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):
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.