What We Learned: It’s like the Flyers actively seek out bad goaltending

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With the passage of time comes wisdom, or at least it should.

The rumors that the Philadelphia Flyers would extend goaltender Steve Mason for a number of years have been swirling for a while now, culminating in Saturday’s announcement of a three-year deal that would carry a cap hit of $4.1 million per. These rumors were all but confirmed long ago by Flyers owner Ed Snider, who couldn’t stop using superlatives when talking about Mason’s play. In addition, he was asked if he thought the organization had any hesitance about a big-money deal for a goaltender following the Ilya Bryzgalov disaster.

“No,” he said facetiously. “We never learn from our mistakes.”

Snider only thought he was joking.

The interview in which he said that took place on Dec. 10, at which time Mason had played 29 games for the Flyers over last season and this one. In those 29 games, he had a save percentage of .931, despite having conceded 11 goals in his previous three games. This was a goaltender compared in the Philadelphia press as soon as seven games into his tenure as a Flyer to Bernie Parent, which is a ludicrous and almost blasphemous thing to do. You couldn’t, though, argue that .931 wasn’t the best Flyers save percentage in a long, long time.

Of course, what that ignored — or painted over several times, at the very least — is that Mason had been an horrifically bad goaltender for pretty much his entire career, save for the first 27 games of his rookie season. Of the 33 goaltenders with at least 150 games played between 2008-09 and the end of last season, Mason’s save percentage is 31st at .905, ahead of only Marty Turco (by that point a greybeard playing out the string) and Mathieu Garon (a career backup who is terrible).

While it’s one thing to think a change of scenery might do any player a little bit of good, since it’s happened before, it’s another to simply ignore the history screaming out that this kind of success wouldn’t last. Especially in a place like Philadelphia, who goalies go to have their careers euthanized and ground up into sausage to be laughed over league-wide.

That thing Snider laughed over, about never learning from mistakes, is the equivalent of having your car stolen 12 times because you park it in a bad neighborhood, with the doors open, the keys in the ignition, and a sign that says “Please steal me” in the window. Oops, it happened again!

Even at the time, it was unwise for the Flyers to consider anything like a long-term or big-money extension because they simply had no way of knowing that Mason could keep up his remarkable start.

In fact, the clues were already there that it was over: Again, he’d allowed 11 goals in three games before that, against Detroit, Dallas, and Ottawa, on just 95 shots (.884 save percentage). Maybe you could have waved it off as a minor hiccup, or maybe the Flyers hadn’t played that well in front of him in those three games in particular. But since the time of that curious interview, the evidence has continued to mount that any sizable contract extension gifted to Mason would be a terrible idea.

In Mason’s first two months this campaign, his save percentage was .934 over 19 games, down somewhat from the previous season’s .944 in seven games, but still exceptional. Since the start of December through right now, though, things have been a little more in line with Mason’s career numbers.

In the now-18 games over the last month and a half, Mason’s save percentage is .892, and it’s .881 in January alone. This is bad. Very bad. In fact, so bad it’s worse than his already-bad career average. This is all evidence readily available to the Flyers, who nonetheless extended him for three years at more than what Antti Niemi and Cory Schneider will pull.

It would have been one thing for the Flyers to have extended Mason at the very beginning of January, when they were first allowed to do so, because at that point things hadn’t gone quite so sideways as they are now; but now, they have an additional six games of information in which he game up 17 goals.

Even if Mason starts trending a little bit back toward his career numbers, he’s still probably going to end the season with a save percentage in the .900s, well below league average. The 27 games of brilliance will have faded to distant memory, and the team will still be saddled with that contract for the next three seasons.

Any rational person could have told you on the day of the trade that brought Mason to Philadelphia in the first place that he wasn’t going to be an answer to any problems the team had; everything we know about the way in which goaltending statistics work said that he would logically be about as good as he’s always been, which is to say “not.” Teams have of course fallen in love with players based on very short spurts of success, and one that did so was the Columbus Blue Jackets and Mason, who got $5.8 million over two seasons based on one season with two months of success.

The Flyers don’t learn, but it’s only because they don’t want to. Willful ignorance is still ignorance, and they’re always going to believe they’ve found a way to beat history. Instead, it seems history is always going to beat them.

There are, in the end, two ways to look at this. On the one hand — and this is the scenario that seems most likely — Paul Holmgren looked at Mason’s output in the last six weeks or so and decided that this was the aberration, rather than the other way around. On the other, maybe he really did take into account the failures of December and January, and this is his way of being cautious. It’s tough to say which is scarier.

What We Learned

Anaheim Ducks: Ryan Getzlaf scored his 25th goal of the season on Saturday, and this is notable because it ties a career high. Please keep in mind that Getzlaf a) was already one of the best players on the planet, and b) has another 31 games in which to pad his total. Scary stuff.

Boston Bruins: Remember, winning a regular-season game after losing to the same team in the Stanley Cup Final makes everything okay. Oh well the Bruins didn’t win this one either.

Buffalo Sabres: Tyler Myers has 48 shots in the 23 games since Ted Nolan took over. He had 48 all of last season. Let’s not start saying he’s “the old Tyler Myers” just yet, but he’s certainly been better.

Calgary Flames: Please, Bob Hartley. After you embarrass yourself so thoroughly, let’s not say this kind of idiot bull[poop]: “[Brian McGrattan, Kevin Westgarth, and Blair Jones] are playing well for us. They got us a goal last game. Obviously, we’re not scoring many goals. We had absolutely zero intentions there.” Zero intentions, he says.

Carolina Hurricanes: Alex Semin was put back on a line with Eric Staal and Jiri Tlusty for Saturday’s game. Then he scored twice. Amazing how putting your best players together results in goals, isn’t it?

Chicago Blackhawks: The Bryan Bickell extension just keeps getting worse.

Colorado Avalanche: Some good hard work on this goal by the Avs, but it’s notable mainly because it’s Paul Stastny’s second assist of the game, in his first appearance in a week. He now has 11 points in his last six games.

Columbus Blue Jackets: The Beejs’ win over the Sabres was their sixth in a row, and that ties a franchise record. Which is kind of sad. “I was kind of surprised the (franchise record) was only six games,” said Ryan Johansen, who scored the shootout winner. Yeah, you and everyone else.

Dallas Stars: Haha, sometimes you forget when star players are repeat offenders and then the league lets them get away with whatever they want to do anyway. “It’s only Matt Cooke,” everyone agrees.

Detroit Red Wings: STOP IT!!!! YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO BE FRIENDS!!!!!!!!!

Edmonton Oilers: The Oilers only got one point out of this road trip but it’s mainly because of how bad they are.

Florida Panthers: This just in: The Panthers have a bad power play. You know, the one that’s 9.32 percent for the season.

Los Angeles Kings: Yes this goal against the Kings was “bizarre,” according to the NHL, insofar as it 100 percent should not have been allowed to stand and the Kings are rightfully pissed about it.

Minnesota Wild: Saturday was Hockey Day in Minnesota, so of course the Wild had to pick up a W with a kid from Elk River scoring the winner. Only seems fair.

Montreal Canadiens: “When we’re not at our best, we’re a very average team,” says Brian Gionta. Boy the Habs sure haven’t been at their best a lot this season.

Nashville Predators, America’s Favorite Hockey Team: Shout out to Colin Wilson for working with an anti-bullying group and also making a new puppet friend.

New Jersey Devils: The Devils love slow starts. They’re 25th in the league in first-period goals for. Do you have an explanation, Jaromir Jagr? “That’s the way we play, or maybe we’re just not good enough.” Hmm.

New York Islanders: Raise your hand if you forgot Lubomir Visnovsky was on the Islanders. Well he’s back, baby!

New York Rangers: This guy I’ve never heard of says a source tells him the Rangers are “taking calls” on Ryan Callahan. I believe it.

Ottawa Senators: The Senators were weirdly understanding of and amused by the Canucks/Flames nonsense on Saturday. However if someone on either team had celebrated too much, the fun’s over. That’s the kind of thing that can be real harmful.

Philadelphia Flyers: Broad Street Hockey really dug into the numbers on Mason’s contract, and what would make him “worth it.” Turns out, it’s a .918 save percentage at even strength, which is actually below league average. Here’s the problem: He’s gotten to .918 at even strength just once in his career, and guess what, it was the season in which he started ludicrously hot as a rookie. Well then.

Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes have power play goals in 14 straight, and are one away from the franchise record. They’re still only at 19.8 percent for the season though, which is strange.

Pittsburgh Penguins: James Neal and Paul Martin are close to returning. Yeah the team really needs the help.

San Jose Sharks: Huge goal from Joe Pavelski to cap a third-period hat trick and win the game for San Jose. At least, they’re saying he got a piece of Matt Irwin’s shot.

St. Louis Blues: A worrying number for the Blues: Against the NHL’s three California-based teams this season, they’re 1-7. Road to the Cup Final almost certainly runs through at least one of them.

Tampa Bay Lightning: No telling yet how long Victor Hedman is going to be out but “any amount of time” is too long for the Bolts.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The Leafs have won four straight and they’re now thinking about ways they can convince Nazem Kadri they’re going to trade him before every game.

Vancouver Canucks: Grow up, Torts.

Washington Capitals: Evgeny Kuznetsov says he will play for the Caps after next season. How can you not be excited for a kid coming off three injuries, hasn’t scored a lot in the KHL this year, and has never played hockey in North America?

Winnipeg Jets: The “fairy tale” the Jets are writing with their three-game winning streak under Paul Maurice is reading a lot like “The Emperor’s New Clothes.”

Play of the Weekend

Ughhhhh I love this so much.

Gold Star Award

We really don’t appreciate Marty St. Louis as much as we should.

Minus of the Weekend

There really isn’t a more reprehensible coach in the league than Bob Hartley. But at least he’s good at his job just kidding.

Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Week

User “Canadian Jesus” might want to come back in three days and try again.

To Toronto:
Sam Gagner
Nail Yakupov
Kellen Jones

To Edmonton:
Nazem Kadri
Jake Gardiner
Connor Brown
1st round pick 2014

Nope.

Signoff

When I die I want you to cremate me and throw my ashes in Tom Selleck’s face.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

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