The story of Steve Mason is one of highs and lows. From a Vezina nomination to a buyout, allowing a center ice goal to standing on his head, Mason’s career had a wide range of emotions and
Born in Oakville, Ontario, Canada on May 29, 1988, he grew up playing single A hockey. At 14, he moved up to the AAA level and at 17 he was drafted by the London Knights of the OHL in the 11th round of the 2004 OHL Priority Draft.
Mason made his OHL debut in the 2005-06 season, but saw limited playing time behind starter Adam Dennis. He played for the Petrolia Jets Junior Club of the Western Ontario Hockey League to get some playing time. His numbers were solid on both teams and that made him a curious option in the NHL draft. He was selected in the third round, 69th overall, in 2006 by the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Mason actually made the 2006-07 Blue Jackets roster out of camp, but sat as a healthy scratch for the team’s first two games. He was sent back to juniors soon after and became the starter of the London Knights upon his return. He played 62 games with a 3.20 goals against average and a .914 save percentage. The Knights finished atop the Western Conference and made it all the way to the Conference Final before being eliminated.
Mason returned to the Knights for the 2007-08 season and continued to dominate. He was named to the 2008 World Junior Championships representing Team Canada. Mason started five games and registered a 1.19 GAA and .951 SV%. The London Knights traded Steve Mason to the Kitchener Rangers right before Team Canada’s semi-final game. Team Canada won Gold thanks in part to Mason’s stellar play. He was named the MVP or the tournament.
Mason returned to the Kitchener Rangers after the WJC and played 16 more games, with his numbers remaining relatively similar to his numbers from London. He dealt with a knee injury for many weeks until he had arthroscopic knee surgery in April, forcing him to miss the rest of the season and playoffs, where the Rangers won the OHL Championship.
Mason had another knee surgery right before the start of the 2008-09 season and he missed the first month of the season. He returned and made his Syracuse Crunch debut, playing three games with a 1.63 GAA and .937 SV%. He was recalled by the Blue Jackets due to the injury of starter Pascal Leclaire. He started his first NHL game on November 5, 2008 with a win over the Oilers. Two weeks later he recorded his first shutout against the Thrashers.
Steve Mason’s above-average play earned him the starting role even after the return of Pascal Leclaire. He earned the rookie of the month in both November and December. He was still producing at a high level until a diagnosis of mononucleosis sidelined him for three weeks from late January to mid-February.
The Blue Jackets clinched a playoff spot for the first time in team history on the back of Mason’s stellar 33–20–7 record. He won the 2009 Calder Memorial Trophy and he was nominated for the Vezina Trophy, but lost to Boston’s Tim Thomas. Mason finished the season with a 2.29 GAA and .916 save percentage. Columbus was swept in the first round of the playoffs by the Detroit Red Wings.
Steve Mason entered the 2009-10 season as the Blue Jacket’s starter, but failed to replicate his numbers from the season before. The Blue Jackets sputtered and fired coach Ken Hitchcock in February, but they still finished dead last in the Central Division and second last in the West. Mason played 58 games with 20 wins to go along with a 3.05 GAA and a .901 SV%.
Mason was invited to Team Canada’s Olympic summer orientation camp but didn’t make the final roster for the 2010 team. He was however, named one of the injury replacements if need be.
The Blue Jackets once again had a sub-par season in 2010-11 and Mason almost identically replicated his number from the season before. He posted a 3.03 GAA and .901 SV% in 54 games with 24 wins. The Blue Jackets once again finished last in the Central Division and 16th in the Western Conference.
There were so few bright spots for the 2011-12 Columbus Blue Jackets team and Mason was not immune to the team’s failures. Columbus started the season with a 11-25-5 record, the worst record in the NHL in 20 years, and fired coach Scott Arniel. The team also made some big trades to salvage the team, including dealing star Jeff Carter, who they just acquired from the Flyers eight months earlier. There were a flurry of other trades including acquiring Mark Letestu and Nikita Nikitin.
Mason was concussed right before Thanksgiving, but only missed two games. In the meantime, goalie Curtis Sanford was named the starter, even when Mason returned. It didn’t take long before Mason took back the starting role, even though Sanford was posting the superior numbers. By season’s end, Mason had played in 46 games with just 16 wins. He posted a career-low 3.39 GAA and .894 SV%.
The Blue Jackets had the second overall pick in the 2012 entry draft, losing the first spot in the lottery to the Oilers. They also dealt star Rick Nash to the Rangers in the summer of 2012 for a package deal that helped build a foundation for the future. Sergei Bobrovsky was acquired from the Flyers and Nick Foligno was acquired from the Senators in a continued effort to turn the franchise around.
The lockout shortened the 2012-13 season to 48 games, but the Blue Jackets did start to improve. Sergei Bobrovsky was named the starter, forcing Mason into a backup role. Bobrovsky’s numbers were far better than Mason’s and it became clear he was no longer needed in Columbus. He played 13 games posting a 2.95 GAA and .899 SV%.
In Philadelphia, the Flyers were having their own struggles. They failed to sign Shea Weber or Ryan Suter over the summer and the goalie they were banking on to carry the franchise, Ilya Bryzgalov, was an erratic mess. Bryz was carrying the full burden of the Flyers goaltending almost single-handedly, as he started 40 of 48 games as revolving backups Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher were even more atrocious in the five games they appeared in.
On April 3, 2013 the Flyers acquired Steve Mason from the Columbus Blue Jackets for Michael Leighton and a 2015 third round pick. The Flyers were already far out of a playoff spot and were desperate to find a quick fix to turn the team around. Mason made an immediate impact, playing in seven games posting a 1.90 GAA and .944 SV%.
With the added confidence of Steve Mason, the Flyers used one of their two compliance buyouts on Bryzgalov and signed Ray Emery, who was coming off a phenomenal season as a backup in Chicago. The newly formed tandem of Mason and Emery carried the Flyers back to the playoffs during the 2013-14 season. The Flyers fired Peter Laviolette three games into the season and replaced him with Craig Berube, but the turnaround was slow. A 16-7-4 record over the last two-and-a-half months of the season pushed the Flyers into the playoffs.
In January, Mason signed a three-year extension with the Flyers after a solid first half of the season. Mason appeared in 61 games during the seasons recording a 2.50 GAA and a .917 SV%. The Flyers made the playoffs, but lost in the first round to the Rangers in seven games. Mason started in four games, and playing in five recording a 1.97 GAA and .939 SV%.
During the summer of 2014 the Flyers promoted Paul Holmgren to team President and brought in Ron Hextall as the new general manager. His early moves were questionable and the Flyers struggled during the season. Mason missed time midway through the season with a knee injury and Ray Emery was not great in relief. Cinderella story goaltender Rob Zepp entered the scene and played 10 games, but didn’t play well enough to steal the backup role from Emery upon Mason’s return.
The Flyers missed the playoffs by 14 points, but Mason was still the shining star of the team. He finished with a 2.25 GAA and a .928 SV% in 51 games, though he only had 18 wins.
During the summer of 2015 the Flyers fired coach Craig Berube and hired Dave Hakstol. They also let goalie coach Jeff Reese walk away from the organization, a move in which Mason wasn’t happy with. Ray Emery was replaced with Michal Neuvirth in the offseason in a flurry of moves by Ron Hextall.
Mason entered the 2015-16 season as the Flyers unquestioned starter again, but only made it to January before a lingering knee injury left him riding the bench in favor of Neuvirth. Steve Mason returned in February and played most of the team’s remaining games, helping the Flyers secure the second wild card spot heading into the playoffs. He posted a 2.51 GAA and .918 SV% in 54 regular season games. The playoffs were not kind to Mason and the Flyers who were facing the first seeded, Presidents Trophy-winning Capitals.
Braden Holtby shutout the Flyers in game one, and Mason was a disaster in game two and three, including allowing a center ice goal by Jason Chimera, which was the game-winner of game two. Neuvirth replaced Mason for the last three games of the series and stood on his head, including a shutout in game five to stave off elimination. The Flyers were shut out again in game six thus losing the series. Mason finished with a 4.09 GAA and a .852 SV%, compared to Neuvirth’s 0.67 GAA and .981 SV%.
The 2016-17 season was disappointing for the Flyers and Steve Mason. He dealt with another knee injury in December, but was still played hard by Hakstol when he was healthy. Mason appeared in 58 games, winning 26, but his numbers dropped compared to his previous three seasons in Philly. He finished with a 2.66 GAA and a .908 SV%. The Flyers missed the playoffs by 13 points, which caused GM Ron Hextall to change things up. At season’s end, he announced he would not be re-signing Steve Mason, instead finding a solution in free agency.
the Flyers replaced Mason with Brian Elliott, and on July 1, 2017 Steve Mason signed a two-year, $8.3 million contract with the Winnipeg Jets.
Mason’s sole season in Winnipeg was marred by injuries. He dealt with back issues for much of the early season, then had two concussions close together in the later half of the season. Mix that with the emergence of Connor Hellebuyck, Mason only played in 13 games, registering a pedestrian 3.24 GAA and .906 SV%.
During the summer of 2018, Steve Mason was traded to the Montreal Canadiens, who immediately put him on waivers for the purpose of a buyout. 24 hours later he was bought out after no team claimed his contract.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: nbcsports.com