Does Steve Mason deserve to be a scapegoat?
Steve Mason. Anywhere else, hockey fans will say he’s an above average goalie who’s had some up and down years. But, in Philadelphia, the name Steve Mason divides people into two staunch groups: those who call for his head day in and day out, and those who believe he’s been unlucky with the team in front of him. But which group is right? To find that out, let’s look at how Mason’s career numbers stack up to some big names in goal that are playing right along side him. Six goalies come to mind when thinking of some of the top netminders in recent years: Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, Ben Bishop, Carey Price, Jonathan Quick, and Braden Holtby. Four of those six have won the Vezina, and Bishop and Quick are definitely deserving of one. However, because six is a lot of stats to keep track of, let’s narrow down the list. Of the six, four have played almost the exact same amount of years as Steve Mason: Tuukka Rask, Ben Bishop, Carey Price, and Jonathan Quick. Lundqvist has been playing for much more time and Holtby for much less, so they’re out. But, we still have two Vezina winners in our list in Rask and Price, so it’s a pretty fair group to stack Mason against.
Let’s start with the basics. Mason’s career GAA is 2.70. Not great, but not terrible, given his soon to be 10 season career. Compare that to Quick’s 2.27, Bishop’s 2.34, Price’s 2.42, and Rask’s 2.23, and he isn’t as bad as some fans make him out to be. If the assumption is to be made that Carey Price is the best goalie in the bunch, and if we’re being honest he probably is, then the mark for being an elite goaltender should be averaging lower than a 2.50 during one’s career. Looking at Mason’s 2.70, he is just about right where he should be as far as good goalies go. However, when the number of games played is taken into account, Rask and Bishop both fall short, with Mason having played 75 more games than Vezina winner Rask, and 187 more games than Bishop, meaning that obviously their GAA’s are going to be higher because less games played equals less shots faced which equals less goals against. Now let’s look at shots against. When this stat is taken into account, the only goalie of the four that has faced more shots than Mason is Carey Price, facing 1,666 more shots than Mason. On the flip side, Mason has faced 132 more shots than Quick, 5,636 more shots than Bishop, and 2,327 more shots than Rask, with Quick and Rask having played one season more than Mason. To be fair, Rask played one game of the 2008-2009 season and made way for two-time Vezina winner Tim Thomas, so he’s played just about as many season as Steve. The final stat to observe is save percentage. Mason’s career save percentage is a .910, only one one-hundredth of a point worse than Price and Rask, again noting those two are Vezina winners. He is even closer in comparison to Quick and Bishop, with each earning a a .916 and a. 919, respectively.
Now for a little analysis, which can be done by anyone who’s read the same stats I have. Steve Mason is no God in net, and he will never compare to Carey Price or Flyer legends like Bernie Parent, Pelle Lindbergh(rest his soul), or Ron Hextall, albeit the game was very different for goalies when those three played. That is not to say, however, that Mason is not a very good goaltender. If one were to compare him to a goalie such as Corey Crawford, who has been blessed to play for a powerhouse team like Chicago and watch Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, and Duncan Keith toy with opponents for years, it will become evident that each are of the same skill level. If not for Rask winning the Vezina three season ago, it would be fair to compare those two as well, just based on number of games and number of shots, which by the way Crawford loses to Mason in those stats as well. The obvious deduction we can make from these numbers is that Mason is no Vezina candidate, but he is no snub either. Mason is a goalie who can win games, and a lot of them, as his 189 wins and 61 overtime losses show, and he is a goalie who can win a Cup, which at the end of the day is the only thing that matters. It’s just a matter of putting the right team in front of him. It is a fair assumption to make that if Mason was on Chicago instead of Crawford, he would have as much success, and would be a two-time cup winner. So which group is right? Neither really has the claim of being correct, as Mason is not the worst goalie in Philadelphia history(that title belongs to Bruce Gamble, who played back in ‘71), nor is he the savior of the city. Mason is a good goalie who’s having a shaky year but, if history is kind, will probably lead the tumultuous Flyers to another last second playoff spot.