VOORHEES, N.J. – When the Flyers traded for Steve Mason at the trade deadline last April, the jokes were bountiful.
Here they were getting the guy who was replaced by Sergei Bobrovsky in Columbus. The Flyers were basically getting the Blue Jackets scraps, while Columbus was enjoying the Vezina-winning season of the former Flyers goalie.
And although they technically weren’t traded for one another, many viewed it as a swap of goaltenders that would haunt the Flyers for many years to come.
Now, a mere seven months later, all the laughing has been silenced.
The criticisms have been tucked away and those same documentarians who were quick to prejudge Mason are now championing his performance on a nightly basis.
Funny how things change, eh?
Through his first 15 starts, Mason has a 2.12 goals against average and a .932 save percentage, nearly identical numbers to what Bobrovsky posted in 37 starts (2.00, .932) to win the Vezina a season ago.
The question is, how did he get here? How did Mason become a go-to goalie so quickly for the Flyers when earlier this year he was an afterthought somewhere else?
The answer is threefold.
Confidence. Conditioning. Coaching.
Let’s take them in reverse order, shall we?
Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese had always admired Mason’s game. From the time Mason burst on the scene as the winner of the Calder Trophy and Vezina runner-up as a rookie in the 2008-09 season up until the time the Flyers traded Michael Leighton and a 2015 third round pick for him.
Sure there were some forgettable seasons mixed in there, but Mason always had the talent. As an experienced goalie coach, Reese could see it. It was still there, even though he was struggling.
And while there were a few minor adjustments that Reese felt could help, the big thing was getting Mason into shape.
Mason’s weight fluctuated a bit while he was in Columbus, and that’s what made him a hair slower in net.
When he got to Philadelphia, it was an opportunity to recommit himself to his craft physically and it has paid off.
Now, Mason is stronger in the net. He is quicker laterally. He gets into the proper position faster. His reflexes are sharp and his numbers are proving it – and with the good numbers comes confidence in oneself.
Sure, it’s only one quarter of one season, so once again, when talking about Mason’s repeatedly solid performances, it must come with the qualifier that it’s a small sample size – and it is.
But when does the small sample become large enough for others to truly take notice?
Probably not until sometime after the New Year – perhaps the Olympic Break.
After all, by that point the season will be 59 games old and Mason will have started somewhere between 40 and 45 games.
If his numbers are still as good – or better – than they are right now, then it’s worth removing the “temporarily hot” label from Mason.
And at that point, maybe, the Flyers consider trying to lock him up on a multi-year deal rather than risk losing him to a lot more in free agency at season’s end.
Because Mason is on a one-year deal, the Flyers are not allowed to negotiate a new deal with him until January 1 anyway per rules in the collective bargaining agreement. So, for their sake, it’s good and it allows even more evaluation time to determine if they want to lock him up long-term.
Considering he has now appeared in 22 games for the Flyers since that trade in April and hasn’t given up more than three goals in any one of them, it’s starting to look like they’re going to want to keep him beyond this season.
Because aside from his performance on the ice, Mason has also helped bonding in the locker room. After there was so much fuss and maybe even some discord with goalies past, this current Flyers squad embraces Mason as one of their own.
“You can always tell the kind of impact a goalie has on a locker room when you hear the other players talking about him positively,” General Manager Paul Holmgren said. “Our guys have been saying good things about him all season.”
And why not? He is easily the first quarter MVP. Without Steve Mason, there is no turnaround. There is no getting back to within a game of a playoff spot. There is no optimism moving forward.
And despite all that, despite his fine play and his role in keeping the Flyers relevant this season, he’s not capturing the eye of the national media.
He’s not a darling because his won/loss record isn’t great. He’s not a household name yet because the Flyers got off to a slow start.
And the Flyers don’t mind that being the case. As a matter of fact, they feel like the less people outside of Philadelphia know about Mason’s game right now, the better.
But that not be the best thing for Mason and his international aspirations.
Mason is definitely not getting a lot of love as a possibility to be one of the Olympic goaltenders for Team Canada.
Maybe it’s because of statistical reputation. Maybe it’s because Team Canada general manager Steve Yzerman has his heart set on the guys who got him the Gold medal four years ago in Vancouver coming back again.
And who’s to say Yzerman isn’t right?
But, if you go by what he said previously – that how guys are playing in the season would contribute highly to the decision-making process, then Mason has to be considered for a spot at the very least.
Look at goals against – He ranks sixth among the Canadian goalies, and only mere percentage points out of third.
In save percentage, which is a far greater measure of the goalie’s individual performance, since GAA can often be contributed to team defense as well, Mason ranks fourth among Canadian goalies, but ahead of all three guys who were on the Olympic Team in 2010.
The Olympic teams don’t have to be declared until December 31, so there is still time yet for Mason to stand out even more, or to regress back closer to the norm. But maybe someone needs to point out to Canada that one of their best goalies is in Philadelphia, as strange as that might sound, and he deserves some more publicity than he’s gotten so far.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo, email email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @InsideTheFlyers
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