- Craig Custance
When the Flyers traded for Steve Mason last season at the deadline, the deal wasn’t met with much acclaim. If anything, the attention given to the trade leaned negative as many were eager to point out the irony of the Flyers trading for the Blue Jackets' backup goalie while former Flyers backup Sergei Bobrovsky was on his way to a Vezina Trophy.
In retrospect, the deal showed a nice bit of foresight by GM Paul Holmgren. The Flyers got a close-up look at a goalie they might have considered signing in the summer and could evaluate much more accurately how well Mason would fit into their dressing room and team, all in exchange for a third-round pick.
"It’s turned out to be a very good trade for Paul Holmgren and the Philadelphia Flyers," Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese said when we chatted about the strategy earlier this season. "Hopefully we’re catching him at a good time right now. It’s very similar to Mike Smith. Mike got moved around a little bit and made a few changes to his game and has done a lot of growing up too. Now he’s very comfortable with the way he plays, but we’re getting a guy that’s younger, hopefully in a similar situation."
Over the weekend, the Flyers signed Mason to a three-year contract extension worth $12.3 million. Like the trade, the extension for Mason wasn’t necessarily met with resounding approval. Veteran hockey writer Jim Matheson, as respected as they come in the business, thought the deal was too pricey. "Where's he going to go?" wondered Matheson in his Edmonton Journal Sunday column.
Others pointed out that his save percentage isn’t going in the right direction since a stellar November in which he posted a .938. In December and January, Mason is at .892. It’s a fair concern.
If that continues, this won’t be a good deal regardless of the financial details, but time may be kinder to the Mason deal than initial impressions give it credit for.
The price of starting goaltending has gone up and will continue to do so assuming that the cap rises as anticipated. Smith signed his deal for $5.7 million per season. Corey Crawford’s raise to $6 million kicks in next season. Henrik Lundqvist and Tuukka Rask’s newer deals are on the high end at $8.5 million per season for Lundqvist and $7 million for Rask.
All of these goalies are better and more accomplished than Mason, who comes in at $4.1 million per season. But he's younger and perhaps most important it's just a three-year deal. Handing out term to a goalie is one of the riskiest things a GM can do, and in this case, Holmgren avoided it. The issue of where Mason might have gone otherwise leads into our first "Next Question" of the week:
How do the recent goalie deals impact the summer goalie market?
With Mason signed, a major potential buyer in the Flyers is removed from the summer goalie market but that’s just one team down. There are plenty remaining. Last week saw two goalie trades that share similarities to the Mason deal Holmgren struck last year. The Oilers traded for Ben Scrivens and the Predators added Devan Dubnyk, two goalies who are scheduled to be unrestricted free agents this summer. They are two goalies who come with questions each interested team can find answers to up close, as Philadelphia did last season with Mason.