Assessing Mason's future won't wait much longer

Sunday, May 19, 2013 at 7:57pm

The Nashville Predators are not convinced that they owe Chris Mason a do-over.

Signed as a free agent last summer with the idea that he could keep starting goalie Pekka Rinne from overuse, the 37-year-old made just six starts in the 48-game 2012-13 season, and half of those came when Nashville’s playoff hopes effectively — or officially — were gone.

General manager David Poile does believe, though, that Mason deserves honesty. And soon.

Mason, after all, is set to become an unrestricted free agent again in July. Given that he was 1-7-1 with a 3.73 goals-against average and .873 save percentage in his limited work, his return in 2013-14 is anything but a given.

“I’m going to meet with the coaches when Barry [Trotz] and myself get back from the World Championships and we’re going to get a plan going forward,” Poile said a week and a half ago. “We’ve had just the one conversation with Chris Mason. We’ll owe him a call at some time at the end of May, the beginning of June — something like that — when we determine whether we would like to bring him back or if we’re going in a different direction. But we haven’t had those conversations yet.”

Poile was an executive with Team USA and Trotz was an assistant coach for Team Canada at the World Championships, which ended Sunday in Stockholm, Sweden. The U.S. team earned the bronze medal but the Canadians lost in the quarterfinals to eventual champion Sweden.

The NHL regular season concluded a little more than three weeks ago and for only the second time in nine seasons Nashville failed to earn a playoff spot. Poile said it was necessary to let time pass and allow the disappointment of 10 losses (nine in regulation) in the final 11 contests to fade.

“I would definitely love to be back,” Mason said. “It was kind of a weird year, and I know they have to kind of assess the situation and see which way they want to go in regard to that position. So I’ll just have to wait and see.”

The situation became somewhat more complex two weeks ago when Rinne underwent surgery to correct a degenerative condition in his hip. Rehabilitation from the procedure was expected to take four months, which would last almost to the start of training camp.

Therefore, he will not be able to perform his typical offseason conditioning regimen. His workload during training camp, preseason and the early weeks of the regular season likely is to be affected.

That being said, the 30-year-old is just one year into a seven-year, $49 million contract. Plus he is a two-time Vezina Trophy finalist and firmly established as one of the NHL’s top netminders.

“We have to plan for the goalie that we sign, if it’s Chris or somebody else, that we’re playing 82 games, Pekka’s going to the Olympics and we’re going to the playoffs,” Poile said. “Having said that, how many games is our second goalie going to play? We have to make our decision based on that. That’s how I stand on that.”

Mason has been a part of successful goalie tandems with Nashville and elsewhere.

He played in 23 games and went 12-5-1 for the Predators in 2005-06, when Tomas Vokoun was the No. 1. The next season he went 24-11-4 when Vokoun was sidelined late in the year by a blood clot condition. In two seasons with Atlanta/Winnipeg before he returned to Nashville he went 21-20-4 in 53 appearances.

This season, though, he made four relief appearances and no starts between Feb. 18 and March 28. Rinne’s 42 starts were one off the league lead shared by three players.

“It’s really, really hard,” Poile said. “… The best-laid plans that we had all went up in smoke right away. Every game, it seemed like we had to win for the playoffs and on and on. [Mason] sat out virtually two months and we were expecting him to go in.

“That could be the role that someone — or Chris — has to have. It’s a tough role.”

Mason started the final two games and stopped 44 of 46 shots he faced in a 3-1 loss at Columbus on the final day of the regular season. His only win, though was Jan. 22 at Minnesota, his first game of the season.

“Getting the opportunity to at least play a couple games within a relatively close time period kind of helps you feel a little bit better,” Mason said. “We didn’t win — obviously, that’s the bottom line — but I felt we played a good game [at Columbus]. So it’s good, I guess, to end it on that note.”

Particularly if it was the end of his time with Nashville.