Best of all, Steve Mason’s new contract gives Flyers flexibility

Best of all, Steve Mason’s new contract gives Flyers flexibility

By all accounts, everybody was a winner over the weekend when the Philadelphia Flyers and Steve Mason agreed to a three-year contract extension worth $12.3 million. The orange and black can finally put the goaltender carousel in storage for awhile—at least we hope so—while Mason earns top-20 netminder money with a chance to cash in as a free agent when he’ll still only be 28 years old.

It’s hard to find fault in any of that. Mason’s numbers this season won’t blow anybody away—he’s got a 19-11-5 record with a .915 save percentage and 2.56 goals against average. However, since arriving in Philly at last April’s trade deadline, Mase has brought stability back to the organization both in the crease and the locker room. He was often the only reason the Flyers were in any games at all over the first month of the season, and who knows how good the numbers would look behind a more consistent defense.

Steve Mason is clearly the right goalie for right now. But the best part is if he’s not the right goalie anymore a few seasons down the road, it won’t be a major issue.

The biggest problem with Ilya Bryzgalov wasn’t his up-and-down play between the pipes or even the eccentric attitude that didn’t endear him to fans, teammates or members of the media. It was both of those flaws coupled with the fact that at nine years, $51 million, there wasn’t a thing the Flyers could do to remedy it.

In some respects, the NHL lockout might’ve been the best thing that could’ve happened to Philadelphia. The compliance buyouts that came with the new collective bargaining agreement are the only reason the Flyers were able to get out from under that costly mistake. Otherwise, Bryz would still be flinging his stick around the Wells Fargo Center and fighting his daily battles with reporters over his off-the-ice antics as much his deficiencies on the playing surface.

At $4.1 million, Mason is much more cap friendly—currently it will be the 14th-highest salary among NHL goalies next season, and it could fall further until new deals are signed. That gives the front office roughly $1.5 million per season to spend on additional players compared to what they would’ve had under Bryzgalov.

The most important aspect is the years though. If Mason should revert to the level of performance from his final days in Columbus, the Flyers are not stuck with him forever. If a better option comes along in the meantime, Mason’s contract would not be impossible to trade to another team. If 2012 second-round pick Anthony Stolarz continues his development along the current trajectory, Mason’s contract doesn’t prevent the youngster from becoming the franchise’s goaltender of the future.

Stolarz has done a nice job with the London Knights of the Ontario Hockey League. In 50 appearances between this season and last, the 20-year-old has posted a 34-7-2 record with a .923 SV% and 2.46 GAA. He's still a few years away from being NHL-ready, but certainly remains a player to watch.

Of course, the easiest scenario that could happen is Mason would continue improving himself and hold on to the job for the duration contract, maybe longer. He’s looked visibly more comfortable and confident from the moment he first donned orange and black, and it’s possible he has yet to realize his full potential. After all, Mason was a Vezina Trophy nominee as a rookie in 2008-09, so there is precedence for him playing at or near the highest level in the NHL.

For now, it remains uncertain what exactly the Flyers have in Mason. At the very least though, he’s a solid hand with the potential to be more. For once, we’ll get to find out without breaking the bank or eliminating every other possibility in the process.

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

Nerlens Noel excited for impending return to game action

NEW ORLEANS -- The weeks and months have quickly piled up. Nerlens Noel has not played an NBA regular-season game since last season ended for the Sixers on April 13. Nearly eight months later, Noel is nearing the return he has been eyeing for quite some time now. 

“It’s always an excitement to be able to play basketball after this amount of time, including the summer, not being able to play organized basketball at a competitive level,” Noel said Thursday. “I’ve been really looking forward to this. I think I’ve gained some momentum coming back from this minor surgery, and I think I’m in a really good place and I’m feeling good with my body. Everything is on point.”

Noel has been sidelined since undergoing elective left knee surgery in October to address an inflamed plica. He traveled to New Orleans on Wednesday to join the Sixers ahead of their 99-88 win over the Pelicans (see game recap). Noel continued his rehab Thursday while the team prepped for the game. 

“I’ve been able do five-on-five, full contact,” Noel said. “I’ve tried to maximize my opportunities of that with the team being gone on the road. I came down here and went through most of shootaround and it went well. Now these next couple of days, [I will be] going through practice, still working on my wind. I do like where I’m at now.”

The Sixers’ next game is Sunday against the Pistons in Detroit. Brett Brown had given Noel’s availability for that game a “maybe” (see story)

“I’m not sure,” Noel said of playing Sunday. “I’m ready to go with these next couple of days and see how my wind feels and how my body feels, which I have been feeling good. So it’s a possibility.”

When Noel does return, there is a scenario in which he could be paired with center Joel Embiid. Last year, the Sixers struggled finding the best way to utilize Noel and Jahlil Okafor, also a center, at the same time playing the four and five positions. As Okafor has said of playing with Embiid, Noel also believes his off-the-court friendship with the towering rookie would translate onto the court. 

“I think it would be something that’s experimented,” Noel said. “It’d definitely be interesting.”

Noel candidly expressed his opinion of the Sixers’ logjammed frontcourt at the start of the season. Since speaking to the media after his surgery, Noel has mentioned he is in a good mental place (see story). For him, that means being out on the court again. 

“I love myself and I love the game of basketball,” Noel said. “When I step out here to come and play, it just brings a lot of enjoyment and excitement to me. Regardless of what the details of it are, I just love the game and I’m happy to just be playing.”

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

Best of NHL: Flames edge Coyotes in OT for fifth straight win

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Dougie Hamilton scored 1:09 into overtime, Chad Johnson stopped 27 shots and the Calgary Flames beat the Arizona Coyotes 2-1 on Thursday night.

Mark Giordano scored for the Flames in a chippy game filled with big hits and multiple fights.

Hamilton capped a fast-paced overtime by deking Arizona's Mike Smith with a forehand before flipping in a backhander. Calgary has won five straight and eight of 11 (8-2-1).

Max Domi scored before leaving with an upper-body injury and Smith stopped 33 shots for the Coyotes, who have lost six straight and 11 of 14 (3-7-4).

Arizona captain Shane Doan became Arizona's all-time assist leader and is the fifth player in NHL history to own his team's records for games played, goals, assists, points, game-winning goals and power-play goals (see full recap).

Crosby, Penguins roll over Panthers
SUNRISE, Fla. -- Sidney Crosby got his 18th goal and added an assist to lead the Pittsburgh Penguins over the Florida Panthers 5-1 on Thursday night.

Conor Sheary, Tom Kuhnhackl, Matt Cullen and Carl Hagelin also scored for Pittsburgh. Matt Murray made 28 saves.

The Penguins have won four straight and five of their past six.

Jaromir Jagr scored his 755th career goal, and Roberto Luongo stopped 25 shots for the Panthers. Luongo allowed three goals on Pittsburgh's first five shots.

Panthers coach Tom Rowe, who replaced Gerard Gallant on Nov. 28, made his home debut. The Panthers have lost five of six under Rowe, but managed a point in three of those losses (see full recap).

Price loses cool as Habs beat Devils
MONTREAL -- Carey Price lost his temper after being bumped twice in his crease and made 19 saves to help the Montreal Canadiens beat the New Jersey Devils 5-2 on Thursday night.

Torrey Mitchell scored twice and Phillip Danault, Artturi Lehkonen and Max Pacioretty also had goals for the Canadiens in their return from a five-game trip.

Adam Henrique scored a goal and set up one by Taylor Hall for New Jersey, which ended a two-game winning streak.

Montreal had a season-high 49 shots on Cory Schneider.

A wild first period included three goals, four goal reviews and Price's meltdown (see full recap).