Steve Mason’s nightmare season continues
Heading into the 2017-18 season, it was reasonable to picture things working out for the Winnipeg Jets, but it would have been tougher to see this surge coming largely without Steve Mason’s help.
The Jets handed Mason a two-year, $8.2 million deal hoping that he’d stabilize a goaltending position that’s been a weakness for the team since day one in Winnipeg. Perhaps he did help, but if so, Mason assisted the team in an indirect way: by giving Connor Hellebuyck even more incentive to make the most of every start?
That’s about as far as you can go when it comes to positives this season, as it’s been a disaster from his first start, when he gave up five goals on 20 shots against Toronto in a game he didn’t finish.
Mason’s rarely had a chance to make the Jets situation into the sort of platoon he disdained in Philly, as his appearances have been limited by a combination of injuries, his poor play, and Hellebuyck’s breakthrough season. Mason missed considerable time because of one or more concussions, and cruelly, he followed up a 31-save shutout return appearance on March 6 with a knee injury.
In a way, he never bounced back from a poor start to his debut season with Winnipeg, allowing 11 goals in his first two appearances. Hellebuyck stormed out of the gate, meanwhile, not even recording his first loss of 2017-18 until Nov. 10.
This photo from Getty Images almost seems to capture the spirit of a lost season for Mason, and it probably deserves the “Hello darkness” treatment ...
The team announced today that Mason is expected to miss two-to-three weeks after getting that knee scoped.
Such a window gives Mason a chance to play another regular season game before the postseason begins, but knee issues can be tricky, so who knows? Beyond that, the Jets might be more comfortable rolling with Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson, whose $1.15 million contract can’t be completely ignored by Winnipeg.
Actually, contracts are where the intrigue builds.
Hutchinson isn’t the only Jets netminder who needs a new contract after 2017-18 ends. Hellebuyck will be an RFA this summer - assuming Winnipeg doesn’t hand him an extension - and he’ll be a tough goalie to gauge. Hellebuyck managed 26 wins in 2016-17, but his work was middling overall with just a .907 save percentage. Hellebuyck’s really flourished this season, going 35-11-8 with a .923 save percentage.
Even if Hellebuyck doesn’t break the bank, the Jets could plausibly find it difficult to justify Mason’s $4.1M cap hit. They’ll see Nikolaj Ehlers’ cap hit jump to $6M and will need to pay up for Jacob Trouba, who’s also set for restricted free agency.
Whether those factors force Kevin Cheveldayoff’s hand or not, Mason finds himself right where he was heading into this season, and also when he was traded to the Flyers. He’ll need to start from scratch once again and hope that his luck will work out better in the future, whether that means during the playoffs or 2018-19.