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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.

Goalie nods: Budaj set to make Kings debut

during a preseason game at Staples Center on September 22, 2015 in Los Angeles, California.
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Journeyman Peter Budaj looks as though he’ll make his first regular-season NHL appearance since April of 2014, when the Kings take on the Rangers at MSG.

Recalled from AHL Ontario due to an injury to Jonathan Quick, Budaj gets the nod tonight after Quick’s backup, Jhonas Enroth, was beat for four goals on 29 shots in last night’s loss to the Islanders.

Budaj, 33, has certainly earned another crack at the big leagues. After catching on with the Kings through a PTO in training camp, he’s been terrific in Ontario, going 26-9-3 with a 1.58 GAA and .935 save percentage. The Slovakian netminder also has eight shutouts this year.

For the Rangers, Antti Raanta gets the start in goal, giving Henrik Lundqvist a night off.

Elsewhere…

Ben Scrivens, who appears to be the new No. 1 in Montreal, will go for his fourth straight win when the Habs visit Buffalo. Chad Johnson is in goal for the Sabres, who’ve really struggled of late.

Marc-Andre Fleury goes for the Penguins, while it looks like Cam Ward is in for Carolina.

— Really good matchup in Detroit as Semyon Varlamov goes up against Petr Mrazek who, according to Yahoo’s Puck Daddy, has “crashed Braden Holtby’s Vezina party.”

— Battle of All-Star netminders in Tampa Bay, as Ben Bishop goes for the Bolts while Pekka Rinne starts for Nashville.

The red-hot Brian Elliott will continue to roll as St. Louis’ No. 1 in Florida. The Panthers will go with their old reliable, Roberto Luongo.

Now that Karri Ramo’s on IR, it’s Jonas Hiller time for the Flames. He’ll start tonight in Arizona, against Louis Domingue.

Therrien refutes report that Price is likely done for the season

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Contrary to a report by La Presse newspaper, Montreal head coach Michel Therrien says that Canadiens goalie Carey Price could still play again this season.

“We know what’s going on with Carey,” Therrien told reporters today. “It takes more time, obviously, than we were expecting. Like I said, he’s working extremely hard and he’s put in a lot of hours to make sure that he’s going to make that comeback. The fact that he’s working extremely hard is not to make sure that he’s going to look good this summer on the beach; he wants to come back and play for the Montreal Canadiens.”

That being said, Price does not appear close to a return. He’s yet to practice with teammates. He’s yet to even skate in goalie gear.

The Habs have 27 games left to get back into a playoff spot. They close out the regular season on April 9, less than two months from today.

Related: With Price possibly done for the season, Scrivens has Dubnyk-like opportunity

With trade deadline approaching, Canucks announce Edler out 6 weeks, Sutter 6-8 weeks

Washington Capitals v Vancouver Canucks
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The Vancouver Canucks announced today that they’ll be without defenseman Alex Edler (fractured fibula) for six weeks and center Brandon Sutter (broken jaw that required surgery) for six to eight weeks.

So basically those two are gone for the remainder of regular season, save for possibly a few games at the tail end of the schedule.

For a bubble team that doesn’t boast a ton of depth, the injuries are significant. Edler leads the Canucks in ice time, averaging almost 25 minutes per game. Sutter, arguably their best defensive center, already missed a big chunk of games earlier in the season following sports-hernia surgery.

But GM Jim Benning still isn’t giving up on the playoffs. Yesterday, he went on Vancouver radio and suggested the Canucks could actually be buyers at the trade deadline.

Benning only has a couple of weeks to decide what to do with pending unrestricted free agents defenseman Dan Hamhuis and winger Radim Vrbata. The trade deadline is Feb. 29.

The Canucks, currently just two points back of Nashville for the final wild-card spot, have a pair of winnable games coming up. They host Toronto Saturday and Minnesota Monday.

Related: Preds entering key (and tough) stretch before trade deadline

Jets activate Pavelec from IR, send Hellebuyck back to minors

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Winnipeg’s goalie of the future is off to continue his development in the AHL.

On Friday, the Jets activated veteran netminder Ondrej Pavelec from injured reserve and, in a subsequent move, sent rookie netminder Connor Hellebuyck back to their affiliate in Manitoba.

Hellebuyck, 22, arrived in Winnipeg with great fanfare, having starred for Team USA at the 2015 Worlds while being named an AHL All-Star as well.

This was his first-ever stint with the Jets, and it went OK — Hellebuyck posted an 13-11-1 record, .918 save percentage and 2.34 GAA — but he did struggle of late, getting hooked in two of his last three outings.

Now, it’ll be interesting to see what happens with Pavelec.

His numbers prior to getting hurt weren’t any better than Hellebuyck’s — .906 save percentage, 2.82 GAA — and there will be considerable rust to knock off, given he’s been out since late November with a knee issue.

There’s also the long-term implication.

Pavelec, a lightning rod for criticism over the last few seasons, has one year left on his five-year, $19.5 million extension, meaning he’ll be an unrestricted free agent in July of ’17.

It could be his last season in Winnipeg (assuming he’s not bought out of the final year of his deal), which makes one wonder what GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has in store.

It’s also worth noting there’s a third goalie in this equation: Michael Hutchinson, who’s a pending RFA.