The way Steve Mason sees it, he is still a lucky man despite being traded to the place where NHL goaltenders go to see their careers die.
Things were so bad with the Columbus Blue Jackets that not even the news he was now a member of the Philadelphia Flyers, the team whose list of goalie failures stretches from Roman Cechmanek to Robert Esche to the current multimillion-dollar flop Ilya Bryzgalov, could take the smile off his face. Ever since Mason, 24, won the Calder Trophy as the NHL’s rookie of the year in 2008-09, things went downhill with the Blue Jackets, a perennially mediocre team.
By this season, Mason was forced to watch from the bench as Sergei Bobrovsky, who was fortunate enough to escape Philadelphia in a trade last summer, took over the No. 1 job and led the Blue Jackets into playoff contention. Mason also struggled in the backup job, posting a save percentage of .899 and goals-against average of 2.95 in 13 games.
So even though his future in Philadelphia is unclear (Mason will be a restricted free agent this summer), the Oakville, Ont., native is just happy to be somewhere new.
“I’m ready to start fresh here and be the goaltender I know I can be,” Mason said after the Flyers’ game-day skate Thursday several hours before a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The conventional wisdom is that as a young goaltender trying to play behind a shaky defence in Columbus, Mason lost his confidence and was never able to get it back. He admitted there might be something to that.
“Yeah, a little bit,” he said. “A lot of things happened. When the negative things started happening, I wasn’t able to get out of it. The tires were spinning and you’re not going anywhere.
“You say you hit the restart button at the start of every year but this really is a new start for me.”
Mason will have to wait until Saturday, at the earliest, to make his debut for the Flyers when they are in Winnipeg to play the Jets. Bryzgalov earned a start on consecutive nights after beating the Montreal Canadiens on Wednesday. Just how the Flyers plan to use the pair for the rest of the season and into next season is not clear.
Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren made it clear by his remarks to reporters after the Mason trade on Wednesday that Bryzgalov’s future in Philadelphia is far from assured. With seven years and $34.5-million (all currency U.S.) left on his contract, a trade is out of the question for Bryzgalov, who could wind up being an amnesty buyout.
“We see him as one of our two goalies, not only for the rest of this year, but moving forward,” was all Holmgren would say about Mason, who will have to take a pay cut from his current $2.9-million stipend in order to stay and fight for the Flyers’ No. 1 job. Talks have already started on a new contract with Mason’s agent, Anton Thun.
Holmgren was even more terse about Bryzgalov when he was asked what the goalie thought of Mason’s arrival.
“I didn’t know it was going to happen,” Holmgren said of the trade. “And to be honest, if I knew, I wouldn’t have talked to [Bryzgalov] anyway. His job is to stop the puck while he’s in the net. It’s not to worry about other things like that.”