Blue Jackets’ rebound hopes ultimately rest on Steve Mason’s shaky shoulders

Their financial struggles might not draw the same amount of attention as the New York Islanders or Phoenix Coyotes, but the bottom line is that the Columbus Blue Jackets are in a pretty desperate situation themselves. They’re hoping for some government help to keep them from hemorrhaging even more money and maybe even move the team, but one of the most important things that could help them turn around is a deviously simple proposition. They need to put together an actual contending team for once.

Simply put, the Blue Jackets have fallen well short of that mark for just about their entire existence, with the only minor exception being their spirited run to the playoffs in 2008-09 that was immediately squashed by a brutal sweep at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings.

Mason brings down Blue Jackets with him

In a way, that dispiriting sweep highlighted the disturbing possibility that Steve Mason’s impressive rookie season might have been a mirage. Mason has been the definition of a mediocre NHL goalie since then, sporting the save percentage of a backup (.901) and a middling record (44-47-16) during the last two seasons. And to be honest, Mason’s numbers tailed off quite a bit even in that first season; a .916 save percentage would represent a down year for Tomas Vokoun, a goalie the Blue Jackets should have at least flirted with.

Aaron Portzline points out a disturbing fact from the 2010-11 season: Brian Elliott is the only NHL goalie with 50+ starts whose save percentage and goals against average ranked lower than Mason’s marks. While the Blue Jackets are tying a pivotal season to Mason, Elliott might not even win a battle to backup Jaroslav Halak in St. Louis.

Garon’s departure removes face-saving safety net

Speaking of backups, the Blue Jackets took a problematic step back in that department, raising their risk factor that much more. Mathieu Garon escaped to Tampa Bay this off-season after producing virtually identical numbers to Mason last season. Their odds-on backup is Mark Dekanich, a prospect who has exactly one game of NHL experience to his credit.

Looking at this awfully questionable situation, it’s not surprising that Portzline thinks that if Mason goes down in flames, Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson will go down with him.

Before the Twitter neophyte introduced new additions Jeff Carter, James Wisniewski, Vinny Prospal and Radek Martinek to his 5,821 followers, Howson needed to decide whether Steve Mason was still the Blue Jackets goaltender. Not an easy choice for a general manager who has to know another season without the playoffs is likely his last.

Mason was the Calder Trophy winner in 2009 leading the Jackets to their only playoff appearance. He’s been among the league’s most inconsistent players since. He’s resembled a franchise building block on some nights and a guy trying to swat a swarm of bees on others. Of goaltenders with 50-plus appearances, only Brian Elliot had a worse goals against average and save percentage last season.

That doesn’t mean Howson has made the wrong decision. It’s just means the near futures of the goaltender and general manager are irrevocably intertwined. Howson is banking on the improvement of a fourth-year pro who has the pedigree and skills. To make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets don’t need Mason to be a great as he was in 2008-09, but they need him to be much better than he’s been the past two seasons.

I’m not so sure that Mason doesn’t need to be great, at least if you define the complete body of work that was his overrated rookie season as “great.” James Wisniewski and Jeff Carter should give the Blue Jackets more offensive punch, but neither are the kind of two-way players who dominate at both ends. In other words, an already suspect Columbus defense might be even worse next season, especially after they lost a decent defenseman in Jan Hejda and traded one of their other better ones in Rostislav Klesla last season.

The team’s formula calls for them to score a ton of goals while being just good enough in their own end. That all hinges on Mason – and quite frankly – I really don’t like their chances. What do you think, though? Will Columbus make a much-needed run to the playoffs? Let us know in the comments.

Devils hold open tryouts for emergency goalies

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NEWARK, N.J. (AP) Steven Porzio’s father was a New York Rangers fan, but he always rooted for the New Jersey Devils. A goaltender himself, Porzio was struck by Martin Brodeur, and he dreamed of replacing the NHL’s career wins leader when his days at the Prudential Center were done.

Porzio is now 27 years old and working in information technology, and he’s given up hope of replacing Brodeur.

He still might suit up for the Devils on their home rink, though.

Porzio and 14 others tried out Saturday to become the Devils’ emergency goaltender for this season. They were run through drills by former New Jersey goalie Scott Clemmensen at the Prudential Center, faced shots from players in the minor league system and even used a dressing room next door to the Devils’ home locker room.

Read more: Kings hope to find emergency goalie candidates with open tryouts

“You walk through the locker room area and see all the team photos, the little replica Stanley Cups,” Porzio said. “That gives you chills a little bit.”

This wasn’t exactly fantasy camp, though. Clemmensen pushed the prospective netminders – mostly former college or junior players – through rigorous tests to evaluate their skating and puckhandling.

“Put them through a legitimate goalie clinic today, which I don’t know if they were expecting,” said Sarah Baicker, the Devils’ director of content and communications, who helped coordinate the tryouts. “A couple guys looked like they’re going to sleep really well tonight.”

The tryouts are in response to a new league rule for this season, which mandates that teams have an emergency goalie present for all home games ready to fill in for either team. Last year, a number of clubs required backups on short notice, including when the Chicago Blackhawks called on Philadelphia-area youth hockey coach Eric Semborski for a game against the Flyers because Corey Crawford needed an emergency appendectomy.

New Jersey plans to pick a winner by the end of the week, and that goalie will need to be at all 41 Devils home games this season, plus the playoffs. New Jersey might pick more than one player to split up the schedule, though it hasn’t decided yet if the emergency goalies will be paid.

The 15 netminders at the rink Saturday were selected from a pool of nearly 400 applicants, some of whom were targeted by the team.

“The skill level was pretty good, and that’s what we’re looking for today,” said Clemmensen, now the goaltending development coach for the organization.

Among the final group was 43-year-old Anthony Felice, a hockey coach at Rye Country Day School in Rye, New York, who has been an emergency backup for the Devils’ minor league teams in Lowell and Trenton. Injuries have slowed the former junior player, but he’s healthy enough now to seek “a chance to do it one more time.”

“To come out here and be in the big building was a lot of fun,” he said.

Not all the participants were Devils fans, either. Matt Palella, a 23-year-old who played at Stonehill College in Massachusetts, just moved to the area from Chicago for a job in Manhattan a few weeks ago. He got word of the tryout and put in his name, not sure what he’d get from the experience.

“I was expecting, `Go in the corner, figure it out,”‘ he said. Instead, he was surprised by how well New Jersey treated him and the others. “It was top-notch.”

Palella blew out his knee late in his college career, and this was just his second time skating since the injury.

“I’m not hurt,” he said. “That’s all I care about. Walking away in one piece.”

 

Jankowski ‘continues to impress’ at Flames camp

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Mark Jankowski made his Calgary Flames debut last season. It appears he’s making quite a case to at least start the new campaign in the National Hockey League.

On Friday, he notched his third goal of the preseason, helping the Flames to a 4-2 victory over the Coyotes. Make that three goals in three exhibition games for Jankowski, Calgary’s first-round pick from the 2012 NHL Draft.

Once considered an “off-the-board” pick in that opening round, the 6-foot-4 center has developed into a very intriguing prospect, particularly after an impressive 2016-17 season down in Stockton, scoring 27 goals and 56 points in 64 AHL games. He appeared in one NHL game last season, and is leaving an impression during this year’s training camp, too.

Read more: Looking to make the leap — Mark Jankowski

“The confidence thing, right? These young players grow more confident as it goes,” head coach Glen Gulutzan said of the 23-year-old Jankowski following last night’s game.

“I thought he played well tonight. I thought he was better tonight than he was against Vancouver (on Wednesday) and he just continues to impress everybody.”

Calgary has three more preseason games remaining on their schedule, which could provide more of an opportunity for Jankowski to prove himself to the Flames coaching staff ahead of the regular season.

“I’m just trying to get better every day and keep on showing the coaching staff and management what I can bring to this team,” Jankowski told reporters.

“As camp goes on and it gets thinner and thinner, I just have to keep on doing that and get in some preseason games against almost full NHL lineups. That’s when you can really show your stuff, show you can play at this level and have an impact.”

Hossa undergoes ‘independent medical evaluation’ to determine if he’s eligible for LTIR

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Marian Hossa and the Chicago Blackhawks announced in June that the 38-year-old forward will miss the entire 2017-18 season with a skin disorder.

However, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, the National Hockey League has yet to determine if Hossa will be eligible for long-term injured reserve.

“Marian Hossa underwent an independent medical evaluation several days ago,’’ NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told the Chicago Sun-Times. ‘‘We are waiting for the report. Once we have that, we should be in a position to determine his proper status.’’

Hossa’s total salary is only $1 million for this year. His cap hit remains at $5.275 million.

From CSN Chicago:

Here are two basics about the cap: a team can be 10 percent over it during the summer, and a team must be at or below it the day the regular season begins. If the Blackhawks place Hossa on LTIR, it wouldn’t take effect until the second day of the regular season. So on Day 1 of the season, the Blackhawks would still be carrying Hossa’s $5.275 cap hit.

Once the LTIR would take effect, though, the Blackhawks would have wiggle room. If they spent to the $75 million cap, they could utilize Hossa’s entire $5.275 million cap hit on other players.

While there are salary cap implications for Chicago with Hossa’s absence, not having him in the Blackhawks lineup is a difficult loss. Yes, he’s approaching 40 years of age, with more than 1,300 NHL regular season games under his belt. But last season, he also posted 26 goals and 45 points — still very productive at his age.

It was reported, prior to the Blackhawks announcing that Hossa had this skin condition, that there was a “legitimate possibility” Hossa had played his last NHL game.

Karlsson is back skating, but ‘we don’t want him to get too excited,’ says Boucher

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The good news? Erik Karlsson hit the ice to skate with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Saturday.

“Back at it,” is what the star defenseman wrote in an Instagram post, which included a photo of him on the ice in a blue jersey.

It’s certainly an exciting development for the Senators and their fans. Karlsson was a dominant player for Ottawa during the Stanley Cup playoffs despite playing with a foot injury that later required surgery, with an expected recovery time of four months.

Head coach Guy Boucher, however, offered some cautionary words on Karlsson’s status. Basically, it’s exciting, but Boucher doesn’t want anyone — Karlsson included — to get too far ahead of themselves right now.

“It’s a positive thing, but we don’t want to get too excited. It’s a second step,” said Boucher, according to NHL.com.

“The first step was to let the therapists tell us when it was adequate to put him on the ice, because you need to get the flexibility and the strength off the ice before we could put [him] on the ice. Yesterday they apparently put the skates on to see how it felt and [went] very lightly on the ice, and they felt he was able this morning [to] get dressed and be with the boys.

“Basically, this is the second step, but there’s quite a few steps before we get to him playing. We don’t want him to get too excited.”

His status for the Senators’ season opener against the Washington Capitals on Oct. 5 has been up in the air since he underwent the operation. Karlsson admitted earlier this month that he wasn’t sure if he’d be ready for that game.

Ottawa is dealing with a few injury situations right now, with four preseason games remaining on their schedule. Karlsson is one of the best defensemen in the entire NHL and given how important he is to the Senators, there is absolutely no need to rush him back into the lineup if he’s not ready.