After a brilliant 2014-15 season, Flyers goalie Steve Mason now knows what it’s like to have a book judged by its cover. The former Calder Trophy winner didn’t receive a single vote for this year’s Vezina Trophy, while his 18-18-11 record shoulders the blame.
But while just about everyone is united in agreement that Montreal’s Carey Price was most deserving of the trophy awarded to the league’s best netminder, it’s Mason’s lack of recognition whatsoever that leaves more questions than answers.
Steve Mason’s Monster Season
With everything considered, Philadelphia’s 33-31-18 season was a forgettable one. Not only did the Flyers lead the league in overtime losses, they missed the playoffs for the second time in three seasons.
Their tumultuous campaign left them near the bottom of the league with a 77.1 percent penalty kill percentage, while their 30.3 shots against per game illustrate the orange and black’s 21st-ranked 49.28 SAT percentage.
Despite the plethora of lowlights, Mason battled a multitude of injuries, along with the departure goalie coach Jeff Reese, to finish the season with a career-best save percentage of .928.
Mason has kept the Flyers in so many games they probably didn’t deserve that people have practically lost track. — Wayne Fish, The Morning Call
That sentiment wasn’t exclusive to the media, of course.
“He’s been unreal,” teammate Jake Voracek told Philly.com’s Sam Carchidi back in February. “He’s been one of our best players, for sure. He’s kept us in games so many times.”
What makes Mason’s brilliant play even more noteworthy, of course, was the questionable usage of the 27-year-old goalie. Injuries to the Oakville, Ontario native’s knees and back weren’t enough to keep the franchise goalie out of action for extended periods of time, as the struggling Flyers leaned heavily on the combination of their top line scoring and Mason’s elevated play.
While the Flyers asked Mason to steal games throughout the season, they provided the left-handed goalie with games of one or less goals in 13 of his 18 losses in regulation, and 15 of his 29 overall losses. Two of those losses, as we all remember, wasted two of his total three shutouts on the season.
It should be noted that his road goal support was much lower than at home. In terms of overall goal support, Mason ranked 34th among goaltenders who played enough minutes to rank among the NHL statistical league leaders. — Bill Meltzer, Hockey Buzz
Even Mason’s 2-7 mark in the shootout was marred by a lack of goal support, as shown by Philly’s 12-of-53 showing in the extra overtime stanza. That’s not to say the former Blue Jacket didn’t struggle himself in the shootout, allowing the third most goals in the skills competition, but only four other goalies saw more shots against in that category than Mason’s 37.
In addition to the shootout, Mason’s 2-12-6 road record looks awful on the surface. But considering Philadelphia’s overall road mark of 10-20-11, it brings perspective to such a showing, especially since both of his shutout losses came while wearing a white sweater. That’s not necessarily an indictment on Mason, though.
In 23 road appearances, Mason still turned in a .914 save percentage, as well as a 2.56 goals against average. Since the All-Star break, the seven-year veteran finished the season with a 10-6-5 record to go along with a .938 save percentage, and a 1.96 goals against average – anything but pedestrian.
Mason put up numbers that rivaled the top goalies in the league while playing for a team that barely scored for him, struggled mightily to kill penalties and had an unstable defense that sorely lacked a shutdown defenseman and put up those numbers while basically playing on one leg the last half of the season and without his mentor around for the last month or so. — Greg Paone, CSN Philly
Speaking of the NHL’s “top goalies,” how exactly did Mason stack up? As you’ll see, the results warrant at least some recognition – any – in the Vezina voting.
What a difference 15 wins can make. A year ago from this time, Mason was coming off of his first full season in Philadelphia, with 33 wins to hang his proverbial hat on.
Those 33 wins tied his career-high, set while a rookie for Columbus in the 2008-09 season, earning him a second place Vezina vote.
While Tuukka Rask won the hardware last year, Mason’s second 30-win season was at least acknowledged. This year, however, the drop-off in wins were enough to overlook the rest of Mason’s body of work. Even Rangers goalie Cam Talbot received a third place vote.
Although Talbot tied Los Angeles’ Jonathan Quick and Ottawa’s Andrew Hammond for last among goaltenders who received votes, the guise of his 21 wins in 15 less appearances than Mason was enough to garner more attention than Philly’s main puck stopper.
While Talbot’s relief of Henrik Lundqvist in net was admirable, his .926 save percentage doesn’t match up to Mason’s .928, while seeing 358 less shots. And while Talbot had defensemen like Ryan McDonagh, Daniel Girardi, and later Keith Yandle defending in front of him, Mason produced his numbers behind a makeshift defense.
Perhaps Talbot will one day blossom into a star, surpassing Mason in every statistical category. That day, however, is not today. Not with an even playing field, and certainly not when Mason’s numbers, aside from wins, were similar to the starter over Talbot in Lundqvist.
Mason’s subpar record is anything but indicative to the season the 6’4″, 217-pound goaltender had. His 2.25 goals against average was not only the lowest of any year he appeared in at least 46 games, it also tied him with Lundqvist, who finished fifth in this year’s Vezina voting.
Cam Talbot getting a Vezina vote instead of Steve Mason is a travesty. Mase had third-best save percentage in entire NHL.
— Brady Trettenero (@BradyTrett) June 25, 2015
Lundqvist, of course, had a stronger supporting cast, manning the pipes for this year’s Presidents’ Trophy-winning Rangers. Further, Mason matched King Henrik in goals against average, while seeing 161 more shots on goal. In fact, of all the goalies who had more shots fired at them than Mason, only Columbus’ Sergei Bobrovsky and Buffalo’s/Dallas’ Jhonas Enroth saw more in the same amount of appearances or less than the Flyers’ backstop.
With all of this information available to everyone, how could Mason’s valiant efforts go unnoticed?
For goalies, we really only have a small number of data points, all of them dependent upon the work of the team in front of him to some degree or another. So conventional wisdom is that, because the Flyers are bad in front of him (they barely made the playoffs last year, and didn’t come close this year), Mason must be playing exceptionally well, both relative to the rest of the league — thus the sky-high save percentage — and especially in comparison with the dismal years in Columbus (a pathetic .903 in 232 games across five seasons)…
… But that’s just not really evidence that he’s turned his game around more or less at the drop of a hat. That’s merely evidence he’s had two good seasons over 110 appearances.– Ryan Lambert, Puck Daddy
Fair enough. But if Mason’s two seasons and change in Philadelphia are too small of a sample size, what’s that say about Talbot’s total of 57 games in the NHL?
Further, 10 of Mason’s 18 wins were notched against playoff teams, whereas eight of Talbot’s 21 wins were registered against teams that went onto skate in post-season play.
This isn’t a bashfest on Talbot, who posted a .931 save percentage on 1,598 career shots against, nor is it a declaration that Mason belonged alongside the Vezina-winning Price. And despite New York’s league-best 53-22-7 record, their 49.48 percent SAT percentage is mere percentage points better than Philadelphia’s; all while Price incredibly nabbed 44 wins for a Montreal team that finished with a 23rd-ranked 48.50 percent SAT percentage.
Cam Talbot came in 7th for the Vezina? Someone please tell me how and why I'm supposed to take these awards seriously…..
— Melissa (@BlkNBlueShirts) June 25, 2015
When it comes to getting snubbed out of secondary votes, however, Mason wasn’t alone.
Ben Bishop’s 40 wins were four more than finalist Devan Dubnyk, yet the 6’7″ netminder went without a single vote as well. The same can be said for Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury, who not only won 34 games, but led the league in both shutouts (10) and power play saves (311).
Fleury even received a vote for the Hart Trophy! And don’t think Cory Schneider’s 26 wins, along with his .925 save percentage, aren’t impressive either. Look at the team he played for.
In the grand scheme of things, secondary votes for any NHL Award can’t be placed on the mantle. Ask Bishop if he’d trade his Eastern Conference Championship with the Lightning for Price’s Vezina. But just like anything else, we find normalcy, if not entertainment, in ranking performances against the next.
The fact that this conversation is taking place solidifies just how excellent the goaltending is in the NHL. And much like Bishop and Fleury, Mason’s lack of acknowledgement takes nothing away from the season he had, no matter how turbulent it was.
Andy is a contributor for The Hockey Writers, covering the Philadelphia Flyers. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Communications from Walsh University. He enjoys spending time with his family, golfing, and reading. He is married with a daughter. You can follow Andy on Twitter @ADudones.