Over four years ago, the Philadelphia Flyers traded their backup goaltender, Sergei Bobrovsky, to the Columbus Blue Jackets. The next year, the Flyers acquired a goaltender from the Blue Jackets by the name of Steve Mason. It was quite an interesting situation, but in the end, both teams seem to have benefited from the moves. Mason is often overlooked and considered the consolation prize, especially after Bobrovsky won the Vezina trophy in 2013.
Mason, 27, spent the first five years of his NHL career with the Blue Jackets and failed to impress. However, with a change of scenery, he has become an elite goaltender in the NHL. The 2014-15 was Mason’s best season statistically, even though his record did not show it.
In 51 games played, Mason went 18-18-11 with three shutouts, a .928 save percentage and a 2.25 goals against average. However, the poor record is an indication of the team he was apart of, not his actual play. The Flyers were tragically bad in overtime and the shootout last season as they finished with a record of 3-11 in shootouts.
Why Mason has become Elite
The term “elite” is thrown around constantly in the digital era, but many fail to grasp what the term was intended to describe. It’s supposed to be the top players in the league and generally, that should be saved for the top 10-15% of athletes in their respective position.
I don’t think there is any question that the Metropolitan Division boasts some tremendous talents in net. And in our own power ranking of the division, Mason was rated as sixth best goaltender.
However, here are some statistics that might indicate otherwise. Last season Mason finished with the third highest even strength save percentage of 94.37%. That mark is above Carey Price, Cory Schneider, Henrik Lundqvist, Pekka Rinne and Tuukka Rask. Mason was also excellent on the power play as he finished the season with a save percentage of 95.65%. Of goaltenders who played 200 minutes or more on the man advantage, he ranks seventh, behind Ondrej Pavelec, Jonathan Quick, Jonas Hiller, Jaroslav Halak, Semyon Varlamov and Ryan Miller. His numbers place him above most of the “elite” goaltenders in the league like Lundqvist and Price.
There is one glaring flaw with Mason’s statistics and that’s when on the penalty kill. Of 24 goaltenders who played more than 240 minutes shorthanded, Mason finished with the lowest save percentage of all of them. He finished the season with 84.39% of shots saved while a man down. However, what is very interesting is that the 23rd goaltender, by save percentage, was actually Lundqvist with a 85.28%.
I’d argue that Mason’s poor penalty killing statistic again is a product of the team around him, and not his own play. The Flyers spend $24,591,667 of the $71.4 million salary cap on their defense. It’s the seventh highest in the league and it’s accepted their blue line is one of the worst in the league. It’s a better unit now than it was when the season ended, but the defensive corps of the Flyers have been deplorable over the last few seasons.
But why does the Flyers defensive unit matter when discussing the goaltender? Simply because it’s almost impossible for a goaltender to have success on the penalty kill without solid defenders in front of him. The Flyers as a whole finished 27th out of 30 in penalty killing last season with only a 77.1% success rate.
When you actually break down the numbers, Mason is one of the best goaltenders in the league trapped on a Flyers team with a horrific blue line. If Philadelphia continues to improve their blue line, it is very feasible that in a season or two, Mason will be considered the top goaltender in the league, he just needs some support in front of him.
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Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers