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Steve Mason's Contract Extension: A Good Thing Or a Bad Thing?

Ed CmarCorrespondent ISeptember 23, 2010

NEWARK, NJ - MARCH 23:  Steve Mason #1 of the Columbus Blue Jackets defends against the New Jersey Devils at the Prudential Center on March 23, 2010 in Newark, New Jersey. The Devils defeated the Blue Jackets 6-3.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

The Columbus Blue Jackets recently provided 2008-2009 Calder Trophy recipient Steve Mason a two-year contract extension for $5.8 million. Mason will make $2.6 million for the 2011-2012 season and $3.2 million for the 2012-2013 season and will earn $905,000 for the final year of his entry level contract (2010-2011 season).

What is that old saying: "One man's burden is another man's treasure"

Or is it?

Steve Mason's 2009-2010 season can be described in two words: Sophomore Slump.

Or, if you prefer, it can covered in one word: Debacle.

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 and for a butterfly-style goaltender, that does not bode well.

However, during the 2007-2008 season, LeClaire not only conquered the injury bug, he also posted a very solid season. But here's where the questions as to whether re-signing Steve Mason right before the upcoming season appeared a bit premature.

Similarly to Mason's tough 2009-2010 season, LeClaire came out of the gates in a stellar fashion, and posted the following goaltending statistics (Goals Against Average - GAA and Save Percentage - Save %) for the first half of the season:

- GAA: 2.11

- Save Percentage: .925

For the second half of the season, he posted the following statistics:

- GAA: 2.58

- Save Percentage: .905

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 5 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 2007-2008 season, 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 2008-2009 season, LeClaire suffered a preseason ankle injury, one he attempted to play through, and suffered through the following miserable statistics:

- GAA: 3.83

- Save Percentage: .867

Now, to compare, let's assess Steve Mason's statistics for his rookie year of 2008-2009, by half-seasons, and compare it his statistics (again, by half-seasons) for 2009-2010.

2008-2009 (First Half):

- GAA: 2.05

- Save Percentage: .925

Second Half - note: the second half statistics were attributable to Mason being overworked as well the rest of the league getting "the book" on his goaltending Achilles' heal, that being his glove hand when shooting high:

- GAA: 2.56

- Save  Percentage: .905

2009-2010 (First Half):

- GAA: 3.28

- Save Percentage: .890

Wow! How's that for an eerie coincidence?

Mason did return slightly to form during the second half of the 2009-2010 season, after the change in the Blue Jackets head coach, which was speculated to be the problems with Steve Mason's struggles with the following statistics:

- GAA: 2.56

- Save Percentage: .923

At this point, however, the season was completely lost, so while improved, there was essentially nothing to play for but pride.

While Steve Mason is, and should be, largely to blame for some of last season's difficulties, there was plenty of blame to go around, and the defensive corps massive letdown may just have shown that Mason's outstanding rookie year, one in which he was largely to credit for the Blue Jackets making their first-ever Stanley Cup playoff appearance, was indeed a Band-Aid for a bigger problem at hand.

So, it begs a few questions:

- Why grant the contract extension before the beginning of the 2010-2011 season? What was the urgency?

- What if Mason's lost 2009-2010 season wasn't a fluke and, with the same identical defensive corps as the prior two seasons, his struggles continue much like LeClaire's 2008-2009 season?

- Will those early season struggles continue for the 2010-2011 season, much like they did during the 2009-2010 season when the Blue Jacket players decided to ditch former head coach Ken Hitchcock's defense-first system in favor of an up-tempo system, one which, by the way, new head coach Scott Arniel is planning to employ?

- What if Steve Mason is not the next Roberto Luongo?  Rather, what if he's the next Andrew Raycroft or Jim Carey (the Boston Bruins' former "one-hit wonder," not the actor/comendian)?

And the answer to that is—no one really knows. And we won't know until the puck is dropped in Stockholm on October 8 and for the remainder of the upcoming two seasons.

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