Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Steve Mason's last stand

USA TODAY Sports

Stop me if you've heard this one before: the Flyers' biggest question mark this year will be in net. And this year it'll hinge on a guy who's had more than his fair share of struggles in recent years.

Steve Mason

Age: 25
Depth Chart: Second-string goaltender*
Contract Status: $1.5 million per year through 2014, RFA when it expires

2013 Stats (full season, including non-Flyers games)

GP GS W L OTL
20 17 7 8 1
SV% ES SV% PK SV% GAA SO
.916 .911 .936 2.59 0

The bad from 2013

Well ... most of it. Last season itself -- at least the month he spent in Philadelphia -- wasn't bad at all (and we'll get to that in a second), but even if you toss out the thirteen sub-par games in Columbus before his deadline trade to the Flyers, seven good games kind of get overshadowed by the rest of Steve Mason's career. We've chronicled said career here and discussed how, in general, Mason's been pretty crappy for the last four years -- like he was for about two-thirds of his 2013 starts.

The good from 2013

Mason looked very good in his very limited time with the Flyers last year, and by signing him to just a one-year contract and finding someone in Ray Emery to compete with him, they've put him in a situation where he pretty much knows it's over if he doesn't play well and where he's going to have to work his ass off to keep playing well and getting better.

What should we expect this season?

Well, let's just call a spade a spade here: We should expect Mason to play poorly. That's based on most of his career to date, what with the guy posting a .905 for his career and a .901 in the four years since his Calder Trophy-winning rookie season.

He looked good for seven games last April. He really did. That's great. But believing that the guy completely turned over a new leaf the second he came to Philadelphia just isn't at all realistic. Mason's pretty much universally seen as the biggest question mark for the team heading into this season, and while that's something we're used to hearing about our goalies in this town, I shouldn't have to explain why relying on the guy who's been one of the worst full-time goalies in the NHL since he entered it is a bad idea.

Now, all of those cheery thoughts in mind, the above doom and gloom deserves a couple of qualifiers. For one, Mason's still just 25. History shows there may still realistically be a bit of room for improvement in his career. And as mentioned above, if you're going to try and turn around the career of a guy who's had some questions posed in the past about his work ethic, the best way to do that is to make him compete and keep working hard. A friendly competition with him and Emery might bring out the best in him, whatever that is. And who knows -- maybe he's right and a change of scenery and some new coaching voices are all that he needs.

But the picture's bleak. Let's not kid ourselves.

Best case...

The change of scenery and goalie competition actually does Mason well, the progress we saw at the end of last season marked real improvements after all, and he ends up bouncing back and posting a .915, right around where he was in his rookie year.

Worst case...

With the pressure back on, Mason wilts and does what he did for most of his time in Columbus: play very poorly. He struggles to stay above .900, torpedoing the Flyers' playoff hopes and forcing them to rely on Emery more than they'd like to.

Bottom line

This season is basically do-or-die for Steve Mason's career, which has been mostly bad but has received one last shot at redemption. If he works hard all year long and is pushed by Emery to keep getting better, maybe something will come of it. If he's not, he'll probably be pretty bad. This is still really, really risky, but it's about as good of a situation as the Flyers could put him in, so if he's got anything left, we'll probably see it this year.

But it's probably not going to end well. I hope I'm wrong. I really do. But I'm scared in the meantime.

"Second-string goaltender" is a guess as to Mason's place on the depth chart, and does not reflect any inside information known by us.

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