Friday, April 14, 2017

Where Should Steve Mason Look To Play Next Season?

Usually, I get inspired to write my blogs by a random tweet on Twitter. Today, that tweet happens to be (sort of) my own.

Well, it starts with this conversation between O&BP's Mikey D and the only Scottish hockey fan in the world, Berke. They were looking forward to next season's Flyers goaltending situation. It's admittedly pretty murky, and there are a ton of options on the table:
And then I jumped into the Corsica machine:
But now I want to jump in even further, because those rankings for Mason are quite telling.  He's quite solid against low- and mid-danger scoring chances. Among goalies who have played at least 4,000 minutes in the past four years (that's about two dozen games per year, at a minimum), here's where Mason ranks:

  • Low-danger save percentage: 0.9845% (3rd behind Lundqvist and John Gibson)
  • Mid-danger save percentage: 0.9342% (5th behind Talbot, Khudobin, Gibson, and Frederik Andersen)
  • High-danger save percentage: 0.7972% (37th out of 47 eligible goalies)
You expect save percentage to decline as shot quality improves, but Mason's curve is harsher than most goalies. 

It's a very minor difference, but over the 996 high-danger chances Mason has faced in these four seasons, his 79.72% against Price's 85.49% amounts to a difference of 57.5 goals. The Flyers' goal differentials the last four years (though Mason only played 61, 51, 54, and 58 games) were +1, -19, -4, and -17. You always hate to compare your guy to the best in the world, but Carey Price would have singlehandedly erased the Flyers net goal differential over those four years. 

We've always known that Mason is in a tier below the elite level of NHL goalies, and it's almost all because he struggles against high-danger chances. 

So, looking forward, from Mason's point of view and not a Flyers point of view, which destinations make sense? Here's our checklist, based on what Mason has said and what we can infer about his statistical history:
  • Team without a number one goalie
  • Defense that doesn't allow a lot of high-danger chances
That's it! That's the whole list. First, let's narrow our list down from 30 teams by eliminating the franchises who have cornerstones already. That knocks out:
  • Metro: WSH, PIT, CBJ. NYR, NJD
  • Atlantic: MTL, OTT, BOS, TOR, TBL, 
  • Central: CHI, MIN, NSH
  • Pacific: ANA, SJ, LA, ARI
We also have a bunch of Maybe guys. Is Jake Allen that guy for St. Louis? Is Brian Elliott that guy for Calgary? Is Cam Talbot that guy for Edmonton? Is Winnipeg going to pay Connor Hellebuyck this summer and make him the number one guy? Is Semyon Varlamov the guy in Colorado? Is Jimmy Howard that guy for Detroit? Is the Greiss/Halak tandem going to work in New York? I mean... maybe. 

But that list removed 17 teams from the list (and maybe 25, we'll see), leaving us with seven contenders for Mason: 
  • Hurricanes: have $6 million committed to two goalies next season
  • Panthers: have $5.3 million committed to Roberto Luongo until 2022
  • Sabres: will likely re-sign RFA Robin Lehner this summer
  • Stars: probably not going to commit more money to goalies because they're paying $10.4 million already
  • Canucks: Jacob Markstrom is signed at $3.6 million for three more years
Barring something wonky, I would expect the 'Canes, Panthers, and Stars to duck out of this race. So, between Buffalo and Vancouver, who would Mason prefer to play in front of? Let's compare the biggest thing that matters for Mase - high-danger chances against. 

Now, considering the Sabres, and Canucks finished 17 and 25 points out of the playoffs respectively, we shouldn't get our hopes up too high that any of them do anything good on ice. But we might surprise ourselves. For reference, league-average High Danger Chances Against Per Sixty was 6.41 last season, and that made up an average of 21.5% of total scoring chances.
Let's start with the three goalies that Buffalo used this year:
  • Robin Lehner (59 games played): 5.85 HDSA/60, 17.6%
  • Anders Nilsson (26 games): 7.13 HDSA/60, 21.6%
  • Linus Ullmark (1 game): 5.98 HDSA/60, 17.9%
Wait, Buffalo is a better-than-average team in terms of denying high-danger chances?

Now for Vancouver's carousel:
  • Ryan Miller (54 games played): 7.00 HDSA/60, 21.8%
  • Jacob Markstrom (25 games): 6.45 HDSA/60, 22.2%
  • Richard Bachman (5 games): 9.31 HDSA/60, 27.3%
That would make an easy decision for Future Sabre Steve Mason. 

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