Meltzer On Mason, the Trapezoid, and Regression; Quick Hits

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CHANGING THE TRAPEZOID

Earlier this summer, I had a lengthy discussion with former Flyers goaltender Brian Boucher about a variety of goaltending related topics. One of the more interesting things to come out of the conversation was the fact that Boucher is among the seeming minority who does not mind the trapezoid and the corresponding rules restricting goaltenders’ puck-playing ability behind the net that have existed since 2005-06.

“My view is different than a lot of people’s,” said Boucher. “For me, having the trapezoid let me simplify part of my game. I wasn’t the best puckhandling goalie, so I didn’t mind the trapezoid. On the other hand, I did get a penalty once for playing the puck outside the trapezoid when I was playing for Phoenix. It was the first season they had the rule. Wayne Gretzky (then the Coyotes coach) really gave me hell about it.”

For this season, the NHL’s Competition Committee passed a recommendation to widen the trapezoid by four feet. This would be a welcomed change for goaltenders who excel at playing the puck, such as Flyers goaltender Steve Mason.

One of the most impressive elements of Mason’s game, apart from his athleticism and the tireless work ethic that enabled him to have a breakthrough season last year, is his puckhandling ability. He is very adept not only at stopping a dumped-in puck behind the net and setting it up quickly for a defenseman, he’s also quite a deft passer. Having four extra feet of extra space behind the net where he’s allowed to play the puck would be beneficial both to Mason and the Flyers defense.

The main purpose for a goaltender playing the puck is to help his team gain possession and get the puck out of the defense zone more efficiently. It also helps save some wear and tear on the defensemen, especially with today’s rules that prevent clubs from holding up opposing forecheckers. Even so, there are a select few goaltenders who have the puckhandling acumen to trigger counterattacking plays with their passing ability. Mason is one of them, despite his relatively modest career total of seven assists in 300 games.

Mason was only credited with one assist last season, but easily have had as many as five to eight helpers if plays he started had been turned into goals. Mason periodically created scoring chances for his team off stretch passes where he caught opposing teams in a line change, especially on Philadelphia power plays. One of these years, he’s bound to have a season where a few more of those end up as goals for his team.

******** MASON AND ‘REGRESSION’ CONCERNS

Being a good puckhandling goaltender is nice, but Mason and the Flyers care much more about whether he continues to stop the puck as effectively as he has since coming over from Columbus. While it was easy and accurate to dismiss his seven-game stint in 2012-13 (1.90 GAA, .944 save percentage) as far too small of a sample size, he was also pretty damn good for all but a stretch of a few midseason weeks in 2013-14 and was spectacular in the playoffs against the Rangers.

For his Flyers regular season career to date, Mason has posted a 2.44 GAA, .920 save percentage and four shutouts in 68 games. He’s done it behind a much-maligned team defense, too, and his numbers have been markedly superior to those posted either by Ilya Bryzgalov (2.60 GAA, .905 save percentage) in his 99 regular season games in Philly in 2011-12 and 2012-13 or by backup Ray Emery last season (2.96 GAA, .903 save percentage in 28 games).

I understand the concern people have over how the absence of Kimmo Timonen will affect the Flyers. If the team defense consistently sputters, no goaltender is going to rescue the club for the long haul. I get that goalies in general are prone to year-to-year fluctuations and the “safest” projections are based on their aggregated career histories. I am also fully aware of Mason’s struggles in Columbus after his Calder Trophy winning rookie season.

However, what I don’t understand is why many critics simply discount the fact that Mason has matured by leaps and bounds as a player — overhauling his mental approach and dedicating himself to his preparations to the point where he’s become one of the NHL’s hardest-working practice goaltenders. They ignore the lengthy learning curve for goaltenders and the fact that Mason was already in the NHL at age 20 (probably playing a little over his head relative to his maturity level at the time) and then went through his protracted learning curve on generally bad Columbus teams.

Most other goalies were brought along much more slowly and conservatively than Mason. Here is a comparison of Mason to numerous other currently prominent NHL starting goaltenders, looking primarily at their NHL debut ages, the points at which they first became regular starters and when they had their first breakout seasons. Steve Mason: Debuted at age 20, and became Columbus’ starter as a rookie. Won the Calder Trophy. Remained the primary starter for the next three seasons but struggled along with the team. Relegated to backup duty by Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in 2012-13 and was traded to the Flyers. Had a bounceback campaign in his first full season in Philadelphia. Now 26 years old. Henrik Lundqvist: Debuted at age 23, became the Rangers’ starter as a rookie. Made an immediate splash in the NHL and has perennially been considered one of the NHL’s top goaltenders. Now 32 years old. Tuukka Rask: Debuted for Boston at age 20, but spent most of his first two pro seasons in the AHL. Cracked NHL as a semi-regular at age 22, then spent two seasons as Tim Thomas’ backup. Became the Bruins full-time starter at age 25. Now 27 years old. Jonathan Quick: Debuted for the Kings at age 21. Spent one-plus season primarily in the minor leagues (including 38 games in the ECHL with Reading), and then became an NHL starter as he neared his 23rd birthday. Quick had his first “breakout” NHL season at age 24/25 during the 2010-11 season. Now 28 years old. Carey Price: Debuted for Canadiens and became a starter at age 20. He enjoyed a stellar regular season as a rookie, as he became a starter but imploded in the 2008 playoffs against the Flyers. Struggled with inconsistency the next two seasons. Price had a breakthrough season in 2010-11 at age 23. Now 27 years old. Pekka Rinne: Debuted for Predators at age 24, but spent the majority of his first three pro seasons in the AHL. Became the Predators starter at age 26 and had a breakout season. Now 31 years old (turns 32 in November). Ryan Miller: Played three years of collegiate hockey, turning pro at age 22. Spent the majority of his first three pro seasons in the AHL but appeared in a combined 18 NHL games for Buffalo. Became the Sabres starter at age 25. Had his Vezina Trophy winning season at age 29. Now 34 years old. Roberto Luongo: Turned pro at age 20 after the Islanders selected him two years earlier as the fourth overall pick of the 1997 Draft. Split his first pro season between the AHL and NHL, starting 24 NHL games and 26 AHL games. Traded to Florida in 2000 and became the Panthers starter at age 21. He has been mostly a full-time starter in his NHL career but split time with Corey Schneider and Eddie Läck in his final two-plus seasons in Vancouver before returning to Florida. Now 35 year old. Cory Schneider: After being selected by Vancouver in the first round of the 2004 draft, Schneider played three seasons of collegiate hockey and most of the next three years in the AHL (with 10 NHL games). Graduated to the NHL full-time at age 24. Played 30+ games for the first time in 2011-12 at age 25. Played 40-plus games for the first time in 2013-14 after joining the New Jersey Devils. Now 28 years old. Jonathan Bernier: Appeared in four games for the Kings in 2007-08 after being selected 11th overall in the 2006 Draft. Upon joining the pro ranks full-time at age 20, he spent most of his first two seasons in the AHL. Thereafter, Bernier served as Quick’s backup for three seasons before being traded to Toronto last summer. Started 55 games for the Maple Leafs last season, posting a .922 save percentage. Now 26 years old. Marc-Andre Fleury: Selected first overall in the 2003 NHL Draft and played 22 NHL games at age 19 (3.64 GAA, .896 SV%). Spent one-plus seasons in the AHL during the canceled 2004-05 NHL season and a portion of the 2005-06 campaign. Became the Penguins regular starter at age 21. Now 29 years old. Semyon Varlamov: Chosen in the first round of the 2006 NHL Draft by Washington. Made his NHL debut at age 20, splitting his rookie season between the AHL (27 games) and NHL (six games). Started a combined 52 games over the next two seasons as a split-time starter with the Capitals, and also made a combined six AHL appearances. Traded to Colorado at age 23 and split time with veteran J-S Giguere. Had his breakthrough season as a workhorse starter (63 games) in 2013-14. Now 26 years old. Cam Ward: Picked by Carolina in the first round of the 2002 NHL Draft, Ward turned pro at age 20. Spent one full season in the AHL. As an NHL rookie in 2005-06, he posted mediocre regular season numbers (3.68 GAA, .882 save percentage in 28 games) as Martin Gerber’s backup but then exploded into his own in the playoffs as he won the Conn Smythe Trophy for the Stanley Cup champion Hurricanes. Posted a .906 save percentage in his second NHL season; first as a full-time starter. When healthy, he has been a workhorse for the Hurricanes but has had injury issues the last few years. Ward last posted a save percentage above .910 in the 2011-12 season. Now 30 years old. Kari Lehtonen: Selected 2nd overall in the 2002 NHL Draft, Lehtonen came to North America at age 20 and spent the vast majority of his first two pro seasons at the AHL level, with four NHL games for Atlanta in 2003-04. Graduated to the NHL as a split-time starter at age 22. Lehtonen struggled with numerous injuries — including back surgery — and inconsistency in his play until he was traded to the Dallas Stars at age 26. He has played very well as Dallas’ starter since his acquisition. He will turn 31 in November. Ben Bishop: Played three collegiate seasons before turning pro at age 22. Spent most of first three full professional seasons at the AHL level, with a combined 13 NHL in the NHL over that span. Finally became a full-time NHL starter in his third NHL organization, following a trade to Tampa Bay. Had a breakout 2013-14 season for the Lightning. Now 27 years old. Sergei Bobrovsky: Flyers fans know Bobrovsky’s story well. Signed out of the KHL as an undrafted free agent at age 22. Became the Flyers starter as a rookie pro but hit the wall midway through the season. Relegated to backup duty behind Ilya Bryzgalov as a second-season pro, playing well in the first half but struggling in limited duty from January onward. Traded to Columbus in the 2012 offseason. Won the Vezina Trophy in his first season with the Blue Jackets. Posted a .923 save percentage in 58 games last season. Will turn 26 later this month.

From my point of view, all that really matters heading into the 2014-15 season is what Mason has done since coming to Philadelphia. His body of work as a Flyer thus far has been strong. Likewise, the only thing that’s relevant for Bobrovsky is the excellent goalie he’s become in his two seasons with the Blue Jackets and not the hot-and-cold young goaltender he was in his first two NHL seasons as a member of the Flyers.

************ QUICK HITS: SEPTEMBER 2

* One of the more unusual suggestions I have heard regarding the trapezoid was the one NHL Network and New England Sports Network commentator Billy Jaffe. Recently, he told The Fourth Period that he would prefer a “reverse trapezoid” rule replace the current one.

Under Jaffe’s idea, goalies would be forbidden from touching the puck inside in the trapezoid directly behind the net but it’d be legal for goalies to venture into the corners to play the puck. Jaffe argued that this would create more scoring via increased forechecking opportunities and turnovers with goaltenders caught out of position.

* With each passing day, the number of Flyers veteran players working out at the Skate Zone in Voorhees will continue to increase now that the calendar has flipped to September. Training camp formally starts on Sept. 19 but virtually all non-injured players will be skating at the team’s practice facility before then. Already, the regular workout participants include the likes of Sean Couturier, Zac Rinaldo and Nicklas Grossmann.

* Over on the Flyers official website, there is a chronological recap of the Flyers’ offseason, starting with the May 7 promotion of Ron Hextall to general manager and Paul Holmgren to club president and running through the club’s most recent roster news (the Aug. 27 re-signing of restricted free agent Brandon Manning).

* Back in the late 1970s, the Philadelphia Fury were a member of the old North American Soccer League (NASL). The team name has been revived for a squad in the new American Soccer League (ASL), a new minor league circuit with eight teams. The Fury’s goalkeeper will be Chase Clement, the son of Flyers broadcast and retired player Bill Clement.

* Flyers Alumni birthdays: Center Petr Hubacek turns 35. Goaltender Michel Belhumeur, who split goaltending duties with Doug Favell and Bobby Taylor in 1972-73, turns 65. Right winger Paul Guay, whom the Flyers acquired from Minnesota in the trade that ended Paul Holmgren’s playing career in Philly, turns 51.

This post originally appeared on www.hockeybuzz.com and we thank them for permission to rebroadcast it here.

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