The Philadelphia Flyers won just 1 of their first 8 games, and 4 of their first 15.
This in mind, it's downright remarkable that the club comes into Monday night's action with a chance to finish the evening within a point of the Metropolitan Division's third playoff spot -- with a game in hand. A win over the Ottawa Senators and a Carolina Hurricanes loss in Vancouver and they'll be back in control of their own playoff destiny, one month to the day after they racked up their measly 5th win in their 16th game.
It hardly makes sense.
Of course, that's the Flyers' modus operandi. Nothing ever makes sense for this team. It's always funny in Philadelphia, and this season has been no exception.
Consider their team MVP this year. No, it's not $66 million team captain Claude Giroux, who remains hot and cold despite being the team's top scorer.
It's their goaltender.
Now, this alone is pretty wacky considering the Flyers' recent history, but it's even wackier when you recall that their goalie is Steve Mason.
Steve Mason, the 25-year-old Oakville, Ontario native who went from Calder Trophy winner to laughingstock over a half-decade in Columbus, and whose trade to the Philadelphia Flyers was met with considerable chuckling. So too was his one-year contract extension. After all, he seemed like the least likely guy in the world to shut down the Flyers' goalie graveyard -- which, in retrospect, should have tipped us off he was going to have a complete career resurrection in Philadelphia, which is the Night Vale of hockey.
(Rabbits are not what they seem to be. And Steve Mason is the Flyers' most valuable player. Welcome... to Night Vale.)
Mason has put up great numbers in the city of brotherly love: a save percentage of .929 and a goals against average of 2.26. Until last week, he'd yet to allow over 3 goals in a single game, and you can point to his play as the reason the Flyers are already back in striking distance of a playoff spot (as well as the staggering awfulness of the Metropolitan division, whose teams are pretty much all playing down to the quality of the division's name).
Now the Flyers and Mason are talking extension, which seems reasonable. The man is succeeding where seemingly ever other goalie in hockey has failed. You lock that down.
Less reasonable, however, is the comparable offered up by Mason's agent, Anton Thun. "I think [Carey] Price is a very good comparable,” Thun told Tim Panaccio over the weekend.
Suffice it to say, I don't think that. I don't think anyone thinks that. Hell, I don't think Thun thinks that. But the most amazing part of the statement is that, unreasonable as it is on the surface, it's not an unreasonable jumping-off point.
Mason won't get Price money. Even Panaccio admits that:
Mason won’t get a six-year, $39 million offer like Price, but he is pretty much assured of making at least $4 million a season.
Their numbers are close: Price has a 2.00 goals-against average with a .937 save percentage; Mason has a 2.14 GAA and .932 save percentage.
The Flyers signed Mason for less than his previous deal ($3.1 million) in Columbus because he was on a down cycle with a bad club. Mason needed a fresh start and the Flyers offered him that.
Since arriving, Mason’s numbers don’t appear to be a mirage. They’re real.
I'm not sure 30 games is enough of a sample size to make that last statement, but in Philadelphia it is. Mason may not get Price money, but he's still going to get paid handsomely, and not just because his agent is negotiating with the craziest, spendingest GM in the game -- it's because, after all they've been through, Philadelphia can't afford to lose him.
Can you imagine the outcry in Philadelphia if Mason wasn't back with the team next year? The Flyers finally find a guy that looks like he can handle the load, and they let him go? That's not happening. They already played hardball with him once, convincing Mason to take a salary decrease on a one-year show-me contract. 30 games later, he's shown them enough that they absolutely have to have him.
Mason is a restricted free agent this summer, and he may be coming off a successful turn as the starter in Philadelphia, which is like climbing Everest without oxygen. When you have that kind of bargaining power, you can start the negotiations with Carey Price.
No way the Flyers even let him get sniff of the market. I'd expect him to be hastily re-signed early in the new year, likely for a deal that would have been unheard of for Mason at this time last season.
In other words, the Carey Price comparable is ridiculous everywhere. Except Philadelphia.
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