Should The Maple Leafs Go After Steve Mason?
As the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs know all too well goaltending can make or break your season. Gone are the days when the Blue and White had Eddie Belfour and before him Curtis Joseph to bail them out of trouble and with question marks surrounding the Buds goaltending for the upcoming Season (CBA agreement aside) there is every reason to believe that the Maple Leafs will struggle mightily between the pipes.
Two seasons ago James Reimer burst onto the NHL scene from obscurity registering a very respectable 20-10-5 record in his rookie year. But like many sophomore goaltenders Reimer struggled last season for a variety of reasons, including what was first thought to be a concussion later revealed to be a neck injury.
While injuries took their toll on Reimer’s performance there looked to be a clear erosion of his skills as well and with plenty of time for teams to watch video on the 24-year old and find weakness in his game Reimer had to settle for a paltry 14-14-4 record last season.
In the absence of Reimer Toronto turned to Jonas Gustavsson in an effort to salvage the season. While the goaltender formerly known as “the monster” had a stretch of good games, he too struggled posting a 17-17-4 record. Ben Scrivens and Jussi Rynnas also saw a few games between the pipes, with limited results.
Combined the foursome of netminders registered a 35-37-10 record and were largely responsible for backstopping the Maple Leafs to an awful 29th ranked goals against.
Early reports on Reimer suggest he is injury free and ready to go for the upcoming season. While he regrets his performance last season, Reimer looks to be ready to go once training camp rolls around while putting last season behind him.
“What people say is neither here nor there,” Reimer said in a recent article in the Toronto Sun. “I could have played better, but the injury happened. I’ve cleared up a lot of things and the neck has not hindered me at all.”
More importantly, Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke gave Reimer a vote of confidence by stating Reimer was “in unbelievable shape, the real deal and made it clear he’s not handing that net to anybody.”
While we respect Reimer’s health report and it is hard to argue with the big burly Irishman, many fans are still concerned and with the Hockey News crediting Reimer with just 13 wins for the upcoming season in their recent Ultimate Fantasy Pool Guide, it would appear as if the hockey experts are leaning more to the “show me” state rather than awarding Reimer the benefit of the doubt where his health and performance are concerned.
Next in line to take over the starting goaltender duties looks to be Calder Cup Playoff standout Ben Scrivens, but with the Hockey News picking him for just 15 wins next season it appears as if there are doubts where Scrivens’ skill are concerned as well.
There have been plenty of trade rumors suggesting Vancouver Canucks goaltender Roberto Luongo or Los Angeles Kings netminder Jonathan Bernier coming to Toronto but neither trade has materialized, which means (at this point anyways) Reimer and Scrivens will likely be the last line of defense for Toronto.
With Luongo and Bernier still a pipe dream, perhaps the Maple Leafs should look to stack their deck with a reclamation project?
Much like Reimer, Steve Mason burst onto the NHL scene in 2008-09, backstopping the Columbus Blue Jackets to a 33-20-7 record in 61 games played while posting a tidy 2.29 goals against average, .916 save percentage and ten shutouts.
Mason followed that season up with a 20-26-9 record in 58 games played, falling well short of expectations. Most of the critics pointed to the sophomore curse as the main reason for Mason’s fall from grace, giving him a mulligan in 2009-10.
Unfortunately, the next season was not much better for Mason as he struggled once again, posting a 24-21-7 record in 54 games played.
With a cloud of doubt surrounding his future Mason came into the 2011-12 season with something to prove. Sadly, the Blue Jackets started the season off terribly when off-season acquisition Jeff Carter went down with an injury. For his part Mason struggled to find his way en route to a horrific 16-26-3 record to go along with a bloated 3.39 goals against average and an ugly .894 save percentage.
Mason’s poor play and a movement towards change saw the Blue Jackets trade for goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky this summer from the Philadelphia Flyers. While the move got it’s fair share of good and bad reviews there is every reason to believe that Bobrovsky and not Mason will get the nod as the Blue Jackets number one goaltender next season.
Columbus was also said to be close to signing former Maple Leaf Jonas Gustavsson as a backup before he was signed by the Detroit Red Wings—the team we said Gustavsson would sign with in an earlier article on this site!
With Bobrovsky in place and the Blue Jackets clearly seeking additional options between the pipes perhaps Burke could land Mason on the cheap?
Now don’t get me wrong, nobody is suggesting Mason (just 24-years of age) could step into the Maple Leafs lineup and be the number one goalie, but with his great size (6’4”, 217 pounds) and athletic ability perhaps Maple Leafs goaltending coach Francois Allaire could work some magic with Mason the way he has improved both Reimer and Scrivens?
With Burke prepared to go with Reimer and Scrivens to start the 2012-13 season Mason could be sent to the Maple Leafs AHL affiliate where he could play heavy minutes with the Toronto Marlies and develop his game.
Sound far fetched? Maybe, but with Burke quickly running out of options it might be worth it to roll the dice on a player who was the talk of the NHL just a few seasons ago.
Besides, playing behind Columbus’ defense is enough to kill any goaltender. Perhaps a change in scenery with a team that will likely make defense a priority would be the perfect mix of circumstances to bring Mason back from the dead?
Mason has one-year left on his one-way contract at a cap hit of $2.9 million ($2.6 million salary) before he becomes a restricted free agent next summer.
While the new owners of the Maple Leafs may not want to see $2.6 million used to gamble on a goaltender it says here it would be worth the risk. After all, the Maple Leafs have more money than they know what to do with and with the Blue and White currently sitting with $9,046,667 in cap space left (according to capgeek.com) Burke has plenty of room to absorb Mason’s contract should he get called up to the big club.
Mason needs a fresh start and a change in scenery wouldn’t hurt, so why not make it happen Mr. Burke?
Until next time,