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Mase-a Culpa: On Steve Mason and the fun of getting it wrong

Steve Mason has played 100 games as a Flyer and it has gone so much better than any of us could have possibly expected.

Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Here at Broad Street Hockey, we write a lot of things and give a lot of opinions. When the Flyers make moves, we make guesses on if or how they're going to end up working out, and always provide good reasons for making those guesses. We aren't always right -- lord knows no one is -- but I'd put our track record up there against any other site or outlet that covers this Flyers team on a regular basis.

We're confident enough in our thought processes and justifications that we're rarely left that surprised by how something ultimately does work out, and even we are wrong, we typically aren't left feeling like we've got egg on our faces.

That doesn't mean there aren't some occasional face-egg moments.

* * *

Steve Mason played in his 100th regular-season game for the Flyers on Saturday in the team's 1-0 win over Toronto. He stopped all 30 shots he faced in that game, picking up his sixth shutout as a Flyer. For the season, he's got a .924 save percentage -- fifth in the league among goalies with at least 30 starts -- and a 2.32 GAA. Both of those are marks which would beat the ones he put up last year, despite a worse team in front of him. An incomplete list of goalies with a worse save percentage includes: Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, Cory Schneider, Ryan Miller, Roberto Luongo, Marc-Andre Fleury, Ben Bishop, and Jonathan Quick. Just to name a few.

In total during his 100 games as a Flyer (91 of which were starts), he's put up a save percentage of .921 and a 2.40 GAA -- and that doesn't even include the .939/1.97 performance he had in five games (four starts) against the Rangers last year in the postseason.

And he has done all of this behind a defense that can be charitably characterized at below-average.

He has had some injury problems, and there's a concern there for sure. But as a whole, he has been somewhere between "quality starting goaltender" and "borderline elite" during his time in a Flyers uniform. 

Ryan dove into the numbers a couple of weeks ago, showing how Mason has been more than worth the three-year contract he signed last year. I'm not gonna get too much more into numbers or specifics here, but I do want to talk about Steve Mason's resurgence into above-average-starterdom by approaching it from a different angle.

That's the "this wasn't supposed to happen" angle.

* * *

Yeah, yeah -- that's just, like, my opinion, man. It was.

My long-lasting skepticism of Steve Mason is well-documented on this very website. I cranked out a heaping helping of it on the day Mason signed that one-year contract right after the Flyers traded for him, and I continued to do so right up to the beginning of that season.

And while I gave him a lot of credit for how he started the 2013-14 season, I still had a number of questions about whether or not the aforementioned contract extension from last January was warranted/necessary/a good idea. Even this past offseason, I had my concerns on whether or not Mason could repeat his respectable performance from last season -- though I didn't write it, that very concern was one of our big questions in our season preview.

It was wrong. It was all wrong. I was wrong.

Basically: these 100 Steve Mason appearances have consisted of a lot of "he's not gonna do it" from me. It was wrong. It was all wrong. I was wrong.

Now, I mentioned above that usually we're left feeling like we've done a good job justifying our reasons for thinking things, whether they're right or not. So if I may ... it's still kind of ridiculous that this actually worked, right?

No one short of the most optimistic Flyers fans thought this was going to work. No one. The guy was terrible for the better part of four seasons. Taking his entire pre-2013 body of work into account, he was unarguably one of the worst goalies in the NHL (and arguably the worst) in the time period between the beginning of his career and the time the Flyers traded for him. And the Flyers were going to have that guy be their goalie. Like that was gonna work, right?

This wasn't supposed to happen. I mean, for all the talk at the top about having good reasons for making big predictions, this one kind of seemed like a layup -- "hey, this guy's been bad for four years, I think he's going to be bad here! Wow!"

And on top of all that ... I mean, for shit's sake, it's the Flyers we're talking about here. Nice things -- let alone nice things regarding goalies -- don't happen to us.

Except for this. This totally did happen to us. Steve Mason has been very, very good. You can pretty reasonably make the case that he's the most valuable piece on this team -- definitely short-term, maybe even long-term -- who isn't a forward with red hair.

Is it possible that he falls off a bit from here? Sure -- the numbers he's put up are typically ones that are only sustained long-term by the NHL's very best at the position. Asking any goalie to keep up a save percentage north of .920 across several seasons is tough. Not to mention, goalies are insane and volatile, and basically nothing any of them do -- good or bad -- should really be considered that surprising anymore. (Plus, again ... we're the Flyers. There's always gonna be some doubt creeping in the back of our minds, right?)

But that's pretty much it: the conversation about Steve Mason has shifted from "can he prove he's an NHL goalie at all?" to "can he prove he's a real NHL starter?" and then again to "can he keep putting up numbers as good as the NHL's best?". That's really something -- and something pretty awesome, I've gotta say.

* * *

We all had our reasons for doubting Steve Mason. They're reasons that made sense at the time and don't seem that ridiculous in hindsight. This was very much a beating-the-odds kind of case. But that's the beauty of it, isn't it? Sometimes those are the best kinds of cases to look back on. Every time Mason puts up another strong performance, I just kind of smile, shake my head and mutter to no one in particular "man, I can't believe this actually worked", y'know?

Paul Holmgren's final two years as Flyers GM are not years that fans are currently looking back on very fondly, and rightly so. This team is a mess right now and it's mostly his fault. But he deserves a lot of credit for seeing something that basically no one else saw in a guy whose career had been trending in the wrong direction for a while and making a move that's got the Flyers set up in net for at least the next couple of years.

And the Flyers' coaches who have worked with Mason -- Jeff Reese, Craig Berube, maybe even Peter Laviolette for a summer? -- have also helped him along the way, as it's his development on the ice that's helped make an unlikelhood a reality.

Steve Mason's re-building his career to become a good goalie didn't have to be something that was likely to happen. Most of us never would have guessed it was going to happen. We were wrong. And that's what's made it so much fun to watch.

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