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.