The Flyers lost out on Ryane Clowe, who wound up going to
the New York Rangers. They sat on their hands as Jaromir Jagr was shipped off
to the Boston Bruins. And according to reports, they were beat out for
26-year-old netminder Ben Bishop, who the Ottawa Senators wound up sending to
the Tampa Bay Lightning instead.
The Flyers did not come away empty-handed at the trade
deadline however, nor without a goalie, sending Michael Leighton and a
third-round pick in 2015 to Columbus in exchange for Steve Mason. With that, it
didn’t take very long for speculation to swirl over the future of one Ilya
Bryzgalov, because of course it didn’t.
Mason, 24, has been trending downward ever since his stellar
rookie season in 2008-09 when he led the NHL with 10 shutouts. He played just
46 games last season – the lowest total of his career – and finally surrendered
the starting job to Sergei Bobrovsky this year, posting a 3-6-1 record with a
2.95 goals against average and .899 save percentage.
Some have described it as ironic that the Flyers traded for
Bob’s backup. The real irony here is that they had to trade a goaltender
(Leighton) for goaltender help. But I digress.
Despite the fact that Mason has been increasingly less
impressive as the years have gone by, the natural leap is this acquisition sets
the team up to amnesty Bryzgalov in the offseason. This is fueled by several
factors, chiefly that there is some dissatisfaction with Bryz’s performance and
contract, but also that the Flyers were chasing young goalies at the deadline
to begin with.
There’s also the matter of Mason’s contract. He’ll become a
restricted free agent this summer, when at that time if the Flyers would like
to retain the player’s services they must render a qualifying offer that
matches his salary of $3.2 million, with a contract length of up to two years.
When combined with Bryzgalov’s average salary of $5.67 million,
that would be almost $9 million tied up in goaltending for the next two seasons.
That sounds like a lot.
So a case can be made
that the Flyers are preparing to separate from Bryz, and the first step was to
acquire a cheaper option, in this case a salvage project. Paul Holmgren didn’t
exactly pour cold water all over the possibility, either. The general manager
told reporters the organization views Mason as part of the future.
“We see him as one of our two goalies, not only the rest of
this year, but moving forward," Holmgren said. "We’ll just leave it
at that for now.”
Then again, Homer was also optimistic they could reach a
deal with Mason that would pay him less than the value of the qualifying offer.
If that were true, it changes the dynamics quite a bit.
The Flyers have had to learn the hard way about going cheap
on a backup. We understood the reasoning behind it, that being Bryz is a goalie
who commands a lot of ice time, and they were up against the salary cap as
usual. Unfortunately it’s backfired. Head coach Peter Laviolette literally could
not afford to use Leighton or Brian Boucher, so Billy will be starting his 20th
straight game on Wednesday.
This trade may very well boil down to nothing more than
filling an obvious need. There’s even evidence to support that line of thinking.
Ed Snider defended Bryzgalov as recently as this past weekend, essentially
absolving the maligned netminder of the club’s issues.
“I don't think Bryzgalov has been the problem,” Snider said.
“I mean, he's had to face so many breakaways and 2-on-1s where we turn over the
puck suddenly. I think it's the team. I think we're fine in goal.”
Digging even further into the theory that ownership stands
behind Bryz is the reality that Snider wanted Homer to put an end to the goalie
carousel in Philly once and for all. You can argue whether signing the
cosmonaut to a nine-year deal – not to mention his 15-14-3 record, 2.81 GAA,
and .900 SV% this season – has truly accomplished that or not, yet where
exactly does Mason fit in with that vision?
Not to rule out the organization using amnesty on Bryzgalov
completely, if for no other reason than the Flyers might not wish to cut him
checks up to his 40th birthday, but this move doesn’t quite lend the appearance
that is indeed their intent. Bryz’s salary is not as excessive as many people
like to make it seem (8th in average salary among goalies this year), and the
front office doesn’t believe he’s the problem.
We shall see. As for the trade itself, it’s no blockbuster,
but certainly wise to pick up somebody that might be able to give Bryzgalov a
breather. Meanwhile, Mason flashed serious potential early in his career, so
who knows what could happen if he can recapture it. I’m just not convinced you’ll
ever see that for Philly on any kind of regular basis.
>> Flyers trade for goaltender Steve Mason [Frequent
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