Michael Hutchinson

Getty

Under Pressure: Steve Mason

5 Comments

This post is part of Jets Day on PHT…

Yeah, it’s the new guy.

Goaltending has been the single biggest issue in Winnipeg ever since the franchise arrived from Atlanta seven years ago, consistently finishing near the bottom of the league in save percentage. Ondrej Pavelec wasn’t the answer, and Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck didn’t seem to be the answer a year ago. Now the job gets turned over to Steve Mason, coming over in free agency from the Philadelphia Flyers on a two-year, $8.2 million contract.

So why the pressure? Well, simply because he has to be the guy to help fill the hole that has held the Jets back more than any other in recent years. And he has to do it while rebounding from what was a down year in Philadelphia, managing only a .908 save percentage that was his lowest individual mark since he played for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

That sort of performance won’t work for the Jets because it was pretty much exactly what their two-headed goaltending monster gave them a season ago. If he can return to the form he showed during the first four years he spent in Philadelphia it would be a pretty significant boost to a Jets team that hasn’t really had anything even remotely close to a consistent, No. 1 starting goaltender in … well … ever.

If Mason can be that guy the Jets might actually have a chance to contend for a playoff spot, especially given how good their offense was this past season.

If he can not be that guy it will simply be more of the same in Winnipeg where a team with some pretty good talent and what is now a high-scoring offense gets sabotaged by goaltending.

The Jets don’t need him to be Dominik Hasek. They can score enough goals that they don’t need a goalie to steal games for them every night. They just need him to be good.

Will additions of Mason, Kulikov be enough to improve the Jets’ defense?

Getty
6 Comments

Preventing goals has been a major issue for the Winnipeg Jets.

In five of the past six seasons they have finished in the bottom-10 in the league in goals against, bottoming out this past season by giving up 3.11 goals per game, the fourth-worst mark in the entire league. That has been the biggest obstacle they have been unable to scale when attempting to become a playoff team. One of the biggest issues has been in net where the likes of Ondrej Pavelec, Michael Hutchinson and Connor Hellebuyck have been unable to nail down the position with any consistency in recent years.

This offseason the team finally addressed the position in what could be a meaningful way by adding Steve Mason to take over as the primary goaltender.

Along with the addition of Mason, they also attempted to bolster their blue line by bringing in free agent defenseman Dmitry Kulikov.

Kulikov might add some depth to their defense, but Mason is going to be the player that probably makes or breaks the Jets’ season. Even though the Jets have consistently been among the league’s worst teams when it comes to allowing goals, they have always been, at worst, a middle of the pack team when it comes to giving up shots only to have sub-par goaltending sabotage their seasons. They have finished with a team save percentage over .910 just once in the past six years.

It is not a coincidence that was the one season over that stretch where they actually qualified for the playoffs.

Given the Jets’ ability to score (they were sixth in the league in goals scored this past season) and the fact they are at least an OK shot suppression team they don’t need Mason to be a superstar in net. They just need some consistency. They just need somebody to give them league average to better than league average play, and Mason has been able to do that in four of the past five seasons. Look at it this way, if he gets the bulk of the playing time (the 56 starts Hellebuyck received this past season) and faces the same number of shots with a league average save percentage the Jets would shave 12-15 goals off of their goals against total right there alone without any other improvements anywhere else. Probably not enough to make up seven points in the standings, but enough to at least maybe put them in closer contention.

Jets sign Connor Hellebuyck to one-year, $2.25 million deal

Getty
1 Comment

The Winnipeg Jets took care of some important business on Monday morning, as they re-signed goalie Connor Hellebuyck to a one-year, $2.25 million contract.

The two sides were scheduled to have an arbitration hearing on Aug. 1, but as expected, they were able to hammer out  a deal before reaching that point.

After being selected in the fifth round of the 2012 draft, Hellebuyck quickly became one of the best prospects in the Jets’ system.

The 24-year-old made his NHL debut in 2015-16. He posted 13-11-1 record with a 2.34 goals-against-average and a .918 save percentage. In 2016-17, he appeared in 56 games and finished with a 26-19-4 record, a 2.89 goals-against-average and a .907 save percentage.

Even though Hellebuyck will be back next season, the Jets will have a different look between the pipes. On July 1st, they inked Steve Mason to a two-year contract worth $8.2 million.

As has been the case over the last couple of seasons, Winnipeg will continue to have a crowded crease. On top of having Mason and Hellbuyck under contract, Michael Hutchinson still has one year left on his deal at $1.15 million.

It’ll be interesting to see how head coach Paul Maurice divides starts between Hellebuyck and Mason (assuming both are completely healthy).

Mason played in 58 games with the Flyers last season and he’s making almost double what Hellebuyck is making for now.

Goaltending may finally be strength for Winnipeg Jets

Getty
16 Comments

The Ondrej Pavelec era in Winnipeg is – mercifully – over.

Seeing the regularly underwhelming netminder leave for the Rangers isn’t the only reason why the Jets’ goaltending situation looks as promising as it ever has been. With the addition of Steve Mason and the possible ascension of Connor Hellebuyck, this franchise hasn’t enjoyed this kind of optimism in net since … what, the Atlanta Thrashers days? Ever?

Now, it’s worth noting that goalies are notoriously tough to predict. Mason himself struggled in 2016-17, which was a big reason why the Philadelphia Flyers let him walk in the first place.

Still, the big picture seems as promising as ever for the Jets, at least from a goaltending perspective.

Even with last season in mind, Steve Mason’s managed a .928 even-strength save percentage since his first full season with Philly in 2013-14. That ties him for 10th place among goalies who’ve played at least 50 games, tying him with Henrik Lundqvist, Tuukka Rask, and Roberto Luongo.

Hellebuyck is the other Jets goalie who’s been strong in that area, managing a .924 even-strength save percentage, giving the impression that he could at least be an above-average backup.

If even-strength save percentage is a little too specific for you, Mason managed an excellent .918 save percentage during his time with the Flyers. Such numbers give the impression that the Jets have a good chance at getting top-10 goaltending, a refreshing thought for a franchise that’s been hung out to dry one too many times, particularly with Pavelec in net.

Could the Mason – Hellebuyck combo stand as the missing piece(s) for Winnipeg? The Jets made hearty investments in their defense and boast an underrated offensive attack, inspiring hope that this middling team might finally make a big step forward.

Heck, they might even finally win a playoff game.

“I’m just really excited to be a part of an organization that’s in the right direction,” Mason said after the signing, via the Canadian Press. “I believe that I can be a piece that helps get this team over the hump, here.”

Granted, the Jets still need to hash out an RFA deal with Hellebuyck and figure out what to do with Michael Hutchinson, who has a year remaining on his contract (and generally seems to have a lower ceiling).

Still, if the Jets can get a few more ducks in a row, things could rapidly look very promising. What a difference a couple of promising goalies can make.

All the latest pre-free agency rumblings

Getty
3 Comments

We’re less than four hours away from the free-agent market officially opening, and there are plenty of reports linking players to new teams already.

Remember, none of these deals can be made official until noon ET, so things can change in a hurry. But there’s a good chance that a lot of these verbal commitments turn into contracts once the clock strikes 12:00 p.m. ET.

To stay up to date with all today’s transactions, keep an eye on PHT’s free agent tracker.

TSN hockey insider Bob McKenzie has already linked a number of key free agents to their likely destination. According to McKenzie’s Twitter timeline, here’s what we can expect to go down today:

–The Vancouver Canucks don’t have a very good roster right now, but that won’t stop them from potentially landing three interesting free agents. It looks like they’ll be getting Sam Gagner, Michael Del Zotto and Anders Nilsson this afternoon.

–The Winnipeg Jets have been searching for a reliable goaltender to help out Connor Hellebuyck, and Steve Mason is expected to be their guy. The 29-year-old hasn’t been the most consistent goalie over the last few years, but he should be an upgrade on Michael Hutchinson and Ondrej Pavelec.

–Speaking of Pavelec, McKenzie suggests he could end up being Henrik Lundqvist‘s backup in New York. The Rangers traded Antti Raanta away to Arizona, so they’re definitely in the market for a backup goalie.

–Another goalie to keep an eye on is Brian Elliott. The former Calgary Flame is probably heading to Philadelphia to replace Mason.

Trevor Daley, who has won back-to-back Stanley Cups with the Penguins, will stay in the Eastern Conference, as he’s been linked to the Detroit Red Wings.

–Dan Girardi will be playing for a different team after he was bought out by the Rangers earlier this month. That new team is likely to be the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Chad Johnson spent the 2015-16 season with the Sabres before spend last year with Calgary. It sounds like he’ll be returning to Buffalo.

–Anaheim will likely bring in veteran goalie Ryan Miller from Vancouver, which means last year’s backup, Jonathan Bernier, will be on the move. Bernier is expected to join the Colorado Avalanche, who lost Calvin Pickard in the expansion draft.

–As we wrote about yesterday, Evgeny Dadonov is expected to leave the KHL to sign a lucrative, multi-year deal with the Florida Panthers.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman also had some interesting tidbits earlier this morning, as he’s also linked potential free agents to new cities.

Here’s what Friedman is reporting:

–6-foot-6 center Martin Hanzal split last season with Arizona and Minnesota, but he isn’t expected to return to either city. Instead, Friedman says to keep an eye on the Dallas Stars. If they can land Hanzal, that would give them terrific depth down the middle with Tyler Seguin and Jason Spezza already on the roster.

–The San Jose Sharks reportedly upped their offer to Patrick Marleau from one year to two years, but it’s unclear if that’s enough to get something done with the veteran. If Marleau decides to walk in free agency, Mike Cammalleri could be their fallback plan.

On another note, Blackhawks beat reporter Mark Lazerus is reporting that Patrick Sharp will be signing with Chicago. The veteran forward spent 10 seasons with the ‘Hawks.