Ever since Ron Hextall left the Philadelphia Flyers' net has been a revolving door with names like Michael Leighton, Robert Esche and Roman Cechmanek, but it appears Philly may finally have found its man. The Flyers signed goalie Steve Mason to a three-year, $12.3 million contract and I'd say not only does it look like a good deal for Mason, but it looks like a solid, sensible move for Philadelphia.
Mason has had his troubles, but this is now the second time he's been excellent in net in his career after winning the Calder Trophy with the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2009. This year he's played very well and he's been, by far, the Flyers' best, most consistent player. There haven't been very many nights this season when Philly hasn't gotten good goaltending, and since this is the second time in a still very young career that Mason has excelled, this could be the player he's really going to be. I think with maturity he's learned how to handle the rough patches better, and now that he's learned that the Flyers were smart to lock him up.
Goalie - PHI
GAA: 2.56 | SVP: 0.915
Not only did they lock him up, but the Flyers managed to get a solid starting goalie without a crazy six-year deal for $42 million or something. We all know the disaster Philadelphia just endured with its massive contract with Ilya Bryzgalov. Compared to that, this contract is a bargain, and there aren't many bargains in the NHL.
Even when the Flyers were terrible earlier this season Mason's numbers weren't bad, and $4.1 million per season is a pretty good price in this market for a No. 1 goaltender. Philadelphia has been burned by bad deals like Bryzgalov or bad decisions like trading Sergei Bobrovsky, who is now a Vezina Trophy winner, but this is smart, careful move. Mason is still young and still in his prime. If in three years we're still talking about this contract as a bargain, Mason will be getting a huge raise, either from the Flyers or someone else.
This past Sunday, Hockey Canada announced Sidney Crosby would be the captain at the 2014 Winter Olympics next month in Sochi, Russia. This move isn't a surprise and it's a no-brainer, really. The only story there, I think, would have been if Crosby wasn't chosen as captain.
This guy is the face of the NHL, the face of Canadian hockey, he scored the winner in the gold medal game four years ago, he's won a Stanley Cup championship and he's the captain of his NHL team. This guy has done everything, he deserves to be captain and I don't think anyone in that dressing room will argue with it.
Everybody knows their role with Canada. These guys are all experienced NHL players and they're all in their prime. Canada doesn't have 18-year-olds on its team like Russia. Everyone is in the mid-20s, is playing the best they've ever played and has experience to boot. I don't think Sidney's job is going to be to be a rah-rah kind of guy. All he has to do is be a leader on the ice.
Being the captain of Canada is an honor, and certainly Crosby appreciates that honor, but I don't think he's going to have to change anything with guys on that team. They all know what to do. As captain, Crosby is going to have to lead by example, and as he's shown, that won't be a problem.
THE IMPACT OF THE SHOOTOUT
If the season ended today, the Toronto Maple Leafs would be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Washington Capitals are right on the cusp and the New Jersey Devils, also on the bubble, would not be in the field. The Leafs have a League-leading nine shootout wins in 13 chances. The Capitals have eight shootout wins in 14 chances. The Devils, meanwhile, in eight shootouts, have won none of them.
There's no doubt about it. The shootout is going to determine who makes the playoffs in the East and who doesn't, and if a team like the Devils has dreams of being in the postseason, they'll need to learn how to pick up those extra points quickly. Right now there are eight teams in the East within eight points in the standings, and every single one counts. Consider it fair or unfair if you want, but these are the rules we have. Now I don't want to take the shootout out of the game like some people, because the fans love it and I don't want to take out anything the fans love, but there's no denying the impact it has. If Toronto makes the postseason it will be because they managed to win shootouts and teams like New Jersey didn't.
I don't think it will matter come playoff time that this is how those teams reached the postseason, however. These teams will know that the rules are different, and they'll have to win 5-on-5. I don't think their mindset changes. All that said, though, I do think it's an indicator of how the Torontos and Washingtons of the League stack up. When you match them against teams that pick up their points in regulation or overtime, the teams that are getting their points in shootouts are just a half-step behind -- though it seems most nights like everyone in the East is a half-step behind the Pittsburgh Penguins and Boston Bruins. That may not impact how they play when it comes to the playoffs, but it will probably tell you just how far they can go.