Posted on: November 5, 2011 9:40 pm
Edited on: November 5, 2011 9:48 pm
By: Adam Gretz
It would be unfair to blame all of the Columbus Blue Jackets problems on Steve Mason. When your team has won just two of its first 14 games that is not the fault of any one individual player or coach. It is an entire organizational failure from top to bottom.
But Mason is helping to put his team in an early hole nearly every single game he plays. Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline Tweeted one of the most unbelievable stats of the season tonight when he dropped this nugget of knowledge: Mason has allowed a goal on first four shots in 10 of 13 games this season.
Basically, whenever Mason starts a game it's almost as if Columbus is spotting the opposition a one goal lead from the start. They're starting the race with a car that's sitting on four cinder blocks. That is no way to win hockey games. That stretch, of course, continued on Saturday night when he surrendered two goals on the first two shots he faced during the first period of their embarrassing 9-2 loss in Philadelphia.
Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel finally pulled Mason after a Maxime Talbot goal made it 3-0 with less than seven minutes to play in the opening period. His backup, Allen York, didn't perform any better and promptly surrendered two goals on five shots to close out the period. In what can only be described as rearranging the deck chairs, Mason returned to the crease for the start of the second period and gave up another three goals.
The Blue Jackets have a lot of difficult decisions to make regarding the future of their team, and it's already been reported that the head coach and general manager could soon be replaced. But what are they going to do about Mason? Four years ago he led the NHL in shutouts and took home the Calder Trophy as the NHL's rookie of the year, helping lead Columbus to its first and only trip to the playoffs, and looked to be one of the up-and-coming goaltenders in the NHL.
Since then it's been all down hill, while his overall save percentage dropped all the way down to .901 in each of the past two seasons, well below the league average. His even-strength save percentages of .911 in each of the past two seasons have ranked 28th and 29th respectively out of goalies that have started at least 30 games in each season.
If it wasn't already obvious, it's starting to look like that debut season may have had more to do with the system of Ken Hitchcock than anything else.
This isn't meant to make Mason the scapegoat for all of the Blue Jackets problems, because right now the entire team is a mess. But not only has he been struggling, he hasn't played anywhere near the level of even an average (or even below average) starting goaltender, and it's hard to see where the Blue Jackets go from here in the crease.
Posted on: October 30, 2011 12:17 pm
Edited on: October 30, 2011 9:50 pm
You didn't think the Columbus Blue Jackets could start the season 1-9-1 and the head coach and GM would still be safe, did you?
Despite team president Mike Priest giving coach Scott Arniel and GM Scott Howson a "vote of confidence" -- further proof that is often more curse than reassurement -- amid the slow start, Aaron Portzline at the Columbus Dispatch reports that folks around the situation are on "high alert.
Multiple NHL sources have informed The Dispatch early Sunday that Jackets president Mike Priest has contacted Ken Hitchcock about returning as the club’s coach, and that former Calgary Flames general manager Craig Button has been contacted about taking on the same job with the Jackets. Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson and/or coach Scott Arniel could be replaced by Monday, the sources indicated
Here's a little more on Hitchcock and Button from Portzline.
For the record, Button, who now works for TSN, denied being in touch with Columbus. "While it's flattering to be mentioned in GM rumors, I've had no contact with Columbus. I wish Scott H. the best to turn things around."
He then gave another denial later Sunday on camera.
Part of Priest's "vote of confidence" was the fact that the team had yet to play with the full roster that Howson built. James Wisniewski missed the first eight games because of a suspension and then Jeff Carter was sidelined with a hairline fracture in his foot. Still, dating back to last season, the Blue Jackets are -- get this -- 4-21-8 in their last 33 games. That's not a typo.
As for the roster, it's equally as hard to believe that Columbus has the league's fifth-highest payroll. According to capgeek.com, Columbus only has $81,643 in cap space available. This in spite of the Jackets being in a "small" market, one where they are drawing the fourth-lowest amount of fans per game this season at a little more than 12,000.
Moreover, Howson has been working on a long-term plan for this franchise. He has put together a roster with five players signed through at least the 2016-17 season. That's a lot of foresight and commitment to the plan for the future. It would not be an enviable position for any new GM to come in to who would be looking to take the franchise on his own path.
Looking at the investment vs. production to this point, it's easy to see where a bombshell like this is coming from. Clearly the people in charge in Columbus aren't happy with a three-points-in-11-games start, but I can't help think along Priest's original line of thinking, that no judgments should be made about the roster until they newcomers have all had a chance to play some games together. Since Carter has been out since October 15, he and Wisniewski haven't been on the ice together yet this season.
Maybe Sunday night's home game against the Anaheim Ducks will be a lost chance at salvation for Arniel and Howson.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: August 22, 2011 9:48 am
Edited on: August 22, 2011 10:37 am
By: 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
Posted on: July 14, 2011 4:22 pm
Edited on: July 15, 2011 2:02 pm
By Brian Stubits
What the devil is going on in New Jersey?
Here we are, more than three months after their season finished and the New Jersey Devils still haven't named a coach? General Manager Lou Lamoriello says a decision is coming. Some time soon, even.
"We will have a coach in the very near future, but not this week," Lamoriello said earlier this week.
Feels like that has been the standard response for a few weeks now. He is starting to sound like Chicago Cubs fans: Wait till next year.
The more time that passes, the more questions that are raised: Why is nobody taking what was not long ago a very good job? Why are the Devils going through coaches like kids through Halloween candy? Is Lamoriello tough to work under? Is there a dearth of desirable candidates? Is Lamoriello just being lazy? How many licks does it take to get to the tootsie roll center of a tootsie pop? (That's the only one I really know the answer to -- three.)
The list of names that have popped into the search at one point or another seems to be longer than Martin Brodeur's career. There have been retreads (two-time Devils coach Larry Robinson), coaching vets (Craig MacTavish, Ken Hitchcock), college coaches (Wisconsin's Mike Eaves) and everybody in between (hello, Guy Carbonneau and Michael Therrien). But naturally these names are just on a speculative list.
"I'm not going to get into discussions with reference to the coaching staff or anything of that nature," Lamoriello said. "There's [no coach] that has been named, so you can interpret it any way you want."
Then there's the ultimate retread: Jacques Lemaire. He has had three stints coaching the Devils, including the Stanley Cup champions in 1994-95 and last year's underachieving team that he made very competitive in his interim stretch.
Apparently his is one name you can safely cross off the list.
“I’m waiting for Lou to make his decision,” Lemaire told Tom Gulitti of the Bergen Record. “I’m excited like the fans, I guess, to find out who it’s going to be. It’s not going to be me."
That has to be a bummer for Devils fans. Lemaire seems like he'd be a good stopgap for another season as he brought out the best in what was an awful Devils team. But it is probably for the good to move on to a new era. Preferably a long-term stay in Jersey, considering the Devils have had 12 coaches since Lemaire first left after the 1997-98 season (counting each visit for Robinson, Lemaire and Lamoriello's own stints separately).
So maybe it's worth it to take your sweet time to hire the right coach. It's just hard for me to imagine it takes this long to find said coach. All the other vacancies in the NHL have been filled and it's been that way for a while.
For more Devils news, click here.
Photo: Getty Images