It was about as bad a first season in Winnipeg as it could have been for goaltender Steve Mason. After signing a two-year deal with the Jets last summer that carried the presumption that he would at least share the starting job, injuries and poor play plagued the veteran net minder all season. The lone bright spot for Mason – he still made his $4.1MM. Many have speculated – now that Vezina Trophy candidate Connor Hellebuyck has more than solidified his position as the starter moving forward – that Mason could be cut by the Jets this off-season to avoid another hefty cap hit next year. However, speaking with the media today, Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff stated that he did not anticipate going the buyout route with his experienced albeit overpaid backup (video). Instead, Cheveldayoff spoke to Mason’s ability and integrity and his desire to have a capable backup next season.
Mason, who will be 30 next season, joined the Jets last summer after parts of five seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers during which he struggled to transcend to that elite, true #1 goaltender level. Nevertheless, Winnipeg handed the 2009 Calder Trophy winner an $8.2MM contract that was immediately panned. Unfortunately for the Jets, the critics proved to be right. Admittedly, Mason struggled with several injuries – including multiple concussions – during the year, however when he did play the results were underwhelming. Mason finished the season with a .906 save percentage and 3.24 GAA in a career-low 13 appearances. It was easily his worst performance since his later seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets and paved the way for Hellebuyck to take over full control of the starter’s job, as he dominated starts even when Mason was healthy.
Yet, a buyout of Mason’s final season – while understandable on a results basis – would not make much of a difference to Winnipeg. Yes, the team would save over $2.7MM next year, but would incur a penalty of around $1.4MM the following year. For a team that doesn’t struggle with salary cap compliance, those savings mean relatively little. Without Mason and with Michael Hutchinson headed for unrestricted free agency, the Jets would then be forced to find an experienced backup this off-season anyway. While it may not be popular among fans who were disappointed by his first season, if Cheveldayoff does retain Mason this off-season, there are plenty of reasons why it makes sense for the Jets.