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Under Pressure: Steve Mason

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The 2013-14 campaign was very, very good to Steve Mason.

Aside from getting his career as a bonafide No. 1 netminder back on track, the performance also netted him a handsome three-year, $12.3 million deal — one that pays $4.1M annually — and cemented him as Philly’s go-to guy for the foreseeable future.

“If you look at this season in a nutshell, he was good when the team was real bad early in the year,” then-Flyers GM Paul Holmgren said of the deal. “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.”

That last part is key. The Flyers expect Mason to get better over the life of his contract and next year, the first of the extension, he’ll probably need to be.

Defensively, Philly has some red flags. The club finished 20th in the NHL in goals allowed (2.77 GAA), led the league in penalty minutes and was shorthanded the second-most times (316), second only to Ottawa. While the Flyers’ solid penalty kill bailed them out routinely — the PK finished seventh in the NHL last year, at 84.8 percent — a couple of key performers from the unit are now out of action: Kimmo Timonen (blood clots) and Adam Hall (signed in Switzerland), who finished third and fourth on the team in total shorthanded TOI last season.

Timonen’s unavailability also accentuates Philly’s issues on D.

There are two significant problems: 1) the group doesn’t feature a clear-cut No. 1, “stud” that most elite teams tend to employ, and 2) it doesn’t have a ton of depth. Prior to signing Michael Del Zotto, Philly was looking at a top-six comprised of Mark Streit, Andrew MacDonald, Braydon Coburn, Luke Schenn, Nicklas Grossmann and Nick Schultz. Del Zotto helps the depth out a bit, and the Flyers will pray their health on the back end mirrors last year’s (it doesn’t garner a lot of attention, but Philly’s blueline went almost injury-free last season. Streit, Coburn, Schenn, Timonen and Grossman combined to miss just 12 games.)

Hextall is trying to look at the situation optimistically as well.

“I like our defense,” he said, per NJ.com. “I’ve said it time and time again. We maybe don’t have that top guy, that No. 1 guy, but probably 20 teams in the league say the same thing. We’re going to go with the guys we’ve got.”

All of this, of course, circles back to Mason. As the last line of defense, he fared well last year and shone in his first playoff action in five years, posting a .939 save percentage over the final five games of Philly’s opening-round loss to the Rangers. But now, he’ll need to show year-to-year consistency — something that was an issue in Columbus — and carry the weight of expectation. When he arrived in Philly, Mason was a reclamation project playing on a cheap deal. Now, he’s one of the NHL’s 20 highest-paid goalies and will be looked upon to backstop the Flyers into a second straight postseason.

The last time Mason faced similar expectations was as a Blue Jacket, following a rookie year in which he won the Calder and finished second in Vezina voting. Things went south after that, and the Flyers hope they’re not in line for a repeat performance.

Blues GM: We may take ‘half a step back,’ while young veterans grow into leadership roles

DALLAS, TX - MARCH 12:  Alex Pietrangelo #27 of the St. Louis Blues celebrates with Jaden Schwartz #17 of the St. Louis Blues, Dmitrij Jaskin #23 of the St. Louis Blues and Jori Lehtera #12 of the St. Louis Blues after scoring the game-winning goal against the Dallas Stars in overtime at American Airlines Center on March 12, 2016 in Dallas, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
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After a few early exits from the Stanley Cup playoffs, the St. Louis Blues were finally able to make a long run. Granted, they didn’t win the Stanley Cup or make it to the final, but they did manage to reach the Western Conference Final.

Unfortunately for the Blues (and a lot of other teams), the NHL’s salary cap number didn’t increase very much and it forced the organization to part ways with a number of key veterans. Gone are captain David Backes, winger Troy Brouwer and goalie Brian Elliott.

There could be even more change between now and the start of the year, as Kevin Shattenkirk could find himself elsewhere.

Those key departures mean that the Blues will need some of their younger players to step up and take on more of a leadership role starting this fall. How will the team respond? Nobody knows, not even GM Doug Armstrong.

“It’s going to be an interesting case study on how quickly this group takes up the leadership,” Armstrong said, per the Boston Globe. “Can they do it in September? Or does it take them a year? There’s certainly a faith that over time, they’re going to pick it up without any issue. Obviously you want them to pick it up as quickly as possible. We don’t want to take any backwards movement in our organization. But sometimes you do expose yourself to maybe taking half a step back to take a couple steps forward.”

Young leaders like Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz and Alex Pietrangelo will need to “step up” in the leadership department, but the Blues aren’t completely out of veterans. Jay Bouwmeester, Paul Stastny and Alex Steen are all still on the roster. Still, it’ll be interesting to see if the Blues take that “half step back” that Armstrong was talking about.

Related:

Jake Allen still needs to prove he’s a ‘legit’ number one goalie

Blues sign Schwartz to five-year deal

Backes doesn’t want to ‘sling mud’ at Blues on his way out

Newest Coyote Schenn is looking forward to playing in a market with no ‘outside added pressure’

SAN JOSE, CA - APRIL 20:  Luke Schenn #52 of the Los Angeles Kings looks back at Joe Thornton #19 of the San Jose Sharks after Schenn was called for roughing in Game Four of the Western Conference First Round during the NHL 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs at SAP Center on April 20, 2016 in San Jose, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)
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Since coming to the NHL as an 18-year-old in 2008, Luke Schenn has had the opportunity to play in Toronto, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. Playing in cities that love hockey is great, but it also comes with a certain amount of pressure.

Schenn, who is a former fifth overall pick, hasn’t lived up to his lofty draft status and when you underachieve in Toronto and Philadelphia, the fans and media make sure you know it.

On Saturday, Schenn signed a two-year deal in Arizona, which is a non-traditional hockey market. It sounds like it may have been done by design.

“I’m looking forward to coming to a market where I can just worry about playing hockey and not outside added pressure, and hopefully growing with the team,” Schenn said of signing with the Coyotes, per the team’s website. “I know they have a lot of upside and I still feel like I’ve hopefully got some upside, too. (I’m) still at a good age where I can continue to grow with them and evolve.”

The Coyotes have Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Alex Goligoski who are more than capable of moving the puck up the ice and players like Schenn and Zbynek Michalek will be counted on to provide some defensive stability.

“They’ve got a lot of guys who can shoot the puck and move the puck well and (who’ve) got a good offensive instinct for the game, so I just want to try to play solid defensively and help out in the defensive zone and on the penalty kill and play physical,” added Schenn. “Obviously, the way the game is now there’s a lot of skating so you’ve definitely got to pick your spots to be physical, but I still think there’s definitely still a need for that.”

Arizona still needs to work out deals with restricted free agents Michael Stone and Connor Murphy. Even if both players return next season, Schenn should still have a role as a four, five or six defenseman with the ‘Yotes.

Flyers’ Couturier has street named after him in his hometown

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Most people will never be able to say they have a street named after them, but Flyers center Sean Couturier isn’t most people.

The 23-year-old’s name is now on a street sign in his hometown of Bathurst, New Brunswick. Sean Couturier Avenue leads to the rink where he began his minor hockey career.

“It’s special, it’s a great honour,” Couturier said, per CBC.ca. “It’s not something you dream of growing up, but if you can be an example for other young kids and remind them even coming from a small town like Bathurst, anything is possible if you make the sacrifices and believe in what you can do.”

The month of July has been kind to Couturier for the second straight year. Last year at around this time, he signed a six-year contract extension worth $26 million. The new deal kicks in at the start of the upcoming season.

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Report: Veteran center Moore says he has offers on the table

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The chaos of free agency has subsided. And the list of notable players out there has thinned down as the summer has carried on.

Still looking to sign an NHL deal is veteran center Dominic Moore, who is about to turn 36 years old next month and is coming off a two-year deal with the New York Rangers that paid him an AAV of $1.5 million. It was evident way before free agency that Moore likely wouldn’t be back in New York, and would go to the open mark.

“The free agency period goes in fits and starts. Things open up and close along the way. You just try to be proactive but patient. You also don’t want to put yourself in the wrong spot, so you wait to find the right fit, the right role,” Moore told Sportsnet.

“You want to be on a good team that has a great chance to win but you also want to have a responsibility, some value on that team. It’s about marrying all of those factors and making the best decision.”

Moore has never been known for offence. With the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2010-11, he hit 18 goals. That was a career high. His highest point total? Forty-one in 2008-09 with Toronto.

But a team looking for a veteran player in the middle, on a reasonable contract and among the bottom six group of forwards, that can have success in the faceoff circle and play on the penalty kill may eventually get him under contract.

According to Sportsnet, there have been offers made to Moore. Now, it appears, the ball is in his court.

Related: Patrick Eaves bests big hockey names at Smashfest V