How To Fix Steve Mason

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Steve Mason battles the Calgary Flames. Photo courtesy of the Metro Winnipeg

One of the most difficult feelings in life is when you lose confidence in your abilities. Sometimes, things don’t work out as we planned and suddenly we start second guessing ourselves. We all go through that from time to time.

So what happens when you’re a professional athlete who once showed great promise, but lately your “game” has been more like “shame?”

Welcome to Steve Mason’s world.

On July 1, 2017, as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Flyers, Mason signed a two-year deal with the Winnipeg Jets worth $8.2 million. So far, not so good.

Mason has begun his Jets career with a not so stellar 0-3-1 record with a .872 save percentage and a whopping 4.84 goals against average.

I don’t mean to brag, but I’m pretty sure the Jets could pay me a lot less to post similar numbers.

So now what for Mason?

He was brought in by the Jets to be that stop-gap guy. With the Ondřej Pavelec reign of error finally coming to an end, Mason was signed to be the guy to hold the fort down while Connor Hellebuyck developed his own game before he could take over as the full-time Jets net minder.

Plans changed apparently.

Hellebuyck quickly took over from Mason and has started 7-0-1 with a .938 SV% and a 1.92GAA.

That wasn’t the plan.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great for Hellebuyck, it’s great for Jet fans and it’s even better for the Jets organization of course.

But where does that leave Mason in this picture?

Going back to the start in 2009, all started well enough. A draft pick of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Mason was a rookie phenom. In fact his first ever career shutout was against the same organization he now plays for, but when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.

And he won the Calder that season as well as being a Vezina finalist, posting ten shut outs along the way. It was as good as it gets for a rookie goalie.

But after that, he was never able to duplicate that play.

Mason would see his GAA and save percentage rise through the seasons. And his stop with the Philadelphia Flyers did nothing to boost his confidence.
So the Jets, in desperate need for some veteran goaltending help, took a chance on Mason.

Winnipeg was coming off a season of red light hell. The combination of Hellebuyck (GAA 3.34), Pavlec (GAA 4.09) and Michael Hutchinson (GAA 3.40) just wasn’t getting the job done and the Jets would miss the playoffs once again.

The Jets knew Hellebuyck was still their future. And he would end up putting in a ton of offseason work. A new goalie coach, a new diet, a new attitude towards the game and Helly has stared this season looking like the future.

Meanwhile, Hutchinson, demoted to the Manitoba Moose, has become trade banter.

So sorry Winnipeg, you’re stuck with Mason.

Now we have to assume Mason becomes a rather expensive back-up. At least in the meantime.

The question becomes, how to get the best out of Mason again?

It’s no secret confidence in goalies is massive. It’s not just the trust they need to have with the defense in front of them, but the confidence in their own abilities.
Goalies are on an island. They spend the better part of games on their own with nothing but their own thoughts.

Sure they train hard. They watch a ton of film. They watch the tendencies of shooters from all over the league.

But in the end, their job is to simply stop the pick from going over that red line.

So let’s start simple with Mason. Looking at the November schedule for the Jets, there’s some games where I would not start Mason and some I’d be more tempted to.

DON’T START MASON – November 16th, home to Philadelphia. Sure, you’re thinking why not? It’s his old team. Mason has a whopping one victory career wise vs. the Flyers. And that came in his amazing rookie season. Avoid that one.

DON’T START MASON – November 18th, home to the New Jersey Devils. Mason, if you can believe this, has NEVER beaten the Devils. And now is not the time to try either.

START MASON – November 20th at Nashville. Mason has eight career wins vs. The Preds. Not bad for a team that was out of his conference until now.

START MASON – November 27th, home to the Minnesota Wild. See above, eight career wins.

And a few other potential hot starts for Mason include:

Colorado Avalanche and Edmonton Oilers. Nine career wins vs. both those teams. And again, they have been both out of conference teams for him up until this season.

The New York Islanders and Florida Panthers. Ten career wins against both of them.

But the start of all starts for Mason is against the Detroit Red Wings, who the Jets will visit December 5th. Mason absolutely owns them. 12 career wins against the Red Wings. About as must start for him as it gets.

So there’s some confidence building games ahead that can potentially help Mason out.

As far as Jets coach Paul Maurice goes, I know he’s a smart guy. I know he pays attention to stats. So here’s some free advice; Mason was off to a great start in his career. But a lousy Columbus team at the time, didn’t give him any help.

The Flyers fed him to the wolves. He got beaten up pretty badly in Philly.

Now he’s with a good young core of guys in Winnipeg. The defence has it’s ups and downs still, but there’s still hope there too.

So spoon feed Mason the games that will help elevate him.

The Jets need this as much as he does.

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