Steve Mason, our next goaltender or the next Michael Leighton?

Image c/o Amy Irvin

By now everybody knows the story; after winning the Calder Trophy in his rookie year as a 20 year old with a .916 save percentage, Steve Mason fell out of favor in Columbus with three and a half poor seasons (.901, .901, .894, .899 save percentages respectively). As the Flyers approached the trade deadline last season they opted to take a chance on the still young, talented but long-struggling goaltender when they traded a third round pick in 2015 and Michael Leighton for Mason. He was then signed to a one-year $1.5 million extension.

Since being acquired Mason has been a revelation. In seven games to end the 2013 season he posting a stunning .944 save percentage. He’s followed that up with 10 games in 2013-2014 with an impressive .922 mark. All told, in his 17 games with the Flyers he’s played to a .931 save percentage.

Mason was a polarizing topic at the time of the trade; and he remains one to this day. Many people believe that the relatively cheap cost to acquire him is worth taking a chance on a talented goaltender that may need a change of scenery and a fresh start. Others tend to look at his last 171 games in Columbus and say “I don’t care what he did in his first 61, he’s been darn near the worst goaltender in hockey since then”. With his stellar play in orange and black, those people are waiting for his play to fall off of a cliff.

My personal thoughts at the time were a mix of both.

I was fine with the trade as I didn’t feel we gave up much of anything. I also felt this was just part-one of a series of moves, and that turned out to be the case. I was happy to take a gamble on a young goaltender who once showed he could play at a high level, as long as the Flyers had another option in place.

With that said, I’m becoming a bit worried about how fans are quick to declare Mason “our next goaltender” and that they want him signed long-term as soon as possible. Sam Carchidi wrote “So far, it looks like one of the best trades of the Holmgren era.”

I think it would be wise to continue to exercise caution. I’m not trying to rain on the parade of any Flyers fans, but I’m just not ready to go all-in on a goaltender after 17 games. Flyers fans don’t have to look any further than 2009-2010 for an example of goaltender having a hot start and it ending in flames.

In December of 2009 the Flyers claimed Michael Leighton off of waivers. Until that point, Leighton had been one of the best goaltenders in the American Hockey League but was quite bad at the NHL level in 76 games. Leighton then went on a bit of a tear leading the Flyers on their Stanley Cup run.

That season, in 27 regular season games he posted a .918 save percentage. In 14 postseason games he also played to a .916 mark. That summer, on the eve of free-agency, Leighton was re-signed to a two-year contract; a move I particularly hated. Leighton ultimately went on to play two, yes two, more regular season games in Philadelphia.

But Mason’s, .931 save percentage is quite a bit better than Leighton’s .918 right? Well, in Leighton’s first 17 games with the Flyers he actually had a .924 save percentage.

Now, I’m not trying to say Steve Mason is Michael Leighton. I personally think Steve Mason is quite a bit better than Leighton. What I am trying to say is let’s not get ahead of ourselves and anoint Steve Mason to be anything other than our current goaltender who is playing well at the moment. He hasn’t even been here an entire year yet. It’s been 17 games. As we saw with Leighton, 17 games (or even 27), mean nothing.

  • Leo Delucca

    Great article. I think the Flyers need to hold off on any extension until after the season ends. I agree Mason is much better than Leighton but who knows what is going to happen as the season continues to fall apart. Mason has a great attitude right now and everything is clicking but the team’s play might start to take a toll on the guy. What I m trying to say is bad things tend to grind down a person despite how much of a good attitude he has. I believe in this guy but I would rather see how he is at the end of the season.

  • Devin Maroney

    Completely agree. If I were Holmgren or Hextall (could go either way at the end of the season with this team) I would wait until the offseason and sign him to a 1-2 year deal at a low cap hit, that’s if he has performed consistently to his numbers now. The Flyers also have Stolarz coming up in a couple years so perhaps they have mason for 2 more and then give Stolarz a shot after a year or 2 in the AHL. But looking at the now I am satisfied with Mason. Great article by the way.

  • Miika Pyorala

    Aw dude, no way. Mason’s the best goaltender since Parent! He definitely needs a bloated, 5 year deal. *wipes kool-aid from upper lip*