Jets needed to solidify crease and may have found perfect fit in Mason

The Jets needed help in goal in a big way and they’ve found it, signing Steve Mason to a two-year, $8.2-million contract.

The Winnipeg Jets had one of the league’s best attacks in 2016-17, a defense with two steady pairings at the top of the lineup, but goaltending that simply didn’t cut it. Winnipeg GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has gone out and addressed that issue on the opening day of free agency, however, with the signing of Steve Mason.

Even before free agency had opened, it was reported that Mason, 29, was heading to Winnipeg, and the Jets made the inking official moments into signing season with a two-year, $8.2-million deal, which leaves Cheveldayoff roughly $15-million to work with this off-season. The signing is a brilliant one for the Jets, too.

This past season, Winnipeg had the seventh-best offense in the entire league, firing home 246 goals, but the Jets were the only club with 230 or more goals for to have a negative goal differential. Between Connor Hellebuyck, Michael Hutchinson, Ondrej Pavelec and Eric Comrie, Winnipeg had the third-worst overall save percentage at .900 and an awful .916 SP mark at 5-on-5, which was the fourth-worst of any team in 2016-17.

Some may wonder how Mason, who is coming off of his worst year as a Flyer, managing a .908 SP, 2.66 goals-against average and 26-21-8 record in 58 games, is going to help turn the Jets’ goaltending situation around, but it’s a look beyond his most recent numbers that is most telling about how Mason can solidify the crease in Winnipeg. 

In the three years prior in Philadelphia, Mason pieced together a 74-55-28 record, .921 SP and 2.43 GAA, not to mention 11 shutouts. But a much better indication of Mason’s quality over the past few seasons are his 5-on-5 numbers. Mason isn’t often mentioned in the same category as the top-calibre goaltenders in the league, but of the 58 goaltenders to play at least 3,000 minutes at 5-on-5 over the past four seasons, Mason’s .931 SP is the fourth-best in the entire league. The only netminders who have been better are Carey Price (.938 SP), Scott Darling (.933) and Braden Holtby (.932). That’s impressive company to be keeping.

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That’s not to say the Mason signing doesn’t come without its questions. More specifically, it’s worth wondering what this means for the future of Hellebuyck and Hutchinson.

For the past few years, Hellebuyck has been touted as the future in goal for Winnipeg, and the expectations grew after he turned in a .918 SP in 26 appearances in 2014-15. Unfortunately, he took a significant step backwards this past season, managing a mere .907 SP in 53 outings for the Jets. But Winnipeg hasn’t given up on Hellebuyck. The 24-year-old is a restricted free agent in line for a new deal, and the addition of Mason is simply a way to give Hellebuyck some support as he continues to grow into his role as Winnipeg’s No. 1 netminder.

The same can’t be said for Hutchinson, however. The 27-year-old has one year and $1.15-million left on his contract, but it’s unlikely he remains up with the big club now that Mason is in town. There are a few options for Hutchinson, including a demotion to the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, but Cheveldayoff could look into potential interest in the netminder on the trade market. He’s had a poor season, but he’s a capable and young enough backup that he could bring value to another club.

No matter how the goaltending situation shakes out, though, Mason provides a quality upgrade and creates a solid one-two punch that should be able to right the ship in the Jets’ crease.