It’s hard to look at that picture of Steve Mason with the Calder Memorial trophy and not scream out “What happened?!” He has been one of the most inconsistent goaltenders in the NHL since his rookie season. Head coaches have let him start games, but they have a quick hook on the young man. He has the ability to register a shutout every time he’s on the ice, but he’s also prone to letting pucks get in the net in triplet. What can the Blue Jackets do to help Mason bounce back? The team must figure out if they want win now or build toward the future.
It’s fair to say that Mason has been inconsistent, it’s not an opinion it’s fact. Fans and critics must remember that he has had three head coaches the last two seasons (Ken Hitchcock, Claude Noel, and now Scott Arniel). They have tried many approaches to help the young goalie out. Hitchcock implemented the “ride the hot goalie” method, but at times Mathieu Garon was in net multiple games in a row and Mason sat on the bench collecting dust.
When Hitchcock was fired, Noel took over and modified Hitch’s technique and let Mason go out there and he played very well down the stretch. He built up the anticipation that he will have a good season between the pipes. Arniel decided that he wants to see both goaltenders see action, but so far it’s been a fairly even split. He has pulled Mason out of games quite a bit, but that isn’t new to him, he leads the NHL in that statistic over the last two seasons.
Because Mason’s rookie season was such a success, people forget that he’s only 22 years old. His rookie campaign might have been an anomaly, it definitely isn’t the norm for a rookie to come in and do so well. His 2.29 GAA and 10 shutouts were not expected so soon. Last year, he finished the year with a 3.05 GAA with 5 shutouts and a record of 20-26-9. The team could live with those numbers from a young goalie, but it was the inconsistency that frustrated the team and fans.
After the 6-3 loss in Edmonton Thursday night, Arniel said that Mason was ‘in his own head.” The head coach is starting to sound like a broken record when he comes to him. What can the Blue Jackets do? They are sitting near the 8th spot in a tough Western Conference. The team must decide if this is the year to push their young goalie or maybe it’s time to let him regain his form in Springfield, their AHL minor-league affiliate. The team did send down another top-prospect, Nikita Filatov, just last week. It might be time to give Garon the starting job full-time and call up minor-league goalie, David LeNeveu. LeNeveu is 31-years old, spent nearly his entire career in the minors, with a cup of coffee with the Phoenix Coyotes in 2005-06 and 2006-07. He may not have the ability to dominate, like Mason shows flashes of, but he could keep the pipes warm while Mason gets his form back.
Mason is a fan favorite and the fans of Columbus are hungry for a winning team. This is the tenth year of the club and GM Scott Howson definitely wants to see the team reach the post-season for only its second-time in its history. Making a move like this would take a lot of faith in the process and that Mason wouldn’t completely check-out. He already appears to be a bit fragile mentally. Fans are hoping that Mason can turn it around over the next few games, if he gets a chance to start. Their next game is at home against the Dallas Stars. Garon will likely get the start and will be looking to improve on his 7-3-2 record.