Inside the Flyers: Two ways to look at acquisition of Steve Mason

Steve Mason
Steve Mason
Posted: April 08, 2013

WINNIPEG, Manitoba - Was Steve Mason acquired to be the Flyers' goalie of the future or to be the guy to light a fuse under Ilya Bryzgalov?

General manager Paul Holmgren can't say, so we'll speculate.

From here, signs suggest the Flyers are leaning toward saying adios to the workhorse Bryzgalov after the season by using a compliance buyout, which is also known as a team's option to "amnesty" up to two players under the new collective bargaining agreement.

Acquiring the 24-year-old Mason by sending Michael Leighton and a 2015 third-round pick to Columbus created a win-win situation, Holmgren hopes.

Seeing that someone is waiting in the wings, Bryzgalov, 32, might be more focused for the stretch run and lead the Flyers to a playoff berth.

If he does, the Flyers might decide to keep him for another year and use Mason as a relatively expensive backup next season - expensive, but someone who has the capability of moving to No. 1 if Bryzgalov falters in 2013-14.

That's one way to look at it.

Another: The Flyers, who have not gotten the return they expected when they gave Bryzgalov a nine-year, $51 million deal, can cut ties with him after the season and hope Mason, with a change of scenery and a new goalie coach, will revert back to his rookie-of-the-year form of 2008-09.

That option seems more probable.

If the Flyers buy out Bryzgalov, they will have to pay him two-thirds of his remaining contract, and they would have 14 years (double the term remaining) to make payments.

None of that money would count against the Flyers' salary cap, which is critical because the cap will go from $70.2 million (prorated) this year to $64.3 million next season.

The Flyers are expected to sign Mason next week, perhaps in the $2.5 million-to-$2.75 million neighborhood. If their intention is to have him as their No. 1 goalie next year, they might add an inexpensive free agent in the offseason, such as Dan Ellis, as his backup.

Holmgren, as you know, is a risk taker. This is a man who traded away the faces of the franchise, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, during a dizzying summer day two years ago. This is a man who signed Bryzgalov to a deal that ends when the goalie is almost 40.

Mason is risky, too, but at least he is young enough to revert to form.

By his own admission, Mason lost his confidence while struggling for lowly Columbus in the last four years. The painful irony, of course, is that he became available because Sergei Bobrovsky - whom Holmgren traded to Columbus for thee picks - has emerged as the team's No. 1 goalie and one of the best in the NHL this year.

Bobrovsky had a terrific rookie season with the Flyers in 2010-11, but coach Peter Laviolette quickly lost faith in him in the postseason. That started the courtship of Bryzgalov and, in effect, ended Bobrovsky's future with the Flyers.

Mason, who has the size (6-foot-4, 217 pounds) and athleticism to be an elite goalie, thinks playing for a new team will bring back his glory days, back when he had a 2.29 goals-against average and 10 shutouts in 61 games in 2008-09.

But it's fair to wonder why a guy who couldn't cut it in a small market like Columbus - where Ohio State's football recruiting season draws more interest - will flourish in hockey-crazed Philly.

"He's been beaten down a little bit there," said goalie coach Jeff Reese, referring to Columbus. "I think the best way to go about it is to take one step back and two steps forward. We're not going to put any expectations on him."

Mason's agent, Anton Thun, said "confidence is everything in this league, especially when you're a goaltender. If that confidence is waning and you're playing with a club like Columbus that historically has not had the depth of talent that a [team that spends up to the salary cap] has had . . . and if you're letting in goals you're not used to letting in, then your confidence wanes."

Thun said Mason wants to sign soon - if he waited, he would become a restricted free agent after the season - and that "he didn't come here to be a permanent backup."

Ah, only in Philly could there be a goalie controversy, even though one of the goaltenders still has seven years left on his hefty contract.


Contact Sam Carchidi at scarchidi@phillynews.com. Follow on Twitter @BroadStBull.

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