2013 In Review: Top 5 Transactions in Philadelphia Sports

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2. Flyers acquire goalie Steve Mason at trade deadline for Michael Leighton, 2015 3rd round pick

The 3rd entry in this list may end up paying more long-term dividends than this one, but by the definition of the article I felt inclined to give the nod to a move that has already come with positive results. With the Flyers in the midst of their most disappointing season since finishing with the worst record in the league in 20006-07, many scoffed at the idea that a trade could fix a fundamentally flawed team. With a roster that was built with the thought that former captain Chris Pronger would be logging 30 minutes a game, the loss of the hulking blue-liner proved to be a blow that they were unable to recover from. Salvaged only by the fact that the season was cut in half, fans and analysts alike accepted this notion and it almost seemed as if it was not even worth being frustrated over their struggles.

After the team quit on Sergei Bobrovsky and traded him to the Columbus Blue Jackets for meaningless draft picks following the 2011-12 campaign, the franchise had shown a clear indication that Ilya Bryzgalov would be the netminder they hitched their wagon to on a nightly basis. Almost insultingly so, the organization brought back the goat of the 2010 Cup Finals Michael Leighton to fill Bobrovsky’s backup role behind Bryzgalov. When Leighton proved what everyone knew, that he was simply not an NHL goalie (allowed five goals in his only game), the Flyers were left without a dependable option to spell Bryzgalov. The Russian played almost every game and, while he started the season as strong as he had been with the Flyers, the team’s struggles and his increased workload seemed to finally get the best of him.

As the early April trade deadline drew nearer, many fans and analysts speculated as to what blockbuster move the Flyers would pull to try to patchwork a flawed roster together, a tendency they had become notorious for. Instead, in the final hours before teams could complete transactions, Paul Holmgren took a more low-profile approach with a familiar trade partner.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, with Sergei Bobrovsky in the midst of a Vezina trophy campaign, had another former award winner on their bench collecting dust. Netminder Steve Mason, whose 2009 Calder Cup winning season still goes down as one of the most remarkable performances by a young goalie, had turned into a cautionary tale of depending on youth between the pipes. After posting a stellar 2.29 goals against average during his rookie of the year season along with a league-leading 10 shutouts, Mason had regressed to the point where starting him almost assured a loss for the small-market Blue Jackets. In the 3 seasons following winning the award, he failed to post a sub-3.00 GAA and looked as if he had lost the confidence necessary to play the position. In just 13 starts for Columbus in the lockout-shortened 2013 season, his 2.95 GAA and .899 save percentage indicated what many felt, that Mason could never get back to the form he showed in his first year.

After the Flyers basically gave the Blue Jackets a franchise goalie, Columbus seemed more than happy to jettison their former face of the franchise for little more than a bag of pucks. Trading Mason signified a shift from the team’s era of mediocrity while the Flyers would be getting what they felt was a more suitable backup to their Russian netminder. While I’m sure Paul Holmgren would tell you all along he knew otherwise, it is hard to imagine even the Flyers GM expected the type of play that Mason has shown since the move.

After stopping all nine shots he faced in relief duty of Bryzgalov in a Flyers loss to the Winnipeg Jets, the team decided to roll the dice with Mason as the team’s starter down the stretch. The 25-year old from Ontario rewarded the faith of the organization with some of the most impressive play seen by a Flyers goalie in years. He would finish with a 4-2 record, 1.90 GAA, and a .944 save percentage with wins coming against playoff teams in the Bruins, Senators, and Rangers. Making his showing all the more impressive was that he was essentially winning games behind a patchwork defense allowed prime chances by the opposition at an alarming rate.

Mason looked rejuvenated and confident in net, displaying the athleticism to go along with his impressive frame that helped him burst onto the scene in 2009. While the sample size was small, the quality of his play paired with the souring of Bryzgalov within the organization proved to be enough to keep him on board as a viable option. The team would sign Ray Emery in the offseason to work in tandem with Mason, but he has since shown that might not be necessary.

In 28 games this season, Mason has shaken off the ‘small sample size’ argument and is gearing the argument more toward whether or not the Flyers finally acquired their franchise goalie by dumb luck. Even with a few hiccups as of late, Mason’s statline is as impressive as they come in the NHL. His 2.35 GAA is tied for 7th in the Eastern Conference and his 28 starts are tied for 4th. His 14-9-4 record as a starter might not seem that impressive, but considering the Flyers early struggles this season, it is remarkable that he has a winning record. Thanks in part to a weak division, Philadelphia would be a playoff team were the season to end today. I think if you ask every player on the roster who their choice for MVP to this point would be, it would be the same answer: Steve Mason. Holmgren’s savvy swap netting a potential franchise goalie is enough for second most impactful transaction of 2013.