“No, it never does. I mean, these people somehow delude themselves into thinking it might, but… but it might work for us.” – Dr. Tobias Funke
I’ve noticed a curious thing throughout the preseason and start of the regular season: people are going out of their way to defend Steve Mason.
What is it about Steve Mason that elicits this reaction? He has one excellent year under his belt, followed by a whole boatload of meh. Mason won the Calder in his rookie season with a 2.29 GAA, .916 save percentage, and 10 shutouts in 61 games back in 2008-2009.
He was dynamite. He was poised to be a star and finally lead the Blue Jackets out of the gutter.
But he never reached those heights again in Columbus. His collective save percentage in Columbus after that season was a horrifying .899. His GAA (which, I admit, isn’t the most accurate goalie stat) was 3.11. These were not the numbers of a franchise cornerstone.
It felt like a sick joke when the Flyers traded for Mason last season. Mase was made expendable by Sergei Bobrovsky’s Vezina-winning campaign. Bobrovsky, as you might have heard, is a former Flyers goalie who looked like he was going to be terrific. Then the Flyers gave up on him after he struggled in the playoffs in his rookie year in favor of Ilya Bryzgalov. They held onto BOB for a year as a backup, and then traded him to Columbus.
So the Flyers’ castoff was doing so well in his new setting that the guy he replaced became expendable, and the Flyers snatched that guy up. Got it?
It is true that sometimes all a guy needs is a change of scenery. However, the Flyers aren’t exactly known for being the go-to place for reviving a goalie’s career. Two-way forward? Absolutely. Defenseman? You’ve got a chance. Goalie? No way. That’s the Flyers’ cursed position.
Superstition aside, the Flyers have a severe lack of patience with the position (see the aforementioned Bobrovsky) and are always struggling with it for a reason. Adding to the goalie development issue is Peter Laviolette’s system. It is very attack-based, and not known for lending defensive support to goaltenders.
Mason surprised everyone in his first few games as a Flyer. His seven starts over the final games of the 2012-2013 season resulted in a .944 save percentage and 1.90 GAA. These are tremendous numbers for sure, but it’s also an extremely small sample size. Can you really judge a guy based on a whopping seven games?
The Flyers saw something in Mason, but they thankfully recognized that just over a handful of games was not enough to truly evaluate someone. They signed him to a one-year deal, and here we are. He will spend the season splitting time with Ray Emery as the organization mulls over their future in net.
Let’s recap: terrible time in Columbus, small sample size in Philly. So you’d think it would be okay to be skeptical of Mason, right? Wrong. People are clinging to him as the next Bernie Parent.
Excuses are being made for him all over the place. He’s having the same defensive problems that Ilya Bryzgalov was blasted for. Yes, there is a huge price difference between the two, but a bad goal is a bad goal. We should be extra critical of Mason since this year is all about evaluating him. Do we want the Flyers committing to a mediocre goalie for five or more years? Absolutely not.
The rest of the NHL has dismissed this guy for a reason. It’s all well and good to hope for the best and encourage him as he tries to find his way, but you can’t get mad at the skeptics. As Flyers fans, we all want things to work out well with Mason. It would be an incredible comeback, and who doesn’t love that? But we can’t cling to everyone that walks through the door as the next great hope. I’ll gladly eat crow if Mason ends up being the answer. Just make sure you fry it up and give me some hot sauce on the side.