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Blue Jackets want to start Steve Mason but there’s one issue: they need to win

Dec 18, 2010, 9:23 PM EST

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When it comes to goalies, sometimes you need to dig deeper to find the truth.

Many people thought that they were witnessing a future star in the making during Steve Mason’s rookie season, a campaign that included a Calder Trophy win and a Vezina Trophy nomination. Yet the Contrarian Goaltender deftly pointed out that it’s possible he coasted off of a “magical” month in December 2008 and “flat-lined” ever since.

While many in the hockey world called Mason’s struggles a sophomore slump, the CG’s observations indicate a scary possibility backed up by another more-down-than-up 2010-11 season so far. Could it be that the “real” Mason is the struggling netminder we’ve seen the past two years?

Aside from a brief glimmer of hope during the Blue Jackets’ nice late October to late November run, things just haven’t been working out for Mason. After going 33-20-7 with a 91.4 save percentage, 2.29 GAA and 10 shutouts in his rookie year, look at his past two seasons:

2009-10: 20-26-9 with a 90.1 save percentage, 3.06 GAA and five shutouts.

2010-11 as of December 18: 9-9-1 with a 90.1 save percentage, 90.1 save percentage, 3.29 GAA and one shutout.

Mason’s on-ice performance hasn’t given Columbus much of a bright side to look on, but the team made the questionable decision to sign him to a contract extension during the off-season. Pointing to the fact that he’s still really young at only 22 years old, the Blue Jackets have reason to believe that Mason might be able to work his way out of it.

That being said, there is more than a hint of desperation in their voices, as they discussed his issues with the Columbus Post-Dispatch.

The Blue Jackets are exasperated by goaltender Steve Mason. An urgent need to win games is butting heads with the belief that Mason can still be a franchise goaltender.

The situation, which lingered for the first 60 games of last season during Mason’s stunning sophomore slump, has returned with gusto now that Mason has been pulled in three of his past four starts.

The topper was a 6-3 loss Thursday at Edmonton, in which coach Scott Arniel considered pulling Mason after a horrible first period, only to send him back for more struggles in the second.

“We’ve got 50 more games to play, and sooner or later the kid’s got to find a way to battle himself out of this,” Arniel said. “He’s in his own head right now. He’s probably his own worst enemy.”

Then again, maybe the wishful thinking in Columbus is their worst enemy. After all, it’s hard to ignore the parallels between Mason and the most recent Blue Jackets franchise-goalie-in-the-making, Pascal Leclaire.

While Leclaire didn’t explode as a rookie, he also had an out-of-nowhere career year playing under Ken Hitchcock’s gaze. During the 2007-08 season, Leclaire earned nine shutouts, posted a nice 91.9 save percentage and a 2.25 GAA. After that breakthrough season, Leclaire fell apart and was eventually traded to Ottawa.

The Blue Jackets don’t want to start Mathieu Garon most nights, but the journeyman backup is outplaying Mason to a startling degree. Columbus isn’t the type of team that can patiently tread water while they hope against hope that their supposed franchise guy “figures it out.”

When Columbus signed Mason to that extension, I compared it to the Montreal Canadiens going out on a limb with Carey Price. While Price is proving people wrong under the spotlight in Montreal, Mason is making the BJs brass very worried.

Is it time to give up on Mason? Well, with that contract extension, it’s likely that Columbus doesn’t really have that option.

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