On January 18th Steve Mason signed a contract extension with the Philadelphia Flyers that will net him $12.3 million over the next three seasons.
It’s pretty good money, and Mason has earned it. He came into this season with high expectations after coming into the Flyers organization looking like a backup to Ilya Bryzgalov. But his stellar play at the end of last season gave the Flyers the option to buy out Bryzgalov and go all in on a combo of Mason and Ray Emery in goal. 55 games later and Mason has emerged as a definitive and capable starter for the Flyers.
So $12.3 million might seem like pretty fair compensation for Mason, right? The contract puts him among the top 20 best paid goalies in the NHL, a position his stats reflect.1 But, remember. Mason won’t be playing hockey anywhere; he’ll be playing in Philadelphia.
That’s right, Philly. An organization that goes through goalies like Kleenex. This is the place that literally just took Ilya Bryzgalov from toast of the town to “Here’s $51 million, just don’t ever play hockey here again.” in no time flat. This is an organization where fans wistfully remember the stability they had back when Ron Hextall was their starter. At times it feels like Flyer fans have a vendetta against goalies.
While that might be partly true, ultimately Philly fans just want what every fan wants: they want to win. If Mason can keep this squad competitive, he won’t have any trouble with the fans. But should the Flyers slip out of playoff contention, it won’t take long for folks to start calling for another buyout.
But whenever the fans decide to turn on Mason, there’s one big factor they should bear in mind when evaluating Mason’s play. The Flyers do one specific thing to screw their goalies: they take an awful lot of penalties.
Now, obviously the Flyers aren’t the only team that takes penalties, but they are constantly at or near the top of the league in penalties. At this moment they lead the NHL in penalty minutes and major penalties. Obviously this becomes a problem for Mason because those penalties quickly turn into goals. Now, the Flyer’s haven’t been slouches on their penalty kill2, but they’ve still given up 36 goals so far this year while shorthanded.
Not only do those goals cost the Flyers games and playoff points, they also make Steve Mason look worse than he is. Just over a quarter of the Flyers’ goals allowed this year have come from penalties.
It’s not like these numbers are masking some kind of diamond in the rough here; even given the penalty factor, Mason isn’t a top 10 goalie. But this is a constant problem with the Flyers and their penalties have been contributing to goalie decline for years. It’s going to be tough to expect Mason to recapture the promise of his rookie year while facing this many penalties. And in Philadelphia, fans are ready to turn on a goalie at the first sign of trouble. Even though Mason’s not the one getting 15 penalty minutes per game, he will undoubtedly face the most scrutiny if the Flyers start to skid.
1 Mason is currently sitting 25th in the NHL in GAA and 20th in save percentage.
2 Actually the Flyers are killing a respectable 83.6% of their penalties, but they’re facing so many that they’re still top 10 in power-play goals allowed.