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Why a Big Extension for Steve Mason Would Be a Mistake for Philadelphia Flyers

PHILADELPHIA, PA - DECEMBER 12: Steve Mason #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers prepares for his game against the Montreal Canadiens at the Wells Fargo Center on December 12, 2013 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Garrett BakerSenior Analyst IDecember 14, 2013

The Philadelphia Flyers are a very frustrating team to watch. Their best and most consistent player, shockingly, has been goalie Steve Mason.

Without Mason, the Flyers would likely be a cellar-dwelling team right now and fans would be writing the team off entirely and looking to the offseason already.

But the 25-year-old has been a revelation in Philadelphia and is greatly outplaying his one-year, $1.5 million contract. Of all other goalies who have started at least 24 games, Mason is seventh in goals-against average and fifth in save percentage. 

Because of his contract only being for the 2013-14 season, there have been reports of extension talks. While that's good and fine, there needs to be some perspective here.

Mason's agent, Anton Thun, compared his client to Carey Price. Let's take a step back here and think about that for a second.

Carey Price has a $6.5 million cap hit over six seasons. He's the fourth-highest paid goalie in the entire NHL.

His statistics are actually not very impressive at all. And that's the point.

Goalies are both valuable and invaluable in today's NHL. A phenomenal one can carry a team, and a bad one can debilitate one.

But the problem is finding one who can consistently play well. Henrik Lundqvist is one of the top veteran goalies in the NHL and has been for years now. But he's never played in a Stanley Cup Final.

The same can be said of Pekka Rinne, Ryan Miller, Kari Lehtonen and Mike Smith. All solid, sometimes spectacular, consistent goalies who have never even reached the Stanley Cup Final, let alone won it.

Young stars, on the other hand, have proven to be really inconsistent. Jonathan Quick won the Stanley Cup and the Vezina in 2011-12 at just 25 years old and has seen his numbers decline in the two seasons since. Quick has missed extensive time with a groin injury this season.

Sergei Bobrovsky surprisingly won the Vezina last year with a save percentage of .932 and a 2.00 GAA. This season? A losing record, along with a disappointing .909 save percentage and 2.72 GAA.

When the Flyers faced off against the Blackhawks in the 2010 Stanley Cup, they rode the improbable duo of Brian Boucher and Michael Leighton. Chicago defeated the Flyers with a previously unknown, undrafted free agent by the name of Antti Niemi in net.

Cam Ward won the Stanley Cup with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006 as a rookie. They signed him to massive six-year, $6.3 million contract in 2009. The Hurricanes have only made the playoffs once since that Stanley Cup season.

Marc-Andre Fleury's ups and downs have been well-documented in Pittsburgh. His stats have fluctuated somewhat throughout his nine-year career after being taken first overall in the 2003 draft. He's been spectacular at times but has also imploded in multiple playoffs, most recently against Philadelphia in 2011.

And at this point, everyone knows what happened in Philadelphia with Ilya Bryzgalov. Here's a list of today's 10 highest-paid goaltenders:

Highest-Paid Goaltenders
NameAgeLengthCap HitCup?Standings
Pekka Rinne317$7,000,000No18th
Tuukka Rask268$7,000,000Yes (2012)4th
Henrik Lundqvist316$6,875,000No24th
Carey Price266$6,500,000No11th
Cam Ward296$5,300,000Yes (2006)19th
Ryan Miller335$6,250,000No30th
Kari Lehtonen305$5,900,000No17th
Jonathan Quick2710$5,800,000Yes (2011)3rd
Mike Smith316$5,666,667No10th
Sergei Bobrovsky252$5,625,000No22nd
capgeek.com and NHL.com

The point here is that teams don't really seem to know what they're doing with goaltenders. Sometimes they play well, sometimes they don't. Sometimes they lead their team to victory, sometimes they don't.

Goalies are inherently unpredictable and therefore undependable. As a result, it would make the most sense to invest as little as possible in goaltenders.

But teams still give them big contracts, and it appears as if the Flyers are considering that with Mason. They have to remember that he was arguably the worst goalie in the NHL from 2009 until 2013.

Yes, he's still only 25. Yes, he's very athletic and naturally gifted. And yes, he's been outstanding since arriving in Philadelphia last April.

Mason's history cannot be ignored, however, and neither can the results of other goaltenders and teams all around the league.

Dan P., who writes for The Cannon over at SB Nation, commented this on a recent SB Nation NHL power rankings article: 

As someone who saw the vast majority of his games in Columbus, I would caution Philly fans against getting too excited. Mason, other than his rookie season, showed that he was a solid goalie when there was no pressure. Every step closer to contending for a playoff spot will ratchet up some pressure on him, and he will then crap his pants at the most inopportune time for you. And, if/once the fans turn on him, it’s allll over.

This has to be taken with a grain of salt, of course, but that isn't exactly a glowing report from a guy who covered Columbus during Mason's time there. That's also not the description of a guy you want to give a big contract to.

Mason won the Calder Trophy as the NHL's best rookie in the 2008-09 season. In his next four seasons, he posted GAAs of 3.05, 3.03, 3.39 and 2.95. His save percentages were .901, .901, .894 and .899. 

It's impossible to ignore those statistics, regardless of how good he has been this year.

The Flyers have a good thing going right now with Mason, and hopefully he'll continue playing well over the next few months. And he obviously deserves a pay raise from his current deal.

But they shouldn't offer him anything more than a few years. And to even approach Price's $6.5 million would be an enormous mistake.

The investment of a three-year, $4.5 million-per-season deal would be reasonable. Even if Mason would take less money for more years, I still wouldn't bite. Another one-year deal, even if it was for $5 million, would be OK just because it allows for more time to evaluate Mason.

This doesn't all exist in a vacuum of course, and a major reason for not wanting to lock up Mason long term is the potential of Anthony Stolarz.

The Flyers' second-round pick in 2012 is still young and a couple years away from the NHL, but he's been phenomenal in the OHL with the London Knights and could push for the starting job two or three years from now.

The bottom line is that you can count the NHL goalies who are worth more than five years and $6 million per year on one hand. Mason is not one of them yet, and the Flyers would be making a huge mistake by investing heavily in him at this point.

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