Philadelphia Flyers: Steve Mason Deserved Better

Mar 15, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) takes a shot against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason (35) during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports
Mar 15, 2017; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins left wing Conor Sheary (43) takes a shot against Philadelphia Flyers goalie Steve Mason (35) during the first period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports /

Steve Mason’s tenure as the Philadelphia Flyers’ goaltender will likely end this week. Here’s hoping Flyers fans appreciate the goalie they will soon lose.

Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie Steve Mason had been hung out to dry once again.

New Jersey Devils forward Taylor Hall received an outlet pass from Kyle Palmieri and streaked into the Flyers’ zone. The Orange and Black had been caught in the midst of an ill-timed line change during the overtime session. Defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere, alone and at the end of his shift, drifted toward Hall. Hall feathered a pass across the ice to teammate John Moore, who buried the puck in the back of the net, just past the lunging Mason.

And just like that, the game was over. The Flyers lost yet again to the cellar-dwelling Devils, this time by a score of 1-0.

With two games remaining on the schedule, Mason will probably get another start before the season concludes. However, the outcome in Newark was as fitting an end to Mason’s tenure in Philadelphia as one could conjure.

Free agency lurks on the horizon, and Mason will likely take the opportunity to find a new home. With Michal Neuvirth signed for the next two seasons and two young goaltenders stashed away at Lehigh Valley, the Flyers will refrain from making a competitive offer to keep Mason in the fold. Frankly, the team has too many areas of need on the rest of its roster, anyway. The financial resources that would be required to re-sign Mason will likely be devoted to plugging other holes in the line-up.

Nevertheless, it is a shame to see Mason’s career in Philadelphia end this way. He deserved a better fate.

When Steve Mason arrived in the City of Brotherly Love, the Flyers’ goaltending situation was an utter mess. The Ilya Bryzgalov experiment had failed spectacularly. Sergei Bobrovsky, who in the previous offseason had been jettisoned by the organization, was in the midst of a campaign with the Columbus Blue Jackets that would culminate with a Vezina Trophy. Bobrovsky’s spectacular play in Columbus pushed Steve Mason out of the net.

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Before his exile to the Blue Jackets’ bench, Mason had experienced an erratic start to his career. In his rookie season, Mason played well enough to earn the Calder Trophy. Thanks in no small measure to his efforts, the Blue Jackets earned their first playoff berth in franchise history.

Then, Mason hit a wall. After that stellar first year, his stats dipped. Mason’s save percentage dropped from .916 to .901, and his goals against average ballooned to 3.06. Mason’s third season was not much better. By year four in Columbus, Mason reached his professional nadir. He played in a career-low 46 games, sporting an .894 save percentage and 3.39 GAA. 

It was time for a change, for both Columbus and their former star player. Mason was dealt to Philadelphia for Michael Leighton and a third-round pick. In seven games with the Flyers, Mason sported a gaudy .944 save percentage and 1.90 GAA.

In the following offseason, Bryzgalov’s contract was offered as a sacrifice to the salary cap gods. Mason was enshrined as the starter. He did not disappoint. In so doing, he mitigated the damage from a colossal error that could have crippled the franchise.

Mason rediscovered the game that had abandoned him since that first season in Columbus. His stabilizing presence between the pipes facilitated the Philadelphia Flyers’ return to the playoffs. Though the Flyers’ lost in the first round to the eventual Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers, Mason was tremendous in the series. A concussion had kept the netminder out until the latter stages of Game 3, but Mason’s late arrival did not prevent him from seizing the stage.

Game 6 emerged as the highlight of Mason’s brief playoff run. A 34-save performance, which included two incredible glove saves on breakaway chances, propelled the Flyers to a 5-2 victory.

The Flyers fell in Game 7 by a score of 2-1, but they could not fault their goaltender for the loss. In truth, the Rangers were the superior club. The Blueshirts’ forwards were faster; their defensemen were sounder; and their head coach was more seasoned.

But, for the last four games of the series, the Rangers did not have the better goaltender.

Despite continuing to put up strong numbers, Mason has never received the recognition he deserved. NBC Sports hockey analyst Mike Milbury has been a frequent antagonist. If the Flyers were scheduled for an NBCSN game and the topic of Mason’s play arose during the pregame or intermission segments, one could be assured of Milbury trotting out the Mason talking points he must store in a drawer underneath the stage desk.

Milbury is not alone. The social media cognoscenti routinely pile on Mason. Moreover, the Philadelphia Flyers’ failure to re-sign him to a long-term contract suggests there are limits to the faith placed in him within the organization. Dave Hakstol certainly has not demonstrated much trust in Mason, who has been tethered to a shorter leash than the one allowed for Neuvirth.

If you wish to blame Steve Mason for this organization’s shortcomings, go ahead. Just know that such criticism is as myopic as it is misguided. The Philadelphia Flyers have been a mediocre franchise for most of this decade. Though help is on the way, the blue line has been a weakness ever since debilitating concussion symptoms forced Chris Pronger into retirement. Mason masked a lot of those deficiencies throughout his time in Philadelphia, but the logo on his chest is a winged P, not an S.

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Nonetheless, there is no argument I could advance to disabuse the hardcore Mason haters of their foolishness. They will continue to rip what they view as Mason’s inconsistent performance. They will celebrate Mason’ exit from the organization as they dream their deluded dreams of Ben Bishop. The Philadelphia Flyers will be better off without Steve Mason, they will forever think.

All I can offer in rebuttal is a quote from Ernest Hemingway, who wrote the following line at the end of The Sun Also Rises:
“Isn’t it pretty to think so?”