The former NHL waiver draft pickup signed a US$6-million, two-year contract extension Tuesday, cementing his role as the No. 1 goaltender for the Nashville Predators. “That’s the ultimate dream for me and that’s what I’ve always wanted to accomplish when I got to the National Hockey League,” Mason told The Canadian Press from his native Red Deer, Alta. “Now for it to happen, it’s just going to be an awesome challenge.”
Mason is no dummy. He knows one of the reasons he’s getting his break is that Predators owner Craig Leipold is trimming payroll after years of losing money.
The Predators traded goalie Tomas Vokoun and his $5.7-million salary to Florida on June 22.
“I understand the situation with us needing to shed payroll and all that, but they would have never made the trade if they didn’t think that I was capable,” said the 31-year-old Mason.
All he did last season was rank second in the NHL with a .925 save percentage while tying for sixth with five shutouts and ranking 10th with a 2.35 goals-against average.
When Vokoun was hurt last season, Mason appeared in 22 consecutive games, the second-longest consecutive appearance streak in franchise history and was named NHL player of the week during the stretch.
“I’m just really excited to go into camp and prove myself,” said Mason. “(I want to prove) that I can do it for a whole season and that they made a good decision.”
Mason would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season. He will earn $3 million a year in the new deal after making $1.25 million next season.
Just where he will be earning that money remains to be seen. While the sale of the team to Canadian billionaire Jim Balsillie and his bid to relocate the team to Hamilton has fallen through, the Predators remain up for grabs and there’s talk William (Boots) Del Biaggio will now buy the team from Leipold and one day try to move it to Kansas City.
The whole ordeal over the last two months has been more than distracting for Predators players.
“It’s been weird,” said Mason. “I guess everyone assumes because you play on the team that you know a little more what’s going on but we have no idea. I only know what I’ve read. And now I’m trying to stay away from it.
“Who knows after all this is done maybe we’ll end up staying in Nashville,” he added. “We’ll cross our fingers that that is what happens.”
Mason will do his bit to help out. The Predators need to average more than 14,000 fans a game next season in order to avoid enacting a loophole in the arena lease that allows the owner to get out of the contract.
“I haven’t officially bought them yet, but when I get back I’m probably going to buy about 10 season tickets,” said Mason. “I don’t know, I think if we all chipped in a little bit that can raise it up. The fans I think will do their part and hopefully we’ll have nothing to worry about.”
In 84 career regular-season NHL games with the Predators, Mason is 41-21-6 with a .921 save percentage and 2.43 GAA. He was claimed by Nashville from Florida in the waiver draft in October 2003.