Former Flyer Jeremy Roenick was notorious for being a pot-stirring lightning rod during his 20-year NHL career.
Now an analyst for NBC, Roenick was at it again last week when he ruffled the feathers of some Flyers fans with comments he made about goalie Steve Mason during an appearance on Comcast SportsNet’s Philly Sports Talk.
Regarding Mason, Roenick said, “I like Steve Mason, but I don’t think Steve Mason is the answer to winning a Stanley Cup.”
“I think you need an upper-echelon defenseman. I think you need an upper-echelon goaltender. The Flyers do not have [either,]" he said.
An interesting thought, considering how well Mason played last season and how he put the team on his back at times, especially during the first-round playoff series when the New York Rangers skated circles around the sluggish Flyers for elongated periods of time.
For an example, just go back and watch a tape of that Game 7, when he made 33 saves – many of the remarkable variety – to give his outplayed Flyers a chance at stealing not just a game, but also a series.
All told last regular season, Mason complied a 33-18-7 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage and was the best goalie around these parts in eons.
If you look at the starting goalies that posted a goals-against average within .15 points either way of Mason’s 2.50 last season, you will find the Rangers’ Henrik Lundqvist (2.36), Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury (2.37), Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky (2.38), San Jose’s Antti Niemi (2.39), Florida’s Roberto Luongo (2.40), Colorado’s Semyon Varlamov (2.41), Dallas’ Kari Lehtonen (2.41), Anaheim’s Jonas Hiller (2.48), Phoenix’s Mike Smith (2.64) and St. Louis’ Ryan Miller (2.64).
It should be noted that Luongo’s numbers are combined between Vancouver and Florida and Miller’s are combined between Buffalo and St. Louis.
Of those goalies above, Lundqvist has been arguably the best netminder of the last five years and is more than Cup-worthy, Fleury - while a shell of his former self - won a Cup in 2009, Bobrovsky has a Vezina Trophy under his belt and is one the league’s brightest young talents at the position, Niemi won a Cup in 2010, Luongo has been an upper-echelon goalie for a while now and has an Olympic gold medal and Miller has led his team to an Olympic final and was one of the league’s best goalies before Buffalo started to crash and burn.
Their accolades say that they are Cup-worthy.
Varlamov, Lehtonen, Hiller and Smith are each really good goalies in their own right but don’t have those types of accolades yet.
With the way Mason played last season, would you take any of the goalies above over him? Definitely Lundqvist and maybe Varlamov or Bobrovsky. That’s about it.
Save percentage is a much more jumbled stat.
So if you take the closest five starters either way to Mason’s .917 save percentage, you would find Niemi (.913), Washington’s Braden Holtby (.915), Smith (.915), Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick (.915), Fleury (.915), Chicago’s Corey Crawford (.917) Miller (.918), Luongo (.919) Lehtonen (.919) and Lundqvist (.920).
Luongo and Miller’s numbers are again combined from each of the teams they respectively played for last season.
Quick is the best goalie in the universe right now and has two rings. Crawford won a Cup in 2013 and helped his team get within a game of another Cup final this past year.
Again, with the way Mason played last year, whom would you rather have out of that crop? Only Quick and Lundqvist for certain.
So, if Roenick is making that claim off of last season, it’s off-base and unfair to Mason. Mason was just as good, if not better than most of those goalies above.
Where Roenick has an undoubtedly valid point is with the upper-echelon defenseman.
The Flyers’ blue-line issues are well documented. Their defense, at the moment, can be described as patchwork at best. They desperately need that upper-echelon defenseman Roenick spoke of.
Lundqvist has both Ryan McDonagh and Marc Staal. Quick has Drew Doughty and friends. Crawford has perhaps the deepest defense in the league in front of him, headed by Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Smith has a stud in Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Miller had Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk at his disposal.
The list could go on and on, but you get the point by now that the Flyers don’t have anyone close to the levels of those guys on the blue line.
Imagine how much better Mason would have been if he had the type of defender(s) like that in front of him. Or if the Flyers would have scored more in the first two months of the season, but that’s another story.
Roenick also has a point when it comes to consistency with Mason.
Mason won the Calder Trophy during his 2008-09 rookie year when he posted a 33-20-7 record, 2.29 goals-against average and .916 save percentage with the Blue Jackets. He also finished second for the Vezina Trophy and fourth for the Hart Trophy that season.
But in the following three seasons, Mason’s numbers dipped dramatically before bottoming out at 16 wins, a 3.39 goals-against average and a .894 save percentage in in 46 games played during 2011-12. He was traded to the Flyers in 2013.
That can’t happen again here. Mason needs to prove he can be a top-flight goalie from year to year. He’ll have the stability to do that as he signed a three-year extension in January, is the undoubted starter heading into this season and is still just 26-years-old.
So for Roenick to say that Mason isn’t Cup-worthy with the numbers he put up last year with an incredibly inconsistent defense ahead of him is unfair to the Flyers goalie.
But last year is in the past. Now it’s time for Mason to back it up, show some year-to-year consistency and prove his doubters wrong.