know. I really don't. We have an obligation to him, obviously, and we'll fulfill that obligation, but . . . "
Lecavalier, who turns 35 on Tuesday, said earlier this week he cannot coexist with Berube for another season. A regular-course buyout would cost the Flyers an average of approximately $1.67 million in dead space on their books for each of the next six seasons. The buyout window opens 48 hours after the Stanley Cup finals conclude and extends through June 30.
Was saying the Flyers will not buy him out a bluff to see whether Lecavalier will retire on his own? There's no cap penalty for that. Of course, Lecavalier acknowledged playing with the Flyers under a coach other than Berube would likely bring him back.
* Despite hinting at "cleaning house" on multiple occasions, Hextall said he expected the Flyers' medical and training staff to return next season, but left the scouting roster up in the air.
"Medical staff, no," Hextall said. "Scouting staff, you never know. But we'll see as we go along."
* Steve Mason will not be given the opportunity to participate in the hiring process for a goaltending coach. Jeff Reese left the team suddenly in March.
"I'll certainly have 'Mase' talk to whoever it is before," Hextall said. "But I'm certainly not going to let the players hire a coach."
* Ray Emery and Rob Zepp sound unlikely to return as Mason's backup next season. Hextall said the Flyers would "go through our list and make a determination."
* Defenseman Radko Gudas, who underwent surgery to repair the meniscus in his knee in January with Tampa Bay, went under the knife again yesterday to have part of that same meniscus removed. Mason had the same surgery on Feb. 10. Gudas will be skating again in 3 weeks.
* Forward Pierre-Edouard Bellemare will have surgery today to repair a torn labrum in his right shoulder, Hextall said. His recovery time is expected to be 8 to 10 weeks, which will prevent him from representing France in next month's World Championships in the Czech Republic.
* Hextall, on fixing the Flyers' league-worst shootout woes: "Let's go to 4-on-4 and 3-on-3" for overtime.
* How different will the Flyers' roster be next season? Hextall's wish list is "an upgrade on defense" and "a skilled forward."
"I don't know," Hextall said. "Talk to me in September, I guess. You never know, because you don't know who else is going to want to do something. It's all hypothetical."