Tag:Steve Mason
Posted on: October 25, 2011 9:48 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 9:50 pm
 

Columbus' surprising first victory

By: Adam Gretz

At some point, the Columbus Blue Jackets miserable start to the season was going to end. But did you expect it to end against the Detroit Red Wings? Probably not.

Riding an 0-7-1 streak into Tuesday's game against their divisional rivals, and less than a week removed from letting what could have been their first win of the season slip away in the final 30 seconds of a 4-3 loss to the Ottawa Senators, the Blue Jackets finally found their way into the win column with a surprising, hard-fought 4-1 win over the Red Wings.

Everything that had gone wrong over the first eight games finally started to go right on Tuesday.

For one, defenseman James Wisniewski made his Blue Jackets regular season debut after sitting out the first eight games of the regular season due to a suspension, and logged a team-high 27 minutes. He finished as a plus-one, recorded a shot on goal and blocked four shots. Goaltender Steve Mason, who has had a disastrous start to the season, played well and stopped 30 of the 31 shots he faced, even though he had to briefly leave the game in the first period due to an apparent injury. Columbus even managed to get some offensive production from a pair of their recent first-round draft picks as Ryan Johansen and John Moore tallied their first NHL goals.

Johansen, whose goal proved to be the game-winner, played a bouncing puck off the end boards and fired a puck from behind the goal line off the back of Red Wings goaltender Ty Conklin during a power play mid-way through the first period. Moore added his first late in the second when he blasted a shot from the blue through traffic.

The win comes on the same day Blue Jackets general manager, Scott Howson, penned an article on the team's official website talking about how the start to the season was like a punch to the gut. His players responded on Tuesday night with a spirited effort and impressive win over one of the best teams in the NHL.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 18, 2011 10:54 pm
Edited on: October 18, 2011 11:05 pm
 

Jamie Benn adds to Columbus' struggles

By: Adam Gretz

If we've established anything this week it's that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in trouble. A lot of trouble. And things aren't getting any better with the injury to Jeff Carter. What has been the worst start in franchise history continued to get worse on Tuesday night thanks to a 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars, which was played in front of just 9,158 people at Nationwide Arena.

They managed to generate a lot of shots, out-shooting the Stars by a 40-18 margin, but it still wasn't enough as Steve Mason once against struggled in net and the Blue Jackets couldn't find a way to break through on Dallas goaltender Kari Lehtonen. If there is one play that can sum up the Columbus season to this point, it's probably this highlight reel goal from Stars forward Jamie Benn early in the third period.

It was a fantastic effort from the young power forward as he managed to skate through four Columbus players, somehow maintain possession of the puck, and find a way to fire off a wicked shot to beat Mason.



The loss drops Columbus to 0-5-1 on the young season, the worst mark in the NHL.

How bad does it look for the Blue Jackets right now? During its loss on Tuesday retired NHL player Mike Modano took to his Twitter account and asked All-Star forward Rick Nash, one of the four players that Benn managed to beat on the above goal, to ask for a trade out of Columbus.

Yeah, that's probably not going to happen. Hopefully.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.


Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Jumping to conclusions and the early NHL season

CBJ1

By: Adam Gretz

We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.

What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?

Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?

In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .

1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets

Our Conclusion: Too soon

A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.

But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.

For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its  dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.

2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy

Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon

When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.

Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.

Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.

3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender

Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate

The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.

They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.

With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior

Our Conclusion: Too Soon

The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.

I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.

It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.

5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger

Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.

New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 28, 2011 1:48 pm
Edited on: September 28, 2011 4:15 pm
 

Central Division Preview: 'Hawks, Wings battle on

By Brian Stubits

Enjoy this while you can, there's no telling what the Central will look like next season.

One of the premier rivalries in the sport is the Blackhawks vs. the Red Wings. The only two Original Six teams in the West, they have long been fierce combatants. In recent years the Blackhawks have awoken from the doldrums, making this a great series once again.

But this could be it, especially if Detroit has its way. Realignment is coming to the NHL, that much is guaranteed after Atlanta moved to Winnipeg. The Red Wings organization has made it no secret it wants to move East, rivalry with Chicago be damned. Columbus and Nashville would both welcome a move East as well. Something's gotta give, and it will be the Central Division.

It's too bad. Because this year the division is set up to be about more than just these two powers.

Nashville is always sneaky good. People seem to sleep on the Predators every season, but you know they will be there. They are looking to build off the first postseason series win in franchise history with their three Stars in contract seasons. St. Louis seems to think its Blues are ready to make a leap, so long as they can stay healthy. That was a challenge last season. And Columbus? Well there is at least optimism for the first time in a while and some buzz around the team after the addition of Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski to join Rick Nash.

But as many strides as those teams have and are taking, in the end it will likely still be about the two powerhouses. That's because the Blackhawks are back. They suffered a little last year after winning the Stanley Cup as they had to shed a lot of salary. That meant jettisoning a good chunk of the team that won the Cup. But the core remained together and the team found its groove in the end, pushing the Canucks to the brink in the first round. But after an offseason of reinforcing the roster, Chicago figures to be in the thick until the end.

And Detroit? The Red Wings are ... well they're just the Wings. It's hard to imagine them not being good. Although this year they don't seem to be as loaded as usual, those are some pretty lofty standards. They will still be a threat not only for the division title but in the Western Conference, they can flat out score. That much we know.

So if this is it as division rivals, it should be fun.

Central Division (in predicted order of finish)

PenguinsChicago Blackhawks: Ah, it's nice to be out of salary cap hell, isn't it Chicago? After having to do major salary shedding, the Blackhawks still come out with a cast of characters that includes the names Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa, Patrick Sharp and newcomer Andrew Brunette. Throw in Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers to give the team some nastiness power and the forwards are well-rounded.

On defense they will miss Brian Campbell, just not his salary. Sure, he is overpaid, but that doesn't mean he didn't bring anything to the table for the 'Hawks. But the defensive corps is still solid, led by Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Expectations are very high in Chicago once again.

Strenghts: It's tough to find a better pair of linemates than Toews and Kane. They are both still stepping into their primes, so they have a lot more to show. Those two are also part of the reason why the power play should once again be successful. Last season the unit ranked fourth in the NHL with the man up, led by Sharp's 12 goals on the power play.

They figure to be better at killing penalties thanks to the additions of Mayers, Steve Montador and Sean O'Donnell, an area where Chicago struggled last season.

Weaknesses: Depth at center is a major concern at this point. The team has been experimenting during camp with Patrick Kane, of all players, manning the center position. Maybe it's an indictment on the centers on the roster. Perhaps it's an indication of Patrick Sharp's health (or lack thereof). Whatever the reason, it's slightly concerning.

I would also be a little worried about the backup goaltender situation behind Corey Crawford. Alexander Salak is going to have the job and he might be more than adequate in the role, we just don't know much about him at the NHL level where he has little experience.

PenguinsDetroit Red Wings: The Wings are remarkably consistent as they have made the playoffs in each of the past 20 seasons. They also stay consistent in their roster, retaining a lot of their players over time. Case in point, this year's forward group. The Wings will trot out mostly all the same forwards as a year ago for when they finished second in the NHL in scoring.

But the defensive corps received quite a shakeup after last season's 2.89 goals against average, the retirement of Brian Rafalski and loss of Ruslan Salei.

In net they have Jimmy Howard with Ty Conklin backing him up. You have to wonder how much confidence Ken Holland and Mike Babcock have in their starter Howard, though, after the team had a failed pursuit of Tomas Vokoun.

Strengths: As mentioned, the Red Wings can score, almost all of them. Last season there were 13 players that recorded double digits in goals scored, led by Johan Franzen's 28. There is certainly loads of experience in Detroit, too. These guys aren't in their first rodeos. That especially includes defensive stalwart Nicklas Lidstrom, who put of retirement for another year on the ice.

Having the leadership that players like Lidstrom can provide certainly doesn't hurt. Also, you might have heard this Babcock fellow on their bench isn't so bad.

Weaknesses: Defense, defense, defense. That is the major concern/question mark here. They revamped the D, bringing in Mike Commodore and Ian White through free agency. Young defenseman Jonathan Ericsson received a pretty lucrative new deal, so he will be expected to improve.

In the defensive vein, the goaltending will also need to get better. Of course, that goes hand in hand with the defense, but Howard has room to improve. Playing for the Wings, his record was solid -- a nice 37-17-5 mark -- but the goals against average of 2.79 (36th out of 47 eligible goalies) and save percentage of .908 (33rd best) aren't worth writing home about.

PenguinsNashville Predators: Hope is high in Smashville coming off the best showing in franchise history, making it to conference semifinals. The Predators have more or less become the NHL's version of a Moneyball team, continuing to cultivate home-grown talent and win on the cheap.

The team is led by the high-profile trio of goalie Pekka Rinne (Vezina finalist) and defensemen Shea Weber (Norris finalist) and Ryan Suter, who are all going into contract seasons. It will be interesting to see how that plays out for each of them. For some players, it's a major distraction, for others it brings out the best playing for a new deal.

If there's anything we've learned about the Predators in recent years it's not to count them out, at least as long as Barry Trotz is on the bench. Maybe this will be the year he finally wins the Jack Adams as the best coach?

Strengths: The Preds have one of the best defenses in all of hockey. That's due to a multitude of reasons stretching from Trotz's system and philosophy to the outstanding personnel on the blue line -- which might get stronger with the addition of heralded prospect Ryan Ellis -- and the elite goaltending of Rinne. All in all, it led to the team posting the third-lowest GAA a season ago.

The farm system is also a strength, it usually is for Nashville. In addition to Ellis, they have forward Craig Smith, who drew rave reviews by scoring six goals in two games in the team's rookie tournament games.

Weaknesses: You would love to have somebody who is the clear-cut scorer on the team. Unfortunately, the Preds just don't score a lot, period, forget about one player. Only two players (Sergei Kostitsyn and Patric Hornqvist) topped the 20-goal mark with Kostitsyn pacing the team with 23. Perhaps a healthy Mike Fisher can help with that, at least that's the hope.

As you'd expect with low offensive numbers, the power play placed in the bottom five of the entire league a season ago. The leading power-play scorer was Martin Erat last season with seven.

PenguinsSt. Louis Blues: After coming out of the gate firing 9-1-2 last season, the Blues slowed down as the season wore along, eventually missing the playoffs by 10 points partly because the team dealt with a rash of injuries. Despite that finish, there is positive momentum going in St. Louis and the ownership sees it. That's why they left the young core of the team pretty much untouched this offseason, just electing to bring in a couple of savvy veterans in Jamie Langenbrunner and Jason Arnott to make an impact.

You can see the potential here, especially with another year under their belts. It will be interesting to see how they fare over a full season with Chris Stewert, who they acquired midseason from Colorado last year. After getting the forward, the Blues' offense saw a big uptick in scoring, eventually finishing 10th in the league.

Defensively they came in just below the median at 18th in the league. The Blues should be in the playoff picture all season long.

Strengths: There is a good amount of individual talent here, starting with Stewart and new captain David Backes. In all, they had six players last season score 20 goals or more and one of them, Andy McDonald, reached that plateau in just 58 games. With the abundance of talented and skilled skaters this is a team with plenty of speed up and down the lineup.

You also have to like the young defensive corps that has two stars in the making with Alex Pietrangelo and Kevin Shattenkirk, who each had 43 points from the back end a season ago.

Weaknesses: We weren't entirely sure where to put goaltending in this equation since Jaroslav Halak had some struggles in his first season as a No. 1 goaltender. However he showed what he's capable of when he was with the Canadiens. But based on his just average numbers of a season ago and the unsure situation behind him (Ben Bishop vs. Brian Elliott), we'll put this as our best guess.

Another area where the Blues are lacking is in the physicality department. You wonder where exactly the toughness will come from.

PenguinsColumbus Blue Jackets: What is that coming from Columbus? Is that hope? Why yes, I think it is. GM Scott Howson was active this summer by bringing in Wisniewski and Carter along with Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek on the blue line. In addition to signing new players, Howson was also busy in signing his current players to long-term deals, specifically R.J. Umberger and Fedor Tyutin.

Yes, the Jackets are spending money, that's not the problem. What is is the matter of how bang for the buck they are getting. To put it in perspective, the Jackets currently have a higher payroll than the Boston Bruins. The hope is that it translates into success, and a few more fans at the turnstiles as Columbus was 27th in the league in attendance last season.

Strenghts: They have struggled to score recently, but that should be done with, or at least minimized. They have a true No. 1 center now in Carter, which should only further help Nash show he is one of the best players people don't talk about in the NHL. The power play, perhaps Columbus' biggest bug-a-boo in recent seasons, should be significantly better now that they have a quarterback for the unit in Wisniewski (when he's back from suspension) and two very capable scorers up front. It had to get better from last year's 29th-ranked unit.

Weaknesses: Did somebody say goaltending? This is one area where the Blue Jackets didn't do a whole lot of upgrading. Instead, they elected to give the starting reins back to Steve Mason and signing the inexperienced Mark Dekanich to be his backup. Since winning the Calder as the league's top rookie, Mason has struggled. Last season he had a 3.01 goals against average and .901 save percentage. That's a big reason why the Jackets were 26th in scoring in the league.

And while Wisniewski helps, there still isn't much scoring threat from the blue line. Tyutin led Columbus in scoring among defensemen with just 27 points.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 6, 2011 7:41 pm
Edited on: September 6, 2011 7:41 pm
 

Marty Turco not ready to retire



By: Adam Gretz

Training camps are set to begin next week and Marty Turco is still without a team. I wrote about Turco's situation, as well as a few other veteran goaltenders that were still looking for work, back in July and wondered where (or if) players like him could still fit in, seeing as how nearly every team in the league appeared to be set in the crease.

Now that we're into September, not much has changed, and Turco is still searching for a club.

To this point we haven't really heard much about Turco's plans, whether he intends to keep playing or if he will simply call it a career and announce his retirement. That changed on Tuesday when he spoke to Jesse Rogers of ESPN Chicago and confirmed that he still wants to, and thinks he still can, play in the NHL this season, and isn't quite ready to move into the broadcasting booth or any other post-hockey endeavor.

From Rogers:
Turco's hopes probably reside on a training camp injury or underwhelming performance either by a rookie or other veteran. "I want to play some more," Turco said. "I still think I can play in this league. I'm not ready for plans after hockey just yet."
And that's probably what it's going to take -- an injury or underwhelming performance by a goaltender that's considered a question mark headed into the season. Every team in the NHL has at least two goaltenders signed to an NHL contract for the upcoming season, and in recent weeks veterans like Ray Emery (Chicago) and Manny Legace (Vancouver) have accepted tryout contracts with no guarantees, and in the case of Legace, a seemingly slim chance of sticking with the NHL club.

Turco signed with the Chicago Blackhawks late last summer after the club walked away from Antti Niemi's arbitration ruling. He opened the season as the starter, struggled, and appeared in just 29 games, the second lowest number of his career (the lowest was his rookie season as a member of the Dallas Stars). By the middle of the season rookie Corey Crawford had taken over as the No. 1 goalie with the Blackhawks and not only held that spot through the playoffs, but also managed to get a three-year contract extension as a result of his promising play.

The one team that might stand out as a possible destination for Turco -- and this is nothing more than a guess at this point -- is the Columbus Blue Jackets. Steve Mason is entering his fourth season in the NHL and has regressed a bit from his standout rookie season, while the only player behind him on the NHL roster is 25-year-old Mark Dekanich, a minor league standout in the Nashville Predators organization that has appeared in just one NHL game. If things go poorly with that situation a player like Turco might be an option as a stop-gap.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.


Posted on: August 30, 2011 7:10 pm
Edited on: August 30, 2011 8:51 pm
 

Mike Smith and the Wile E. Coyote

By: Adam Gretz

A couple of weeks ago we had an opportunity to speak with Steve Mason of the Columbus Blue Jackets about the rather frightening look his new mask will carry in 2011, illustrating just how unique these works of art can be. On Monday, the mask for new Phoenix Coyotes goaltender Mike Smith was revealed by the artist, David Arrigo, and it will feature, appropriately enough, the Looney Tunes character, Wile E. Coyote.

Have a look, via Arrigo's website, where you can check out multiple angles as well as his thoughts on the design.

SmithMask

Smith will be competing for the No. 1 job in Phoenix with Jason LaBarbera in an effort to replace Ilya Bryzgalov, and Arrigo adds that he will soon be revealing the art work for Labarbera's mask for the upcoming season, having designed it as well.

It's not the first time a Looney Tunes character has been featured on a goalie mask, as Patrick Lalime's mask always had a version of Marvin The Martian.

Photo: David Arrigo

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.



Posted on: August 22, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: August 22, 2011 10:37 am
 

Steve Mason talks mask, upcoming season

Mason1By: Adam Gretz

Steve Mason, goaltender for the Columbus Blue Jackets, introduced his new mask (pictured) to the world last month and, wow, it's something else.

The incredible piece of artwork features the skull from the 1987 movie Evil Dead II, as well as a few other grim images on the left side, including a skeleton dressed as a civil war soldier.

The 23-year-old goaltender is still one of the youngest players at his position in the NHL, and following a rookie season where he quickly burst on the scene, leading the league in shutouts, winning the Calder Trophy as rookie of the year and qualifying for the Vezina Trophy, he's had some struggles the past two seasons. That's not entirely uncommon for a goalie that young, especially one that's counted on to be the unquestioned No. 1 starter.

Mason, entering his fourth season in the NHL, and his teammates are facing a big season in Columbus after an exciting summer that saw the Blue Jackets acquire forward Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers and defenseman free agent James Wisniewski.

I had a chance to speak with Mason on Friday afternoon about the new artwork he'll be wearing this year, as well as the 2011-12 season.

Adam Gretz: I guess the first thing I want to ask you about is your new mask. I saw some pictures of it last month and, man, that thing is crazy. Can you tell us a little bit about what all is going on there because it kind of scared the hell out of me.

Steve Mason: (laughs) Yeah that's kind of the feeling I was going for. The past couple of years I've been with Columbus I've had kind of cartoony stuff on there and this year I wanted to go with a different look. Kind of realistic looking pictures and kind of a scary theme.

I conversed with David Gunnarsson on a couple of emails back and forth and a couple of different sketch designs. I told him I wanted something that would give the fans a different perspective as to what goalie helmets can be about. There's a couple of skulls on there, the guy with the Blue Jacket is on there, then on the other side you have a completely different look. It has the Blue Jackets logo but it's not just a plain old logo.  it kind of ties in with that scary theme.

Gretz: You mentioned you spoke with the artist on some things, I wanted to ask you about the process for how one of these things gets completed. Is it as simple as you going to the artist and giving him an idea as to what you want and letting him come up with the design? Or do they present you with certain ideas or themes?

Mason: Yeah, at the end of the day it's entirely up to the goaltender as to what he wants and they have pretty much free rein of their helmets, as long as it doesn't have anything derogatory on there, of course. For this season it was really all my doing, all the design thoughts and David was able to put it on a piece of paper and finally onto the helmet.

I told him what I wanted to see on the helmet, he sketched up a couple of things, and then I told him the things I liked, the things I'd like to see changed, and he put together a pretty good piece of work.

Gretz: Yes, he really did. It's very interesting. It's certainly different.

Mason: It is. It's unbelievable what he can do. I actually received it a few days ago. It was the first time I saw it in person, and it looks just as good as it did in the pictures. It's amazing what these artists can do today, taking life-like pictures wherever they come up with them in their mind and putting them on a goalie helmet. It's an incredible talent these guys have, and in my opinion David is probably the best.

Gretz: Let's talk some hockey. You're only entering your fourth year but for some reason it feels like you've been around a lot longer than that. You came on the scene so fast your rookie season, and it seemed like that set expectations really high going forward. I think sometimes it's easy to forget that you're still the youngest starting goaltender in the league, and if you look around the NHL, a lot of the guys that are starting weren't even in the NHL at this age. It Just seems like that's a position that takes plenty of time to develop and there's going to be some bumps early on. Your thoughts on that?

Mason: Yeah, absolutely, my first year was everything I could have asked for and more. I think a lot of those things came to me easier than they should have. It was one of those years where pucks just seemed to hit you, and if a guy had an open net he might have missed it.

I think I was 19 or turning 20 that year, so by far I was the youngest starting goalie in the league other than maybe Carey Price. It's something you have to relish and you can't take it for granted because it can be taken away from you pretty quick. For myself I just have to have the confidence to get back to that level. Obviously this is a big year for us, we made some big changes in the offseason.

Gretz: That first season, and even into your second season, you played under Ken Hitchcock who plays a pretty defensive system, and now you're playing under Scott Arniel, who seems to play a more up-tempo style; you guys seem to want to play with the puck, get in the other zone and all of that. How different is that for you as a goaltender?

Mason: Yeah, they're two different coaches. Ken has had a great career and I hope he gets another job soon, and with Arnie, it was obviously his first year and he was getting to know the players and they were getting to know him and his style.

They have two different systems in a lot of ways, but for a goaltender, at the end of the day your job is to stop the puck. For myself playing with Scott Arniel, his system might be a little more up-tempo where we want to control the puck more and hang on to it, where Ken's was more dump-and-chase. But again, for myself it really doesn't matter as I'm just focusing on the position and not really worrying about what's going on with the other guys.

Gretz: You mentioned the offseason changes a little bit ago. You guys brought in Jeff Carter, who along with Rick Nash gives you two of the top goal-scorers in the NHL over the past couple of years, and James Wisniewski, a guy that can bring some offense from the blue line. That added offense has to make a goaltender pretty excited for the upcoming season, yes?

Mason: Yeah it's something I'm really looking forward to. It was a huge offseason for the organization and I think (general manager) Scott Howson did an unbelievable job getting some guys that can help push us over the top and get a good playoff under our belts and keep going for our ultimate goal of winning the Stanley Cup.

I mean, with Jeff Carter you have a perennial 30-goal scorer, so for us to add that offense is going to be huge to help out Rick Nash and R.J. Umberger and Derick Brassard. So to have a guy like that coming in, a guy that's been to a Stanley Cup Final, that's going to be huge for us.

And obviously getting Wisniewski locked up for six years on the back end, a physical presence who has put up huge numbers the past couple of seasons, that's another big thing to do for our back end, and most importantly for myself to help clear rebounds and help clear guys out from in front of me. And he's played in Montreal, so he knows what it's like to play under pressure with high expectations and all that. So it was really nice to see the organization step up and go after some really sought-after players this offseason.

Gretz: There has to be some excitement for the fans, as well, because the best, and really one of the only ways, to build a strong fan base is to win, and those are the type of additions that can help make that happen.

Mason: Yeah, the fans are in 100 percent there in the city and the surrounding area. When we made the playoffs my first year the city really rallied itself around the organization. I think the fans have been more than patient. It's a fun spot to play and it's one of the nicest rinks in the league, and when they're filling up the building it's a loud place, has a great atmosphere, and when the team puts together a winning streak there's a definite buzz in the city, and we want to get in that spot more often than we've been.

Gretz: And just to finish up here real quick, I see you've recently joined Twitter and fans can find you at @1masey. How long have you been on there, and have you enjoyed the interaction with fans?

Mason: Yeah, the reason I got it was actually for the free agency signing period. I wasn't going be able to see everything up to the second, so that was my reason for getting it. It was just to follow all the updates.

It's been good to stay up to date in the world of hockey, and really, just sports in general. I'm not that exciting like some other guys, like Paul Bissonnette or players like that, but the following has been pretty cool. You get some messages from fans here and there, younger players asking questions and asking for tips, and from a player's perspective that's pretty cool, and to get some words of encouragement, so it's been really good.

Photo: Steve Mason Twitter

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: July 13, 2011 10:29 am
Edited on: July 13, 2011 10:52 am
 

Daily Skate: Doughty waits, Glendale sees reality

By Brian Stubits

IN THE Kings' COURT: Negotiations between the Kings and restricted free agent Drew Doughty are progressing a little slower than Doughty's side would like. One of his agents, Don Meehan, says he hasn't heard from the Kings (FOXSportsWest) since June 23. At first he understood the Kings had a draft, free agency and the trade market to take up their time, but that's all taken care of. A large hold up is the lack of a precedent, which could come in Shea Weber's arbitration. Until then, it would probably be best for Doughty and company to relax.

DESERT REALITY: Now here's a bad sign for the future of the Coyotes in Arizona. City of Glendale mayor Elaine Scruggs recently had an interview with a Phoenix television station in which she acknowledged it's time the city contemplates life without the Coyotes in town and in the city's arena. She also addresses the Matthew Hulsizer failed bid, basically blaming the local watchdog group the Goldwater Institute and its threat of a lawsuit for scaring away the NHL on a Hulsizer marriage.

BUYING THE Blues: The Coyotes aren't the only team up for sale at the moment. The St. Louis Blues are also on the market, but don't seem to be having quite the same troubles as they are in Arizona. The company in charge of the sale says "Things are definitely heating up" (STLtoday.com) in the search for an owner. Could that perhaps be because of the aforementioned Hulsizer entering the picture?

PENNER IS MIGHTIER: After his less-than inspiring stint with the Kings for the end of last season, Dustin Penner was informed by head coach Terry Murray that he would have to drop a few pounds and get in better shape. A horse at 6'4 and 245 pounds, Penner is apparently taking it serious, citing motivation of the Kings' potential (frozenroyalty.net) and the new additions to help spur him into shape.

DEAD ON: The art of the goalie mask design isn't dead, but it looks pretty damn awesome when it goes dead. Columbus Blue Jackets goalie Steve Mason shared the design of his cage for next year and while one half is somewhat routine (featuring the look of the Ohio state flag) the other half is anything but normal. Just have a look (Puck Daddy) at the Evil Dead 2-inspired motif.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @cbssportsnhl and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
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