STEVE MASON might have played his last game as a Flyer this weekend.
He's not the only one.
That's because, last month, Claude Giroux opened a door.
He admitted that his surgically repaired hip and abdomen hindered him through the first 60 games of the season. He admitted this March 19 as he explained his improved play over the previous 10 games, in which he had nine points and a plus-2 rating. He got seven more points and a plus-2 mark in the 11 games hence, a 21-game run of 16 points and a plus-4.
He'd managed just 42 points in the first 60 games and was minus-19. He'd lied about his health and effectiveness through 75 percent of the season and, with a worrisome history of concussions, he had virtually no trade value, since he would be owed almost $40 million through 2022.
If "G" was healthy and playing poorly, he was worthless at that price. He had faded.
If "G" was hurt and playing through it, he was heroic; and, if he regained his All-Star form he would be attractive for a team looking for a finishing piece. He has regained that form.
So, by admitting that he wasn't whole, he nudged a door open for general manager Ron Hextall and the Flyers' front office. He became tradeable again.
Unthinkable, right? Think again.
At this stage of the Flyers' rebuild they have to at least consider trading their captain. They don't have to shop him, and they don't have to kick him out of that door he opened, but they do have to listen if their phones ring.
Trading Giroux made the most sense in 2015, when the Flyers missed the playoffs and obviously were four or five years from postseason relevance. That door closed in 2016, when a concussion, a post-concussion scare and the surgeries turned Giroux into a scratch-and-dent Ferrari. He's purring like a kitten today.
The team remains at least two seasons and maybe one coach from a deep playoff run. Giroux would be 31 and in his 11th season. Every statistic indicates that, in this era, first-line production diminishes around that point in any career, especially if the team leans on that one player to carry its load.
Moving Giroux now opens up nearly $9 million per year for the next 4 years, even if the team has to use that money next season to overpay a replacement. The NHL cap is hard as a helmet, and the Flyers are always banging their heads.
It would take a playoff-caliber team approaching the Flyers with an expensive veteran with an expiring contract they want to dump, as well as a prospect or draft pick. That scenario would result in cap flexibility after next season, more young talent and modulated expectations.
Subtract Giroux, and the playoffs become a bonus, not an entitlement.
Subtract Giroux, and former college coach Dave Hakstol owns the room in his third NHL season.
Hextall has said he is disinclined to trade either Giroux or wing Jake Voracek. Also, Giroux has said he won't waive his no-movement clause.
All of that said: Giroux has a functioning brain. If his gray matter has evolved beyond goosing Canadian cops then he knows that this team is no closer to winning the Stanley Cup than it is to winning the Claret Jug. He might be comfortable as the latest face of the Bullies, but if he wants to drink from the chalice any time soon he'd better relocate.
Look, no one wants this to happen. Giroux has wonderful hands and great feet. He's got eyes in the back of his head, and on both sides, too. When he's 80 percent healthy he is a joy to watch; at 100 percent, he's a genius.
Why waste genius?
Next season the Flyers will have five or six players with three years' experience or less. Why watch Giroux's skills erode while the kids learn how to play? He's a magician on skates, but he isn't doing anything but card tricks until the cavalry arrives, if it ever does. And, frankly, he's never carried the team anywhere on his own. They haven't won a playoff series since he became captain, which was five seasons and three coaches ago.
The organization has a ready-made replacement as captain in Wayne Simmonds, an ascending All-Star who will cost them less than $10 million, total, for the next two seasons. Wouldn't it be nice to have cap room ready when the Wayne Train pulls its boxcars up to the vault?
If you contend that his leadership and his presence is too precious to lose, that's fair. If you contend that the team needs a star to fill seats and to drive viewership, that's valid, too. It's misdirected and it's foolish, but it's valid, nonetheless.
There's a chance that Hextall & Co. believe that they can construct a Stanley Cup contender around Giroux within the next two or three years. Hexy will give a peek into his thinking Wednesday, the day after the team disbands. He should indicate his intentions with Mason, the inconsistent No. 1 goalie who can be a free agent. He should also give a candid review regarding Giroux and Voracek, whose seasons were, by any measure, disappointing.
In particular, if Hextall says he believes he can build around G then he cannot entertain a trade. Of course, if Hextall & Co. believe they can build around a small center with an injury history who sometimes disappears, they won't last as long as Giroux.