Less than 24 hours after the Flyers’ top goaltending prospect Anthony Stolartz suffered a frightening injury and was stretchered off the ice when the back of his leg was lacerated by a skate blade, the team decided to address the immediate future between the pipes and sign Steve Mason to a contract extension.
Hearing that goalie Steve Mason has signed an extension with the Flyers. No other details at this point.
— Pierre LeBrun (@Real_ESPNLeBrun) January 18, 2014
Given Mason’s play since joining the Orange-and-Black, many figured a deal to keep Mason in Philadelphia was a formality. Since he was acquired for Michael Leighton and a 3rd round pick prior to last April’s trade deadline, the former Calder Cup winner has experienced something of a career renaissance.
In just seven games of action toward the end of the 2013 season, Mason posted a 4-2-0 record with a stellar 1.90 GAA and .944 save percentage. After starting out 2014 in similar fashion and essentially keeping the Flyers season afloat through their tumultuous start, Mason has clearly established himself as part of the team’s future plans.
Mason has hit a small rough patch in recent weeks. He has allowed at least three goals in four of his last five outings and seen his save percentage dip down to .917. That being said, Mason has still put forth efforts in the last ten games that make you feel confident that, with the right defense in front of him, he has put the struggles that derailed his career in Columbus behind him.
For his entire tenure in Philadelphia, one of the biggest complaints about the now-departed Ilya Bryzgalov was his inability to ‘steal’ a game when the team was not at his best. I would argue that, while he turns in the occasional shoddy performance, this is Mason’s biggest draw to a team pining to make a Stanley Cup run. The 25-year old has shown a special ability to make big saves in bunches and has allowed the team to pick up points in games where they had little business doing so.
Since the team started 1-7-0, the Flyers have earned points in 24 of Mason’s 31 starts. Given the nature of hockey’s scheduling and the silver-lining of losing games in shootouts or overtime, these points are essential in positioning a team to make the playoffs.
Steve Mason extension, first reported by @Real_ESPNLeBrun is 3 years, $12.3M.
— Elliotte Friedman (@FriedgeHNIC) January 18, 2014
At just over $4 million a year for three seasons, Mason will be in the middle of the pack as far as annual salaries go for goaltenders. Given the fact that, at points of his career at least, Mason has displayed top-tier talent and the ability to put a team on his back it is tough to get upset with this deal. With just three years on the contract, the Flyers will have plenty of time to see if Mason can re-establish himself as a championship-caliber starting goaltender without tying themselves to him like they did with Bryzgalov.
Mason has had some incredible games as a Flyer with largely ineffective defensive corps in front of him. He is the prototypical mold of an elite goalie (6’4″, lightning-quick reactions and foot-speed, competitive) one just has to hope the sort of struggles that haunted him in Columbus do not resurface in Philadelphia, a city notorious for their relationships with the team’s goaltenders.
The Flyers are an organization that makes decisions quickly and stands by them. By not wasting time on choices they see as a formality, the franchise is constantly able to look for new ways to do what they think can improve the team to a championship contender. While there will be those that question the timing of this move, given a relatively small sample size by Mason, its tough to poke too many holes in it. They’re not paying Mason like a top-five goalie and they’re not locking him up for the next decade.
In the NHL, young players who appear on the cusp of stardom are given ‘Bridge Deals’. It is a way of the organization locking up a potentially elite talent for a few years rather than risking their hesitancy to sign him to a long-term contract cost them in the end. Montreal’s P.K. Subban was given a two-year/$5.75 million contract prior to last season. He probably figured he was in store for a bigger payday, but this was the Canadiens way of giving themselves an out with a player who, while talented as any in the league, had not done enough to warrant a Ryan Suter-like contract. Subban went on to win the Norris Trophy for the NHL’s best defenseman and is in store for a monstrous contract, either via free agency or an extension with Montreal.
This is essentially what the Flyers are doing with Mason. At 25, he has shown the talent necessary to launch himself into the NHL’s elite at his position. However, he does have a track record of veering off course and signing him to a long-term, big money extension would be bad business by the Flyers. Instead, the team is locking up a potentially world-class talent for a reasonable price and asking him to go out and get his next big contract. He is still young enough that, given a few years of progress and consistency, he can still earn a deal along the likes of the Pekka Rinnes and Henrik Lundqvsits of the world.
While I still question as to whether this year’s Flyers team has the makeup of a playoff contender, I am a fan of this move. Mason has been a refreshing presence in the Philadelphia locker room and, between his growing confidence and accountability, I think the Flyers actually made a smart move from a numbers and timing standpoint.
UPDATE: In case you were wondering about Stolarz, here’s the latest update (video somewhat graphic)
Philadelphia Flyers Prospect Anthony Stolarz Suffers Nasty Cut From Skate, Receives 55 Stitches (Video) http://t.co/mQWSXtP3t7
— NESN (@NESN) January 18, 2014