Since the time of Steve Mason’s arrival in Philadelphia, he’s been the majority go-to guy in the crease for the Flyers. Brought in as a shot in the dark trade deadline deal by Paul Holmgren in April 2013, the Flyers weren’t exactly sure what the trade would end up turning into.
After all, they had just signed Ilya Bryzgalov to a massive nine-year contract in the summer of 2011 and Mason had just lost his job in 2012-13 to former Flyers goalie Sergi Bobrovsky. It was a classic example of how the Flyers goalie carousel revolves round and round, never finding an answer.
The Flyers Saw Upside in Mason
On the Flyers’ end at the time of the trade, it was a foregone conclusion they were going to use one of their compliance buyouts on Bryzgalov’s albatross contract and were in need of the next solution. Then-general manager Paul Holmgren and former goalie coach Jeff Reese saw something in the former 2009 Calder Trophy winner Mason, who at the time was still just 24 years of age. Holmgren himself had this to say at the time of the trade in April 2013, according to Frank Saravalli, who was then with the Philadelphia Daily News:
‘I think he’s bounced back a little better this year, Steve is still a young goalie, still has a lot of upside. Jeff Reese, our goalie coach, studies a lot of goalies around the league and likes Steve. He thinks there is something there. We still think there is tremendous upside there.’
The Flyers bought low on a goalie who had the talent, who had some success in the league on bad Columbus teams, and was still at an age where he hadn’t fully hit his true potential just yet.
What the Flyers have gotten out of Mason since the deal was more than they could have possibly imagined. He played lights out to end the 2013 season and has taken the reigns of the Flyers’ goal crease ever since. However, up until last season, Mason never had much competition for the Flyers’ starting job.
The Michal Neuvirth Factor
In an attempt to sure up the team’s goaltending tandem, Ron Hextall signed Michal Neuvirth in the summer of 2015 to take some of the pressure off of Mason, who after starting 61 games in 2014-15, was hampered by injuries in 2015-16. The Flyers’ backup goalies during Mason’s two seasons as the starter were never up to the caliber of a goalie of Neuvirth’s stature.
The addition of Neuvirth would give the Flyers two goalies of a starting caliber as well as Mason’s biggest competition for his job since he was in Columbus with Bobrovsky. Eerily, last season mimicked a bit of what came to pass that season in Columbus. Bobrovsky ended up playing the best hockey of his career (winning the Vezina Trophy) that would ultimately lead to Mason’s departure to Philadelphia. Last year, Neuvirth came in and played the best hockey of his career and in doing so had Dave Hakstol giving him the nod in long stretches and big games over Mason when healthy.
A Time to Reclaim the Throne
Despite having an excellent training camp and preseason, it would be Neuvirth, not Mason, that Hakstol decided to give the nod to on opening night of the 2016-17 season. With both heading into contract seasons it’s going to be anybody’s guess as to who will still be in a Flyers uniform come next season.
As of now, neither goalie has played very well to start the year. The Flyers offense has been one of the most potent in the league yet their defense and goaltending have been the reason they’re a .500 hockey club right now.
With news over the weekend that Neuvirth suffered a “lower-body” injury, he will be set to miss the next four to six weeks as a result. The time is now for Mason to prove he is the go-to guy for the Flyers this season and beyond.
Steve Mason said goaltending is "95 percent mental" and that he is eager to get back in. #Flyers
— Sam Carchidi (@BroadStBull) November 7, 2016
For whatever the reason Mason seems to play his best when he knows it’s his crease and his alone. Whether it’s the rhythm Mason gets into playing game after game and the extra work and reps he receives in practice as a result of being the number one is anybody’s guess.
Either way, as long as Mason can continue to make saves like this one, the Flyers should be in pretty good shape for the next 4-6 weeks.
Steve. Mason. pic.twitter.com/1vmbrFk3uz
— Sons of Penn (@SonsofPenn) November 13, 2016