Putting On The Foil with @jsaquella: My thoughts on Mason and return of Marc-Andre Bourdon

Editors’ Note: Noted Philadelphia Flyers fan John Saquella is going beyond 140 characters. The man most of you probably know from social media as @jsaquella will bring you his wide-ranging opinion and commentary on the Orange and Black in his column Putting On The Foil.

By John Saquella (@jsaquella)

Getty Images

Getty Images

On Saturday, the Flyers announced they had come to terms on a new contract with goalie Steve Mason.

The contract, for three years and $12.3 million, received a fair share of criticism on the internet, and was mostly panned by advocates of statistical analysis based on statistical trends that are very similar to Mason’s rookie season in Columbus.

I am all for the utilization of stats to get a better understanding of the sport of hockey. When morons like Damien Cox rip stats based bloggers it comes off like a faux tough guy who can only trot out the old taunt of “Watch The Game”

Most stats guys I talk to watch as much hockey as Cox, and do it because they love the game, not because the Toronto Sun pays them, and NHL teams give them free access to games and food. Cox and others like him seem to be inspired by Skip Bayless-arguing for the sake of arguing. The problem is, there’s plenty of stats advocates that act in a similar manner.

To me, there’s nothing more stupid than that.

How does this apply to Mason? Well, based on save percentage over the past 5 years or so, Steve Mason is a below average NHL goalie. There’s nothing advanced about that stat. It’s simple. He stops a lower percentage of shots faced than an average NHL goalie. Unlike Corsi, Fenwick or other “advanced” stats, save percentage is readily available on NHL.com and is a time honored stat that both stats guys and troglodytes like Cox can and do embrace.

To me that’s too simplistic. As I said, I advocate for the use of stats to get a better picture of the game. But simply looking at save percentage does ignore quite a lot of factors. For one, how good was the team in front of a particular goalie? Henrik Lundqvist posts outstanding numbers year in and out, but he also played behind a very good defensive team in New York for most of the last four or five seasons. Ilya Bryzgalov was a Vezina finalist behind the Tippett Borg in Phoenix, but barely managed to post a .900 save % for Philadelphia in his two season here.

Mason played on some bad Columbus teams, and to be honest, he’s playing behind a Flyers team that really struggles on defense. After starting the season red hot, and easily being the team’s MVP through November, Mason’s play has dipped. I would argue that it hasn’t dipped to the extent that the stats would indicate, but there’s definitely been some drop off.

The other factors can not be quantified by numbers. Maturity. Dedication. Conditioning. Willingness to correct flaws and be open to coaching. By most accounts, Mason struggled with those things in Columbus. He had a great start and never adjusted. There were communication issues and the lost confidence was never fully rebuilt. Mason’s dedication and fitness were also issues. There’s blame for both the goalie and his team for that.

All that being said, I would have waited to re-sign Mason. The Flyers had leverage, because not only was Mason scheduled to be a restricted free agent, there’s a bit of a glut of good goalies that could be available. Had Mason demanded a high salary-at one point his agent suggested Carey Price as a comparable-the Flyers could have gone after other options. Guys like Ben Scrivens and Devan Dubnyk were moved for draft picks or 4th line forwards recently, so getting a young goalie with potential isn’t impossible. Hell, the Flyers traded a 3rd rounder and a journeyman backup for Mason in the first place. So I probably would have been willing to wait until April or May and then hammered out a deal.

I’m happy with the term. It’s not too long, and if Mason does regain his early season mojo-or if he simply gets back to playing solidly game in and game out-then it’s great. If he doesn’t, the term isn’t crippling and could possibly be moved to another team looking at a reclamation project.

The money is a bit higher than I’d like, but again, it’s not crippling. Basically, the Flyers are paying Mason a fair salary for an average starting NHL goalie. If Mason can provide a level of play close to that, it will be a solid deal.

So while I don’t love the extension, I certainly don’t hate it. It’s an acceptable deal, and my biggest issue is the timing. I’m not sold Mason will be the answer the Flyers seem to think he will be, but I’m also not sold he’ll be a disaster, either. Who knows, perhaps the timing of the deal was GM Paul Holmgren’s way of removing a distraction. It was around the time of his agent’s “Carey Price” comments that Mason’s statistical dip began.

I’m hopeful that we will see Mason rebound and provide the Flyers with quality goaltending for the next few years. I’m always a sucker for a redemption story.

MAB IS BACK
The last time Flyers defenseman Marc-Andre Bourdon played a professional hockey game was in December of 2012. He was playing for the Adirondack Phantoms and sustained a concussion, his third in the space of a year. He sent most of the last year battling symptoms and trying to return to the ice.

Finally, that day has come. The Flyers announced that the 24 year old has been cleared to resume his career and that they expected him to head to Adirondack to start a rehab stint. For the Flyers, Bourdon should provide depth on defense. At the very least, it could allow the Flyers to move a defenseman without having to worry about flipping other assets to ensure they’re not too thin on the blueline when the playoff roll around. Bourdon played solidly, if unspectacular in his short NHL stint. He’s likely not better than any of the current top 7 defensemen, but he’d be a better depth option than Oliver Lauridsen or Brandon Manning.

Outside of where MAB would slot on the Flyers roster, it’s great to see the young man finally return to health. As a PCS sufferer myself, I know full well how difficult it can be to function from day to day. It couldn’t have been easy for Bourdon, and I’m very happy to see he’s healthy and able to get back to pursuing his dream.