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

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.

Lightning re-sign journeyman forward Conacher

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Cory Conacher has turned an impressive Calder Cup Playoffs run into a two-year contract with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Per the club, it’s a one-way deal in the first season and a two-way deal in the second, paying $650,000 annually at the NHL level.

Conacher, 27, had 12 goals and 16 assists in 22 playoff games as the Syracuse Crunch made it all the way to the 2017 Calder Cup Final.

The undrafted and undersized forward was also productive during the regular season, racking up 60 points (17G, 43A) in 56 games for the Crunch and four points (1G, 3A) in 11 games for the Lightning.

Conacher has been quite the traveler in recent years, making numerous stops in both NHL and AHL markets. He spent the 2015-16 season in Switzerland, before returning to North America to sign with the Bolts last summer.

Sens keep Condon with three-year, $7.2 million extension

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Ottawa was thrilled with the way Mike Condon played last year.

And so, they’ve rewarded him.

Condon has signed a three-year, $7.2 million extension, the club announced on Monday. It carries a $2.4 million average annual cap hit, and makes him the only Sens goalie under contract beyond next season. Both Craig Anderson and Andrew Hammond are UFAs in 2018.

Condon, 27, found stability in Ottawa after a whirlwind start to the year. He was waived by Montreal out of training camp and picked up by Pittsburgh, but only saw 20 minutes of action before the Sens acquired him.

His acquisition was necessary after news broke that Anderson’s wife, Nicholle, had been diagnosed with cancer. And as Anderson took leaves from the team to be with his wife, Condon got plenty of opportunities to play, and found his groove.

His first season in Ottawa featured several team records, including playing in a franchise-best 27 consecutive games between Dec. 1, 2016, and Feb. 4, 2017. He became the fastest goaltender in franchise history to record five shutouts, when he did so in his 32nd game on Feb. 16 versus the New Jersey Devils.

That performance led some to speculate Condon would test the market this summer, possibly for a No. 1 gig somewhere — or, the opportunity to compete for one.

That said, he and the Sens had started extension talks all the way back in February, suggesting both parties wanted to continue working together.

This means that another potential UFA goalie is now off the market. With reports that Ryan Miller is on his way to Anaheim, the pool of available guys is now led by Brian Elliott, Steve Mason, Jonathan Bernier, Chad Johnson, Anders Nilsson, Darcy Kuemper and Ondrej Pavelec.

Rangers reportedly on verge of re-signing Brendan Smith

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The New York Rangers are “close to finalizing” a contract extension with defenseman Brendan Smith, according to TSN’s Bob McKenzie.

The deal is expected to be four years long with a cap hit of $4.35 million.

Smith, 28, was traded from Detroit on Feb. 28, and the Rangers clearly liked what they saw.

In the playoffs, Smith played all 12 games, averaging 19:41 of ice time while adding four assists and finishing a team-high plus-8.

It remains to be seen if signing Smith makes it less likely that the Rangers pursue Kevin Shattenkirk in free agency.

Don’t forget the Blueshirts got Anthony DeAngelo in the Derek Stepan trade, and DeAngelo’s game is quite similar to Shattenkirk’s — albeit far less proven at the NHL level.

Related: Smith, Rangers still talking

Report: Kings land Sabres goalie prospect Petersen

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Sounds like Cal Petersen is headed to Los Angeles.

Per LA Kings Insider, Petersen — the star Notre Dame goalie taken by Buffalo at the 2013 draft — has decided to sign with the Kings when he becomes an unrestricted free agent on Aug. 16.

The decision comes just days after Petersen told the Sabres he wouldn’t be signing with them.

“I’ve spoken to Cal. At this time I think he’s going to probably move to free agency and we’ll go from there,” GM Jason Botterill said, per the Buffalo News. “Disappointed, but we’ll move on.”

Petersen, 22, is coming off a great junior year for the Fighting Irish. He went 23-12-5 with a .926 save percentage and 2.22 GAA, helping the club advance to the Frozen Four. Petersen was also named a finalist for this year’s Mike Richter Award, given annually to college hockey’s top goalie.

In April, he was named to the U.S. team at the World Hockey Championships in France and Germany. He was one of three goalies on the squad — along with Connor Hellebuyck and Jimmy Howard — but didn’t appear in any games.

In late May, Petersen announced he was forgoing his senior year at Notre Dame to turn pro, but declined to say which club he would be signing with. Buffalo’s rights to Petersen expire on Aug. 15.

With the Kings, Petersen finds himself in a good situation. Jonathan Quick is entrenched as the No. 1, but turns 32 next season and missed most of last year with a groin injury. The backup battle will be between 30-year-old Jeff Zatkoff and 25-year-old Jack Campbell.

Organizationally, the club doesn’t have a ton of depth. L.A. cut ties with Czech goalie Patrik Bartosak following his assault charges in a domestic violence case in 2015. Jack Flinn, 21, saw a bit of time with AHL Ontario last year, and the club has used draft picks on the likes of Alec Dillon and Matthew Villalta.