The Blues have employed Chris Mason as their starting goaltender for the last two seasons. In that time he has had his ups and his downs. He has been shut-down studly and he has been soft goal prone. He is now a man on the verge of unrestricted free agency. Come July 1, Chris Mason is free to sign with any NHL team that wants him as much as he wants to join them. But despite that freedom, he says he wants to stay in St. Louis and come back as the starting netminder.
I say, "No thank you, sir."
In an article published under the headline "Mason hopes to return, cites consistency" in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch Monday, Mason said what the headline mentions, plus a few other interesting tidbits. First off, my kudos to the headline writer; when I read that consistency part I nearly shnarfled my orange juice and realized I had no choice but to read the rest of the article. Besides his consistently allowing soft goals I could not imagine what Mason could be alluding to in his citing.
The first paragraph is a beautifully crafted Jeremy Rutherford dance on the line, as he allows Mason to make his case quickly without agreeing with the bearded one and without alluding to the obvious flawed logic being used. Rutherford is a true journalist and his walking of the tightrope here is a great example of objective reporting. It's also a perfect example of why I'd be a truly horrible journalist.
Other than a "tough month of December," Blues goaltender Chris Mason believes that he turned in a steady season in 2009-10 and that combining his two-year totals with the team, he is a No. 1 netminder in the NHL.
Uh, great point Mason. Your two-year totals would be excellent for a No. 1 netminder in the NHL. In two years you posted 57 wins, which would be an NHL record... for one season. However, your 30 wins last year qualify you for the 237th best total in the history of the NHL. I think maybe I don't need to mention where this year's 27 wins put you.
As for the 'tough December', thanks for taking a smidgeon of blame for a Decemeber where the Blues went 7-7-1. What about the tough October (the Blues went 5-6-1), tough November (5-4-4), tough January (7-5-3) and tough February (4-3-0)? Were any of those months less than tough? In fact, through that tough February, the Blues were 19-16-8 when Mason started, which translates to 19 wins and 24 games lost when our man who believes he is a No. 1 started the game. Forty-six points out of a possible 86 points in his starts?
Does anyone believe that's what a No. 1 goaltender looks like?
Mason went on to state that,
"Statistically, I'm almost exactly the same as I was last year," Mason said. "I think the fact that last year was my biggest workload, and I exceeded that this year, that proved that I can definitely do it more than just one year, which is what (the Blues) wanted to see."
Is that what the Blues want to see? That a guy can play in 61 games in a season after playing in 57 the year before? Because if that's truly what management cares about, I want a do-over on the season-ticket holder town hall meeting I skipped this year, because I now have a question. In what league has games played ever translated into successful goaltending? Sure the Blues over-used Grant Fuhr in net and the Devils have seemingly never even needed a backup goalie since Martin Brodeur came to town, but for the most part, starting netminders always start between 50 and 60 games a season.
You have the logic wrong here, Mason. You're not an NHL starter because you can start 61 games, it's that NHL teams expect starters to play in that many games. Your ability to stop the puck and win games are what would qualify you as an NHL starter and that, hopefully, is what the Blues wanted to see.
Rutherford then breaks out Mason's St. Louis resume, stating,
In 118 games with the Blues over those two seasons, Mason is a combined 57-43-15 with a 2.47 GAA and a .915 save percentage. His back-to-back seasons of at least 27 wins are the first for the organization since Grant Fuhr won 33 and 29 games in 1996-97 and 1997-98, respectively.
As mentioned, those 57 wins aren't exactly an earth-shattering total when looked at by season and if the NHL's gimmick point were actually counted as the loss that it is, Mason's two-year record is 57-58.
As for the assertion that those goal totals are the first time since Fuhr, well it's not that hard to do when we look at the list of men who have started in net for the Blues since Fuhr's 1998 season:
1999 Starter: Roman Turek (42 wins)
2000 Starter: Roman Turek (24 wins)
2001 Starter: Brent Johnson (34 wins)
2002 Starter: Brent Johnson (16 wins)
2003 Starter: Chris Osgood (31 wins)
2005 Starter: Curtis Sanford (13 wins) / Patrick Lalime (4 wins)
2006 Starter: Manny Legace (23 wins)
2007 Starter: Manny Legace (27 wins)
Aside from the obvious conclusion that the Blues' goaltending has been a sad-sack group over the last decade, Turek actually won more games over two years than Mason. Additionally, both Johnson and Legace neared Mason's win total with 50 wins each in fewer games played than Mason's 118 with 111 for Legace and 96 for Johnson in the two seasons each would be considered the starter for the majority of the season.
Rutherford then lets us in on a little back room information with,
The two sides had preliminary talks on a contract extension earlier this season, including one offer that wasn't given much consideration by Mason's camp, but then the Blues decided to wait until after the season before meeting again.
This may give Mason pause, but it gives me confidence. Clearly I'm not the only person sitting in the building who sees that Mason is good for at least one back-breaking soft goal per game. Sure he has made some unbelievable saves, that I'm happy to admit. He has stopped shots that he had no business stopping. He's gloved shots that he must have grabbed just by feel, because there's no way he saw them. And I have jumped up and cheered for him, just like everyone else.
But it's the soft goals that hurt. The overtime game-winner/series-winner last April against the Canucks that sent us all home. The weird ones that go five hole or dribble past him or hit him and still roll in. If this was baseball, I guarantee there would be an obscure stat somewhere tracking soft goals and I'd bet that Mason would be near the top of the list for "starting" netminders.
We've all asked all season long why the Blues try to sit on third period goals. Why they start dumping the puck out and clogging the defensive blueline and collapsing down low too often, making the other team look like they're on a power play.
Wanna hear my theory? It's the soft goals. The team can tell the media all they want about how great Mason was when they win, but I guarantee it's in their heads that he is prone to the soft goals every game.
Blues interim coach Davis Payne, whose future is on the table as well, seems supportive of Mason's return. He said Mason's production under a heavy workload was reflective of a starting netminder. But in Payne's mind, that might not be the No. 1 reason to bring Mason back.
Perhaps recalling Mason's critical assessment of the Blues' 3-2 loss to Nashville on April 1, when he questioned the poor performance of some teammates, Payne said: "Everybody wants guys who are committed to doing the right things and pushing themselves and their teammates every single day."
Well, while I hope that Payne is brought back next year as the head coach, I can't say that I agree with him on Mason. As for the coach's assessment of Mason's ability in goal, I find it strange that there is no mention of his skills as a goaltender. Instead, the coach says his workload is "reflective of a starting netminder" that he approves of Mason calling out his teammates' effort after a loss.
On the first point, well, yeah, Coach. But a starting netminder is... supposed to... start... a lot... of games. That's why he's called the starting netminder. As for the second point, I like a stand-up guy in the locker room too. The problem is that you cannot stake a spot for a goalie because he's willing to call out his teammates. You can stake out a position for a leadership guy on one of the forward positions. If his skills aren't as good as his motivational speeches and his 'hold everyone accountable' attitude, you can play him on the fourth line and limit your vulnerability.
Goalies are there for one purpose only: stop the puck. If he happens to be a leader too, that's a bonus. But in my mind being able to play a lot of games and being unafraid of bitching about his teammates to the media do not mean a guy should be your starting goalie.
As for management, team president John Davidson was quoted as saying,
"We know him," Davidson said. "We know how hard he works in practice. We know how much he appreciates the opportunity to play. We'll let the dust settle and then get down to business and see what we want to do."
Again, Davidson makes no mention of Mason's goaltending abilities, falling back on his hard work and his desire to be the starting goaltender. I find this reassuring. Clearly the president's decision to let dust settle before they decide what to do means that management will likely weigh their options and the likelihood of being able to land a true No. 1 goaltender via trade with another team.
Chris Mason was signed to be a backup netminder and push Manny Legace. He did both, eventually cracking Legace's glasslike confidence and pushing himself into the starting position. He has had great games and great stretches here in St. Louis. He's made great saves and has made us all consider growing weird beards. But the fact of the matter is that Mason is just another in a long line of solid backup netminders who have been pressed into service in St. Louis as starters.
Mason talks about his consistency, but I think that's actually his biggest downfall. He doesn't consistently make the easy saves and then make the unexpected incredible saves. Instead he makes the unexpected incredible saves and then allows the all too predictable soft goal on what should be an easy save. That's like the definition of a backup goaltender: a man who can play well most of the time, pull off the odd incredible save and yet is prone to giving up goals on routine shots. Your backup should win games he is supposed to win and shouldn't be expected to steal many games for you. That is Chris Mason.
I appreciate his desire to stay in St. Louis. I appreciate his work ethic. I appreciate his drive to win that causes him to call out teammates in the media. I appreciate his dedication to the Blues.
I just don't think he's the right answer to be the starter here anymore. He doesn't have the game-stealing skills to win games the team shouldn't win and his propensity for soft goals shakes the team's confidence. If Ty Conklin weren't under contract and Mason were willing to accept the pay and responsibility of a backup again, I'd be looking for the team to go after a legitimate, younger goalie and to re-sign Mason to be the foundation behind him.
As it stands, Mason will want too much money and too much responsibility to come back here. And I just want too much more real consistency and much fewer soft goals to want him back.