GAA: 2.56 | SVP: 0.915
"I'm glad it's done," Flyers general manager Paul Holmgren said. "I'm sure he [Mason] feels the same way -- get it out of the way and move on. He just needs to worry about his job and not anything else."
Mason is happy to have his future secured.
"It's nice to have that in the rearview mirror now," he said after the Flyers rallied to beat the New York Islanders 6-4 on Saturday. "I'm looking forward to being here for the foreseeable future."
Mason is 19-11-5 with a 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 37 games. He was stellar during the Flyers' struggles early in the season, posting a .929 save percentage in his first 19 games, but in 18 games since the beginning of December, he's down to .892. He allowed four goals on 24 shots Saturday against Islanders and was pulled with six minutes left in the second period. The Flyers rallied behind backup Ray Emery to earn the win.
"If you look at this season in a nutshell, he was good when the team was real bad early in the year," Holmgren said. "And the last little while, as the team's gotten better, I think Steve has played up and down a little bit. We expect him to get better over the next three-plus years with the team and grow with the team. He's a good goalie, and we believe he's going to get better. That's why we did what we did."
Mason's teammates were happy to know their top goaltender will be in the lineup for at least three more seasons after this one.
"Great for him," defenseman Braydon Coburn said. "He's played well for us this year. It's great. I think he's played well and he's gotten back to that elite goalie status that we all know he can be."
The Flyers acquired Mason from the Columbus Blue Jackets on April 3, 2013 in exchange for goaltender Michael Leighton and a third-round pick in the 2015 NHL Draft. In seven games late last season, he went 4-2-0 with a 1.90 GAA and .944 save percentage. That strong play has carried over to the 2013-14 season, where he has emerged from a season-opening competition with Emery to become the Flyers' clear No. 1 goaltender.
It was Mason's strong play last season, however, that convinced Holmgren that he could be a long-term solution to the Flyers' goaltending situation.
"When we acquired him last year from Columbus we viewed him as a good young goalie who kind of lost his way," Holmgren said. "I think he's fit in with our team. He knows a number of our players, he played with them in international competitions, the World Junior level. It's been a real nice fit. Steve's big, he's athletic, he's very competitive, handles the puck very well. ... All those factors weighed into our decision and our reasoning to get this done."
Holmgren credited Flyers goalie coach Jeff Reese for getting Mason back to the form he displayed as a rookie in 2008-09, when he had 33 wins, a 2.29 GAA, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts to win the Calder Trophy as the League's top rookie and backstop the Blue Jackets to the franchise's only Stanley Cup Playoffs berth.
In four subsequent seasons, he never was able to rediscover that level of play. Prior to the start of the 2012-13 season, the Blue Jackets traded for Sergei Bobrovsky, who then beat out Mason for the starting job.
"I think Jeff's got him out of his net a little bit more and challenging a little bit more than when he was in Columbus," Holmgren said. "I think that's important for a bigger goalie. I think he fights to find the puck in traffic perhaps more then he did. That's something all goalies in the League need to learn how to do now. There's so much traffic in front of the net so when the shots come from the point you have to try to find it somehow. Steve has done a better job with that."
While the Flyers solved their immediate goaltending needs, Holmgren also had good news on the team's future in net. Anthony Stolarz, a 2012 second-round pick, was resting in a hospital in London, Ontario after sustaining a skate cut to the back of his left leg that Holmgren said needed 55 stitches to close. It's expected he'll miss at least four weeks of action.
During a game Friday against the Saginaw Spirit, Stolarz was engaged with Saginaw forward Eric Locke and London Knights teammate Dakota Mermis in the crease when Stolarz fell back and landed on one of the players' skate blades.
Stolarz was taken off the ice on a stretcher but posted on his Twitter account, "Nothing too serious and I'll be looking to get right back on the ice as soon as I can."
"The word is he was extremely lucky," Holmgren said. "Just missed a lot of important parts in there. Fifty-five stitches to close the wound, but once that heals he'll be fine. No arteries, no tendons. Just missed his Achillies tendon, just missed a major artery."