Steve Mason has been one of the pleasant surprises this season for the Philadelphia Flyers. Mason has an 8-12-6 record this year with a .920 save percentage. He has been impressive when he has played, and is ranked among the top half of all goalies in the league by save percentage even with the low-quality defense in front of him.
The 2009 Calder Trophy winner and Vezina runner-up had seemed to lost his way in Columbus. With the Flyers in a bit of a goaltender bind, they acquired Mason on April 3, 2013 for Michael Leighton and a 3rd round pick. Since his rookie year, Mason had gone completely downhill and was nearly the laughing stock of the league, barely staying above a .900 save percentage in his next two seasons before dropping to .894 in 2011-12.
Mason played well in his short stint in the 2013 season for the Flyers and signed a one-year, $1.5 million extension just days after arriving in Philadelphia.
Putting Columbus behind him
Steve Mason: How we got here
Making sense of the Steve Mason trade
When the Flyers first got Steve Mason, they immediately signed him to a one-year deal despite his iffy (read: bad) track record in Columbus. We were skeptical about it working out.
Steve Mason: How we got here
After buying out Ilya Bryzgalov and signing Ray Emery during the 2013 offseason, Mason found himself in a battle for the starting goalie position. Many assumed that it would be a goalie tandem with Emery and Mason, with some thinking that Emery would come out on top. However, Mason ultimately proved that he deserved the spot and took the bull by the horns and ran with it.
Since then, Mason has impressed everybody, earning himself a three-year, $12.3 million extension a year ago Sunday. At the time it seemed a bit suspect. Mason had played well in half a season, but it didn't make sense to extend him right away. In typical Flyers fashion, he started that night and gave up four goals in two periods before the Flyers rallied for a win. The critics were out in full force, but he quickly silenced them.
Mason continued his strong play throughout the rest of the regular season, actually improving his record and save percentage along the way.
The regular season was impressive, but his showing in the playoffs against New York was what made the city of Philadelphia fall in love with him. Mason can be credited with nearly single-handedly winning the Flyers a crucial Game 4 in which he made 37 saves on 38 shots, including a few in the waning seconds.
Unfortunately, Mason was only able to play in half the series for the Flyers after being injured by Jayson Megna during the last weekend of the season. When it was all said and done, Mason stopped 123 of the 131 Rangers' shots en route to a 2-2 record and an astonishing .939 save percentage.
Injuries cloud a strong 2014-15 season
This season, Mason has found himself hovering around the top ten goalies in the league in terms of save percentage. Due to his recent injury and poor play in front of him he is currently only in a four-way tie for 11th in the league at .920 with Henrik Lundqvist, Corey Crawford and Jimmy Howard -- not shabby company. Given Mason's cap hit compared to some of the goalies putting up similar numbers, the Flyers goalie is making his bosses look like geniuses.
That could all change given what has happened recently however. The injury bug has seem to have bitten Mason, and it bit him hard. After missing the first half of the playoff series last season, he has battled with multiple injuries this season including ones to his back and lower-body, which currently has him out for a few weeks. Time can only tell how Mason will react to not only injuries but the questionable defense in front of him.
Overall Mason has improved significantly since his time in Columbus. Some of those effects could have to do with the quality of the team in front of him, but it is encouraging to see a relatively young goalie come into Philadelphia and not only have success, but be beloved by the fans as well.
|CBJ TOTAL (5 Years)||96||99||27||0.903|
|PHI TOTAL (3 Years)||45||32||13||0.920|
How Mason stacks up vs. his salary class
I looked at Mason as well as the five other goalies in his relative age and cap hit range to gain some perspective on the cost-effectiveness of Mason.
Mason comes about in the middle in cap hit, but is the best in save percentage ahead of Schneider by a hair. After that, no one else really comes close. I then took the league average save percentage -- which is currently .913 per Hockey Reference -- to find each players save percentage differential. Combining this with cap hit will be able to give use a sense of which players are worth what dollars and cents.
Here is that list:
|Cap Hit||SV% Diff||SV%|
The goalies, from top to bottom, are in order of cap hit; all the way from Halak at $4.5 million to Pavelec at $3.9 million. Mason leads his peers in save percentage, and is doing so at a cap hit comparable to or lower than them. Mason has shown this season that last season wasn't just a fluke. His skill set that he had in his Calder-winning season might have diminished, but it has been rebuilt here in Philadelphia.
What does the future hold?
Steve Mason will be the Flyers starting goaltender for the foreseeable future as long as he stays healthy. He is under contract for two more seasons, both of which will still be during his prime years. Ray Emery is on a one-year deal, and it would surprise me to see him back here next season. He has the mind and mentality of a goalie, but his aging body and hips have failed him time and time again moving post-to-post which has been widely exploited by various teams.
Rob Zepp has been a diamond in the rough for the Flyers. He has put up stellar numbers in the AHL, an 11-5-5 record with a .921 save percentage, and has been decent in his stint with the big club. I would expect to see him have a good chance at winning the backup goalie position next season while his current AHL backup gains another year of experience.
Enter Anthony Stolarz. The New Jersey native who celebrates his 21st birthday on Tuesday has been fantastic for the Phantoms in his first professional season. With his 6 foot 6 inch frame, Stolarz has equalled Zepp's .921 save percentage along with a 6-8-1 record. The 2012 second round pick played his prior two seasons for the London Knights where he went a combined 28-8-4 over two seasons, posting a .920 save percentage in 2012-13 and .926 last season.
Stolarz should continue to develop at the AHL level next season before having a chance of cracking the NHL roster as a backup for the last year of Mason's three-year extension. And by that point, who knows what happens.