Is Mason’s Contract Extension a Good Thing?

The Columbus Blue Jackets recently provided 2009 Calder Trophy recipient Steve Mason a two-year contract extension for $5.8 million dollars. Mason will make $2.6 million for the 2011-12 season and $3.2 million for the 2012-13 season and will earn $905,000 for the final year of his entry level contract (2010-11 season).

But as the old saying goes:  ”One man’s burden is another man’s treasure.”

Steve Mason’s 2009-10 season can be described in two words:  Sophomore Slump.

For Blue Jackets General Manager Scott Howson, however, last season can be viewed as a bit of a break as it relates to the negotiated contract price. For those of you who follow the team’s history with franchise goalies, this should have a familiar ring to it.  Does anyone remember Pascal LeClaire?

If you recall, LeClaire’s NHL career was saddled with being injury-prone, failing to play more than 35 games at any time of his NHL, minor league or junior hockey career. His primary injuries were of the lower-body variety. That doesn’t bode well for a butterfly-style goaltender.

However, during the 2007-08 season LeClaire not only conquered the injury bug, but he also posted a very solid season.

But here’s where the questions as to whether re-signing Mason right before the upcoming season appeared a bit premature.

Similarly to Mason’s tough 2009-10 season, LeClaire came out of the gates in a stellar fashion, and posted a goals against average of 2.11 and a save percentage of .925 during the first half of 2007-08. LeClaire, however, stumbled a bit during the second half of ’07-’08 when he posted a 2.58 GAA and a .905 Save%. Not only did LeClaire’s numbers slip a bit, but he also started suffering from the injury bug after being injured in a collision before the Blue Jackets February 5th game against the Washington Capitals.

During the summer, LeClaire’s drop in numbers and return to injury issues allowed the price he would have commanded, had he signed the extension during the mid-way point of the 2007-08, to drop.  It appeared to be a win-win for the Blue Jackets, whose second-half struggles allowed them to miss the playoffs for the seventh consecutive year since their inception.

During the 2008-09 season, LeClaire suffered a pre-season ankle injury, one he attempted to play through. His numbers again were less than stellar with a 3.83 GAA and a Save% of .867.

Now let’s assess Steve Mason’s statistics for his rookie year of 2008-09, by half-seasons, and compare it his statistics (again, by half-seasons) for 2009-10.

2008-09 (First Half):

GAA: 2.05

Save%: .925

2008-09 (Second Half):

- GAA: 2.56

- Save %: .905

(Now comes the fun part)

2009-10 (First Half):

- GAA: 3.28

- Save %: .890

Wow!  How’s that for an eerie coincidence?

Mason did return to his rookie season form (slightly) during the second half of the 2009-10 season when head coach Ken Hitchock was fired and replaced by then interim coach Claude Noel. During that span, Mason posted a 2.56 GAA and a Save% of .923 for a respectful finish to his 2009-10 season. At this point, however, the season was completely lost. So while Mason improved, there was essentially nothing to play for but pride.

While Mason is (and should be) largely to blame for some of last season’s difficulties, there was plenty of blame to go around. The Jackets defense suffered a major letdown, which may have shown that Mason’s outstanding rookie year was indeed a Band-Aid for a bigger problem at hand.

So why grant the contract extension before the beginning of the 2010-11 season?  What was the urgency? What if Mason’s lost 2009-10 season wasn’t a fluke and his struggles continue — much like LeClaire’s 2008-09 season? Will those early season struggles continue for the 2010-11 season under new head coach Scott Arniel much like they did during the 2009-10 season?

And the answer to this is, well, no one really knows. And we won’t know until the puck is dropped in Stockholm on October 8th and for the remainder of the next two seasons.

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7 Responses to “Is Mason’s Contract Extension a Good Thing?”

  1. GatorOH
    September 23, 2010 at 7:36 pm #

    I understand the desire to compare the two, but truth be told, they really aren’t on the same level. I like locking Mason in for a couple more seasons to give him a chance. The key for me was that we should definitely have our answer by the end of the deal, for better or worse. While Leclaire’s talent was undeniable, he was and is never going to be a franchise goaltender. He can’t stay healthy enough to play at his full potential and be THE guy. I, for one, wouldn’t put the weight of the franchise on his shoulders. Mason, on the other hand, is a workhorse. He can be the guy to play night in night out (maybe not Mikka Kiprusoff GP, but approaching that level) and still has the potential to be among the league leaders across the board. I think we’ll also see very soon if Mason truly does have the mental makeup it takes to be elite at this level. Did he focus on getting in better shape than last year? Did he re-devote himself to the fundamentals he seemed to forget at times? Time to shake off last season and refocus on the next. Here’s to hoping he does!

  2. Ed Cmar
    September 23, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

    GatorOH: Thanks for the feedback! Agree with you that they’re somewhat different – Pazzy’s issues were injury-related, whereas, sorry to say, Mase’s are conquering the soph jinx, and whether he was a ‘one hit wonder’. In other words, did the league get ‘the book’ on Mase? Are they exploiting his achilles heel, AKA glovehand high?

    As for the comments, please, keep ‘em coming! Thanks for your input!

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