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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.

WATCH LIVE: Stanley Cup Final Game 1 – Sharks at Penguins

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 30:  Pittsburgh Penguins fans sit outside of Consol Energy Center prior to Game One of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the San Jose Sharks on May 30, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
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The wait is finally over. The 2016 Stanley Cup Final is about to begin.

Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and San Jose Sharks received some time to lick their wounds after three grueling playoff rounds, so expect Game 1 to be fun, even if there might be a subtle bit of rust here or there.

The star power is considerable. The beards are burly (at least on the Sharks’ side). It’s time to get cracking.

Game 1 airs on NBC. You can also stream it via the link below and enjoy some “NHL Live” coverage leading in.

CLICK HERE TO WATCH LIVE

Vlasic on the unenviable task of matching up against Crosby

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 21:  Marc-Edouard Vlasic #44 and Sidney Crosby #87 of Canada look on during the Men's Ice Hockey Semifinal Playoff against the United States on Day 14 of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 21, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Getty Images)
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Plenty of people believe that the San Jose Sharks’ defense is superior to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel, but it’s one thing to be better on paper. When you’re on the ice, against a speedy and talented team, can you really stop the Penguins?

All signs point to sorely underrated Sharks defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic drawing the difficult assignment of trying to slow down Sidney Crosby.

Vlasic, a former Team Canada teammate of Crosby (as you can see from this post’s main image), realizes that he’ll have his hands full. In fact, he seems to believe that this will be an even tougher challenge than trying to solve St. Louis Blues sniper Vladimir Tarasenko.

The fantastic all-around defender isn’t exactly expecting to reinvent the wheel in his strategy against Crosby.

“It will be the same as in the first three series,” Vlasic said, via The Hockey News. “We’re playing against the top players on every time – Sid, (Evgeni) Malkin and those types of guys for Pittsburgh. Me and (Justin Braun) will just keep doing what we did, taking away time and space and hopefully it works out.”

The two players have had glowing things to say about each other for some time, but don’t be surprised if this high-level competition turns those happy thoughts into hard feelings.

It stands as one of the matchups to watch in what could be a fresh and fascinating Stanley Cup Final.

Red Wings look to future in net … a future possibly without Howard

BOSTON, MASSACHUSETTS - APRIL 07:  Jimmy Howard #35 of the Detroit Red Wings makes a save against the Boston Bruins during the first period at TD Garden on April 7, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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This summer looks like it could be one of changes for the Detroit Red Wings, even beyond the most obvious storyline of Pavel Datsyuk‘s future.

One area where the Red Wings would like to make some tweaks is in net, namely in trading Jimmy Howard. The Detroit Free-Press points out that GM Ken Holland admitted that moving the former franchise netminder “might be good for the organization.”

It’s reasonable to wonder what kind of market there will be for Howard, whose deal ($5.29 million cap hit through 2018-19) looks pretty tough to stomach on paper.

Maybe it’s best to consider the Red Wings’ options if Howard starts the 2016-17 season off on a strong note, or something of that nature. Perhaps an expansion draft could “solve” that problem if Detroit cannot find any takers?

The Red Wings remain forward-thinking and patient, which likely explains why the Free-Press focuses on their confidence with prospect Jared Coreau.

“In the big scheme of things, he’ll play in Grand Rapids for another year, but now we know he can play a lot of minutes if needed,” Goalie coach Jeff Salajko said. “Jimmy Howard played four years in the minors. We’re not rushing Jared, but he is going to be an NHL goalie, there is no doubt in my mind about that.”

In other words, a pairing of Petr Mrazek and Coreau wouldn’t just be a cost-effective duo … it might just be the Red Wings’ ideal scenario in the not-too-distant future.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
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From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.