Add Steve Mason to the list of goaltenders who are set to hit the open market, as it appears the netminder and the Philadelphia Flyers, with whom Mason has spent the past four-plus seasons, will be parting ways this summer.
There had been some speculation ahead of the off-season that Mason, who will become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, was being left unsigned by Philadelphia for the purpose of protection in the expansion draft. Reason being is that without a new contract, Mason couldn’t be poached away unless he inked a deal with the Vegas Golden Knights, allowing the Flyers to protect youngster and potential future starter Anthony Stolarz. And with the expansion draft only days away, Stolarz still appears the most likely netminder to be protected by Philadelphia, but it doesn’t seem likely Mason will be joining him in the Flyers’ crease next season.
Speaking with Philly.com, Mason’s agent Anton Thun said Mason “would have hoped the Flyers would have been interested enough to enter into contract negotiations with him right now, but they didn’t,” and that means the 29-year-old netminder is likely set to test the free agent market for the first time in his career.
If that’s the case, it looks as though the Flyers will head into the summer with Stolarz and Michal Neuvirth as their goaltending duo, and that’s quite the precarious position for a team that was partially done in by some unsightly goaltending this past season. Mason, who boasted a .908 save percentage, was the best regular netminder the Flyers had, with Neuvirth turning in an ugly .891 SP across 28 games. Neuvirth’s SP was the worst mark of any goaltender who suited up for at least 20 games and the only goalie who fared worse at 5-on-5 than Neuvirth, who had a .902 SP, was Colorado Avalanche netminder Semyon Varlamov, who managed to post a .901 SP at five-a-side.
The thing that’s most difficult to understand about the Flyers moving on from Mason is that it’s hard to fathom how the goaltending situation improves by any great margin next season if the plan is to run with Stolarz and Neuvirth. Stolarz impressed this past season in his short stint, turning in a .928 SP and 2.07 GAA in seven games, but four of his outings came against the league’s bottom-feeding teams. And running through Neuvirth’s stats doesn’t exactly paint a picture of a goaltender who can be a top stopper in full-time minutes. So, unless Philadelphia GM Ron Hextall has his sights set on an improvement in goal or some sort of trade up his sleeve — and there are some options out there, to be sure — this seems to be an incredibly head-scratching move for the Flyers.
That’s especially true given the way Mason has played in recent years, too.
While some still closely associate Mason, the 2008-09 Calder Trophy winner, with his dreadful performances in Columbus after his rookie season, he has actually been rather impressive since moving from the Blue Jackets to the Flyers. Over the past four full seasons, over which time Mason has played 224 games, he has turned his career around. Consider that 29 goaltenders have played at least 150 games over the past four campaigns, and Mason ranks 16th among those netminders with a .917 SP, 17th with 14 shutouts and, for what it’s worth, 19th with a 2.49 goals-against average. He’s not often mentioned in the same breath as Jonathan Quick, Marc-Andre Fleury, Pekka Rinne or Henrik Lundqvist, but Mason’s numbers put him either ahead of or in the same company as his four goaltending brethren.
But those are Mason’s numbers at all strengths. It’s 5-on-5 play where Mason has really shined.
Since his first full season in Philadelphia in 2013-14, Mason has been one of the most consistent keepers at 5-on-5. So much so that he’s in some pretty exclusive company. Only six goaltenders to play 150-plus games over the past four years have maintained a 5-on-5 SP above .930, and Mason is among them. The others? Carey Price, Braden Holtby, Craig Anderson, Corey Crawford and Tuukka Rask. And of those six netminders, it would shock some to realize Mason ranks behind only Price and Holtby with a .931 SP at 5-on-5 since the start of 2013-14. It’s not as if Mason has had a light workload, either. Over the past four seasons, he has faced 30.5 shots per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, more than all of those .930-plus SP netminders save Anderson.
The scary thing about Mason’s numbers is that were it not for this past season’s down year — he finished with a .919 SP at 5-on-5 — he’d actually rank even higher. Excluding this past campaign, Mason boasted a .935 SP at 5-on-5, putting him only a hair behind Price as the best five-a-side goaltender over the three-year span from 2013-14 to 2015-16. That’s not the class of goaltender many would expect Mason to be in, but he’s proven that he deserves mention alongside some of the game’s best if for nothing else but his ability to stop pucks at even strength.
None of this is to mention that Mason will probably come with great value, too. He’s coming off of a down year and entering a buyer’s market after finishing up a three-year, $12.3-million contract. Any team bringing him in on a short-term, show-me deal that pays him decent money could be in line to make the signing of the summer, and that could make Philadelphia’s loss another team’s net gain.
(All advanced statistics via Puckalytics)
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