When you ask a Philadelphia Flyers fan to name some great goalies in the team’s history, you probably won’t be overwhelmed with answers. There’s the club’s most storied goaltender, Bernie Parent. And Ron Hextall, who spent two separate tenures with the team. And don’t forget…actually, that could be it.
Its been a glaring issue for Philadelphia for quite some time, as more than a few goalies have been touted as a franchise savior only to flame out quickly after their introductory press conference. Most recently, the team threw a monster $51 million contract at Ilya Bryzgalov, only to buy him out of it two years later. Meanwhile, Sergei Bobrovsky, once seen as a bright young prospect for the Flyers, went on to win the Vezina Trophy for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Now, former Blue Jacket Steve Mason is being tasked with trying to end the downward spiral that is Philadelphia goaltending. He’ll work in tandem with former Flyer Ray Emery, coming fresh off his astounding 17-1-0 season as backup for the Chicago Blackhawks.
In his one year in Philadelphia, Emery’s season was cut short due to injury. He had bounce-back moments with Chicago and the Anaheim Ducks before that, and now returns looking to help solidify a position that has haunted the Flyers for years.
Though Emery’s last season gives hope about his abilities, Mason is another story. After winning the Calder Trophy in his rookie season with Columbus, he began to derail. He got shelled that year by the Detroit Red Wings during the Blue Jackets’ lone playoff season, and then saw his GAA balloon from 2.29 to 3.39 in the span of three seasons.
He made only 13 appearances with Columbus last season before being dealt to Philadelphia. With the Flyers, he started six games, winning four and looking slightly improved. However, this is a very small sample size when compared to a full-length season.
Many suspected Mason’s issues were a little more on the mental side of things. Columbus tried many times to get him back on track, eventually giving up this past year. Its not too surprising, if you think about it. He single-handedly carried Columbus to the playoffs in 2009, and won an award for his cause. With all of this coming in his first year, it wouldn’t be shocking if he was a bit unreceptive to any critiques.
During his time with the Blue Jackets, overall expectations for the team weren’t too high. This isn’t said to excuse his declining stats, more to highlight the fact that he’s in for one heck of a culture shock.
The Flyers are typically one of the Eastern Conference’s better teams, despite last year’s flop of a season. Because of that, both fans and local media expect a lot from their team. If GM Paul Holmgren publicly states he thinks the team has a great goalie tandem, as he did recently, people expect to see this reflected on the ice.
If Mason has issues with critiquing, he can call Bryzgalov for his opinion on Philadelphia media. The Russian goalie often butted heads with reporters, especially when they called him out during slumps. Mason better get mentally prepared for this, as he’ll hear about every slip he makes. This time, though, the spotlight is brighter.
The buyout of Bryzgalov’s contract closed yet another disappointing, albeit brief chapter in the Flyers’ long trial of finding a franchise goalie. Now, the team is going all-in on Emery and Mason. If they can cash in, Philadelphia may find themselves back in the postseason after a rough season last year. However, another bust and its back to the drawing board.