IT IS NOT HARD to fathom exactly where the Flyers would be if not for Steve Mason.
They can only fall from 29th place to 30th, after all.
But the Flyers would feel a lot further from the Stanley Cup playoffs than they already do if Mason were still in Columbus. He has put the Flyers in a position to win in all nine of his starts. Only two of those starts ended up in a loss by two or more goals - one of them was an empty-netter (Toronto), and the Penguins scored twice in the final 3 minutes to break open a 2-1 deficit.
Of the 19 goaltenders to play 500 or more minutes this month, only five have a better save percentage than Mason (.928) and only five have a better goals-against average (2.25).
According to Hockey-Reference.com, Mason would have a goals-against average of approximately 3.97 based on the league average save percentage against the onslaught of shots he has faced this season.
Mason, 25, has been that good. And he's been that good since he arrived last April.
Since then, Mason has not had a single game in which he has allowed more than three goals. When you include last season, his save percentage is .935 and his goals-against average is 2.11, both of which would be in the top five in the NHL for a 17-game stretch. And his record is 7-8-0, not bad with two ugly versions of teams in front of him.
Normally, that would equate to dollar signs - especially for a restricted free agent who took less money to re-sign with the Flyers.
After being acquired last April 3, Mason signed a 1-year, $1.5 million extension 5 days later. He was due an approximate $3 million qualifying offer based on his previous salary of $3.2 million last season with Columbus.
Normally, the Flyers would have locked Mason up to an extension by now, with general manager Paul Holmgren hoping to cash in on a team-friendly figure based on his early success.
That's just the Flyers way.
In the NHL, teams are permitted to sign players to a contract extension once they are in the final year of their current deal. Holmgren doesn't wait long. Claude Giroux signed a $66.2 million extension on July 4 after becoming eligible on July 1.
Chris Pronger signed his $34.45 million extension on July 7, 2009 - a week after being eligible to do so.
Jake Voracek ($17 million), Scott Hartnell ($28.5 million), Wayne Simmonds ($23.85 million), Sean Couturier ($3.5 million), Matt Read ($14.5 million) and Braydon Coburn ($18 million) never played a single game in the final season of their earlier deals without having a multiyear extension locked up first.
Nick Grossmann was acquired in April 2011 and signed a 4-year pact ($14 million) 2 months after arriving. Even enforcer Jay Rosehill, acquired last April 1 from Anaheim, was signed to a 2-year extension ($1.35 million) only 16 days after being traded to the Flyers.
That's more than 200 million of Ed Snider's dollars. Quite a few of those extensions will come back to bite the Flyers.
Yes, the Flyers take care of their players. Most of the time, they limit contract negotiation distractions during a season and let their players focus on hockey.
I can't help but also believe it creates a too-comfortable environment for players.
Look at the Flyers' roster: Fifteen players are already signed for next season. The aging Kimmo Timonen, oft-injured Andrej Meszaros, backup Ray Emery and spare parts Adam Hall and Hal Gill are the only pending unrestricted free agents. Mason, Michael Raffl and Brayden Schenn are all restricted free agents. Everyone else is taken care of.
Hungrier teams on the ice such as Toronto, Colorado and St. Louis all have a ton of players in contract years. They include bigger names, such as Dion Phaneuf, Dave Bolland, Cody Franson, James Reimer, Derek Roy, Alex Steen, Patrik Berglund, Paul Stastny, Ryan O'Reilly, and both Blues goalies. There is no motivator in pro sports like the almighty dollar.
Luckily for the Flyers, a new rule in the collective bargaining agreement could save them from themselves - at least when it comes to Mason. Players on 1-year deals may not begin renegotiating until Jan. 1. That includes Mason, who is due for a big raise if he keeps playing this way.
"We're in no rush anyway," Mason's agent, Anton Thun, said in an email yesterday.
Now isn't the time to re-sign Mason anyway. It's not that I don't believe in Mason, because I do. I believe Mason is a changed man since leaving Columbus, especially since uniting with goaltending coach Jeff Reese, who has overhauled both his mechanics and his mental makeup.
With each passing game, Mason's sample size grows smaller - and your imagination begins to grow a little big bigger. What if the Flyers could suddenly turn around their 29th-ranked offense? What if Mason is finally the Flyers' answer in net?
Mason will earn his next contract in time - and a 4-month look at the guy will present a fuller picture and more complete answer to all of those questions.
Until then, an environment of less country club and more lunch pail would be best for the Flyers' entire organization. They've been too nice. And they're not getting the proper return on their investments.
.299: Winning percentage of the Flyers’ opponents in their next 14 games, according to PhiladelphiaFlyers.com. The only teams with a winning record: Pittsburgh (Nov. 13) and Tampa Bay (Nov. 27).
16.3 percent: Flyers’ chances to make the Stanley Cup playoffs heading into last night’s action. Finishing the season at a 35-28-8 clip (84 points) gives the Flyers a 2.5 percent chance, meaning they will need to be in the neighborhood of 38-25-8 (90 points, .535) to have a fighting (60 percent) chance.
1: Number of Stanley Cup winners in the last 15 years (Colorado, 2001) to not have a player picked in the top five of a draft, highlighting the importance of elite talent. The Flyers have three top-five picks on their roster (Vinny Lecavalier, first in 1998; Luke Schenn, fifth in 2008; Brayden Schenn, fifth in 2009), though none was a Flyers draft pick.
15: Games in 30 days for the Flyers in November, including three sets of back-to-back games. The Flyers played 11 in October.
40: Stitches required for Teemu Selanne after getting caught in the face with a high stick from Luke Schenn on Tuesday night. Selanne, 43, lost most of his false upper teeth and flew back to Anaheim for repairs from an oral surgeon. Selanne will miss 2 weeks of action. Tuesday marked the first-ballot Hall of Famer’s last career stop in Philadelphia during this swan song season.
Fans were quick to criticize the NHL’s naming of the Metropolitan Division this summer. It’s just a shame the division doesn’t have the same ring to it as “Southleast” did to the previous Southeast. And, yes, it's been that bad — especially against the Western Conference. The Flyers are 0-3 against the West, but the division as a whole is awful.
Through Tuesday’s games, the Western is 28-7-3 against the Metropolitan. If you take out the lowly Oilers, who come to town on Nov. 9, that record is a startling 27-3-2.
What does all of that mean? The Flyers are thankful they don’t play in the West, where the current pace to make the playoffs is 102 points. Yikes.
On Twitter: @DNFlyers