After a very disappointing 2016-17 season, the Winnipeg Jets knew that defending their net was the biggest issue to solve. The Jets were in need of some help on the blue line, and more than that, in the crease. Goaltending was a major struggle for Winnipeg as both Ondrej Pavelec and Connor Hellebuyck were inconsistent.
As the offseason began, General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff sprung into action. Pavelec was gone, signing with the New York Rangers, and Winnipeg was left with Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson.
Enter Steve Mason, the 29-year-old former Calder Trophy winner who signed a two-year, $8.2 million dollar contract. Mason was brought in as a veteran who could bring stability to a young goaltending core. Surprisingly, however, Mason was handed the reins and given the starting job to begin the season.
It was a nightmare start for Mason who gave up five goals on 20 shots in his debut. He followed that performance by allowing six in his next and five in his third. In four starts this season, Mason posted a 0-3-1 record and has a .872 save percentage. He quickly lost his starting job and now has people wondering about his future in Winnipeg.
Struggles Not New for Mason
Mason entered the league in 2008-09 posting numbers that remain some of his career highs including 33 wins, a 2.29 goals-against average and 10 shutouts. He won the Calder that season but could not sustain the level of play and his numbers steadily declined.
In 2012-13, the writing was on the wall and Mason found himself in Philadelphia with the Flyers. His time in “The City of Brotherly Love” had its ups and downs. Every now and then fans saw flashes of the Calder-winning goaltender. More often than not, however, Mason’s inconsistent play was the storyline in Philadelphia.
By the end of last season, the Flyers were ready to move on. Philadelphia let Mason walk as a free agent, and the Jets were happy to scoop him up. The move raised some eyebrows. A goalie with a career of inconsistent play was brought in to help young inconsistent goaltenders? Cheveldayoff was taking a risk, and with a $4.1 million annual price tag, expectations were high. Clearly, it has not worked out the way Cheveldayoff planned.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 29, 2017
Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston reported last week that the Jets were taking calls on their third goaltender, Michael Hutchinson who has been playing with Winnipeg’s AHL affiliate the Manitoba Moose. With injuries around the league and other struggles, trade talks have heated up. However, with Mason’s struggles, is Hutchinson really the best goalie to shop around?
Trade in the Works?
At this point, neither Mason nor Hutchinson will be the Jets’ goaltender of the future. Hellebuyck and Jets prospect Eric Comrie are both better candidates for the position. Mason comes at a much higher price tag than Hutchinson and is locked in for this year and next. Both goalies have struggled in the NHL and neither has been great this year. Hutchinson is 2-1 in the AHL with a 2.77 GAA. If the Jets are already shopping a goaltender, it would be wise to add Mason to the talks. Mason is a proven NHL goalie and a veteran who might be more attractive in a trade compared to the unproven Hutchinson.
But are the Jets going to get rid of Mason after four games? It’s unlikely, but if this scenario stretches out a little longer, rumbles to trade Mason will grow louder. Hellebuyck has been great for Winnipeg so far this season, but for the Jets to succeed, they need a solid backup. The job is still Mason’s but Hutchinson will be pushing all year to get a chance. With three goalies on one-way contracts, Cheveldayoff will be looking to move the odd man out, and it is a question of when not if.
Born and raised Winnipeg sports fan and contributor with The Hockey Writers.