Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.
Last team: Philadelphia Flyers
2016-17 cap hit: $4.1 million
Selected with the 69th overall pick in 2006 by Columbus, Mason spent his first five seasons in the NHL with the Blue Jackets before being traded to the Flyers in 2012-13.
Mason took the league by storm in his rookie season and took over the No. 1 job in Columbus. He posted a 33-20-7 record with a 2.29 goals-against average, .916 save percentage and 10 shutouts. He won the Calder Trophy and was a Vezina Trophy finalist.
However, Mason never regained his rookie success with the Blue Jackets. Over his next three seasons, he had a 3.16 GAA and .897 save percentage. Columbus traded him to the Flyers at the 2012-13 trade deadline, and he eventually regained his confidence in Philly.
Over four-plus seasons with the Flyers, Mason compiled 104 wins, a 2.47 goals-against average and .918 save percentage. His 104 wins are third most in franchise history, and his .918 save percentage is second best among goalies who started more than 50 games.
Last season, Mason struggled to find consistency in the first half of the season after having a strong preseason and training camp. He didn't start the season opener despite expecting to and it took a while to recover but he eventually put things back together. He finished the season 26-21-8 with a 2.66 GAA and .908 save percentage.
In his final 20 games, Mason was 12-6-2 with three shutouts and a .927 save percentage. He proved himself as the No. 1 goalie after battling with Michal Neuvirth for the spot throughout the season. An injury to Neuvirth did help Mason's cause and he took control.
Still, the Flyers rewarded Neuvirth with a two-year contract extension in March, leaving Mason without a contract. After the Flyers didn't acquire a veteran goalie at the draft, GM Ron Hextall said Mason is "still in the mix." Mason is open to returning but not in a platoon.
Mason is the Flyers' best option. He's the best goalie on the market. But with Neuvirth in the fold and how he was handled in Philly the last couple of seasons, I'm not so sure Mason would want to come back to the Flyers. With that said, I think it's more likely he'll be back with the team now than it was entering the offseason for a couple of reasons.
Opportunity being the biggest motivation. There aren't many teams in the market for goaltenders. At least starting jobs, which Mason would want. There's one team that comes into mind: Winnipeg. That's it. If the Jets don't go the Mason route, then the Flyers may be the best fit for him. Neuvirth's medical history suggests the other goalie here will get a decent amount of work. There may be more opportunity here than elsewhere for Mason.
For the Flyers, they know what they have in Mason. Sure, he's not keen to platooning, but his play can dictate that. Mason is the goalie I think the Flyers should have extended. It's a buyer's market at goaltender this summer and that will help GM Ron Hextall.
As much as this writer would like to see Mason back, the bridges are already burnt.
We all know who Mason is.
He's a streaky goaltender and when he's on, he can carry a team. But when he's off, the poor performances tend to trickle into the next start.
I thought Mason made some terrific points at the end of the season about goaltending platoons. I think those points got through to Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol in their exit meeting with the goaltender.
However, there are too many differences in this situation for a re-signing to ultimately happen.
The Flyers are looking for a term-friendly, placeholder-type deal — more of an insurance policy to place alongside Neuvirth while allowing the goalies of the future to receive further grooming. That's not exactly what Mason is vying for this offseason.
Speaking of Neuvirth, he will see playing time when healthy. Mason made himself clear about the importance of having defined roles in net from the start of a season. If he returned, he would have to accept a similar situation to the past two seasons.
Sure, between the pipes, there aren't many opportunities elsewhere — but with another team, Mason can at least find a fresh start and new chances at fighting for a No. 1 job.
Mason is a sharp guy and his return should be strongly considered by the Flyers. I just don't see it happening.
While some fans may not think so, the bottom line is that Mason played well last season for the Flyers. Was he spectacular? No. But was he downright awful? No. He played well enough to give them chances to win games and deserved better fates than what he was handed on most nights. But such is life when you play behind a defense that struggled to get out of its own way, a penalty kill that lingered near the bottom of the league rankings most of the season and an offense that starved for goals in support of the goaltender.
In his exit interviews, Mason made it clear he does not want to be part of a platoon role he was in last season alongside Neuvirth. It's no surprise Mason's best stretches with the Flyers were when he didn't have to constantly look over his shoulder. He was at his best when he knew he was the guy. Remember when he put the Flyers on his back on their playoff push in 2015-16?
Well, the problem with being a clear-cut No. 1 here is that Neuvirth has his extension in hand and Mason is still wondering what the future is left to hold. This situation is a double-edged sword for Mason. He's the best goalie on a weak free-agent market this season. But the demand for goalies isn't all that high. Teams looking for goalies might include Buffalo, the Islanders, Winnipeg, Vancouver and Colorado. But still, Mason wouldn't be walking into any of those situations as the No. 1 option right away a la Ben Bishop in Dallas or Marc-Andre Fleury in Vegas. He's going to have to compete for that No. 1 job he craves.
And while there's a competition here in Philadelphia that's open for the taking, why would Mason want to come back with how that competition went last season? It would be like skating in circles without the end he's looking for.
Nothing is impossible or out of the question, but this is a situation in which it's best for both parties to shake hands and move on to their respective next chapters.