Why Blue Jackets' gamble on Steve Mason's contract is a good one

If Steve Mason(notes) is an investment, Columbus Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson's getting in on the ground floor. He's either ahead of the curve on the next big thing or will be clutching worthless paper from the Pets.com of NHL goaltenders by 2013. And by that, we mean paying for the next Andrew Raycroft(notes).

Mason was signed to a 2-year, $5.8 million contract extension that will pay him $2.6 million in 2011-12 and $3.2 million in 2012-13 for a $2.9 million annual cap hit. From the Post Dispatch:

Both the Blue Jackets and Mason could have justified wanting to wait until next summer, when his entry-level contract expired and he was a restricted free agent. But neither wanted to wait. "Maybe in a few years when this (extension) is up, we can hammer out a really long deal," Mason said. "I'd like something long-term. I love this city and I love the guys on this team."

There are 16 goalies under contract for the 2011-12 season that will have a higher cap hit than Mason, according to NHL Numbers.

One goalie that won't is Carey Price(notes) ($2.75 million) of the Montreal Canadiens, and that's led to some head-scratching today among fans. After all, Price has had one solid season and two underwhelming ones, while Mason has only had one solid season and one underwhelming one.

In both cases, they're talented young goaltenders with something to prove. In Mason's case, it's that he's the player we saw as a rookie rather than the shaky sieve we saw as a sophomore. He's been working with a trainer and with Rick Nash(notes) this summer to improve his conditioning, which was a topic of discussion after last season for Blue Jackets management. So there's some reason for optimism.

This contract extension is a vote of confidence in Mason's ability to rebound, but it also could be a shrewd investment. If Mason regains his form this season and is, say, a Vezina finalist again, there's no telling how that cap hit could have climbed. If Mason flops again ... well, maybe someone will find a project with a low cap hit appealing.

In our minds, it's better to give a young goalie the positive reinforcement of a contract extension than the added mental weight of playing for one this season. Now it's on Mason to prove his worth ... and prove incorrect the multitude of hockey fans who think his rookie season owed more than a little to Coach Ken Hitchcock's system.

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