Updated: Steve Mason moved to Montreal, placed on waivers for buyout
The Montreal Canadiens made one of the biggest trade splashes in the post-draft weeks ahead of free agency on Saturday morning, when it was announced that Marc Bergevin had acquired forward Joel Armia, a pair of draft selections, and goaltender Steve Mason from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for defender Dominik Simon.
While Joel Armia is a decent forward pick-up for the Canadiens, the real piece in the deal is clearly veteran Mason, who was almost certainly moved out of Winnipeg to clear up cap space ahead of July 1st.
The goaltending market has been particularly hot ahead of the summer 2018 free agent season.
With younger free agents like Robin Lehner and Petr Mrazek joining more established veterans like Jonathan Bernier and Cam Ward on the market, the league has seen a wealth of possibilities for teams like Detroit, Chicago, Buffalo, and the New York Islanders as they look to shore up their depth in the crease for the 2018-19 campaign.
For Montreal, picking up Mason helps them enter the market, acquiring a reasonably desirable tandem or 1B backup piece in Mason to almost certainly dangle as trade bait for desperate teams.
The 69th overall pick in the 2006 NHL Entry Draft, Mason has amassed a nice NHL career for himself since hitting the league in 2008 with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After four-and a half seasons with the club that drafted him out of the OHL’s London Knights, Mason was moved to the Philadelphia Flyers nearly a year after his former club had picked up fellow goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky from the Metropolitan division team themselves.
He spent another four-and a half seasons with Philadelphia, establishing himself as a bona fide NHL number one before injuries and inconsistent stats in his final season with the Flyers resulted in him hitting free agency in the summer of 2017.
He signed a two-year, $8.2 million deal with Winnipeg in free agency last summer, coming on board to provide veteran stability behind starter Connor Hellebuyck – but despite finally finding some consistency with the Jets a few games into his tenure, multiple injuries plagued him and he found himself struggling to reassure fans moving forward.
With Mason now likely on the market as a piece to be flipped by Montreal – who almost certainly can’t afford to have as much money as they would tied up in him and starter Carey Price – the free agent market likely shifts a bit, although not much. Teams like the Islanders may consider what adding Mason would do, especially if Montreal is willing to retain salary in order to pick him up for other assets – especially with Carter Hutton, the widely-regarded top option on the free agent market, already reportedly headed to Buffalo tomorrow.
With just a 13-game sample size last season, though – and a .906 raw save percentage in the process – there’s no telling what teams will be willing to take on in terms of bringing him on board.
Update: it was confirmed, via Renaud Lavoie of TVA, that Mason was placed on unconditional waivers after being picked up by Montreal. Per the summer buyout process, this means he’ll be eligible for a buyout at noon eastern time on Sunday, making him an unrestricted free agent able to sign a new deal with another club on the first day of the free agency period.
Montreal will carry a $1,366,667 million cap hit in both the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons for the buyout, per CapFriendly.
Although Mason does have the aforementioned injury history, this creates a new host of possibilities in regards to where he’s able to go and what teams will be able to consider him on the market in the coming weeks. Although teams looking for health in net may shy away from him as an option, his consistency prior to his final season with Philadelphia may have teams like Carolina, Ottawa, or even Winnipeg (on a lower deal) looking to bring him on board. In Winnipeg’s case, a return via free agency may have even been a consideration ahead of the transaction, which would have explained the significantly higher value of the assets heading to Montreal in the deal made just hours prior to the buyout announcement – although there’s no confirmation in any direction at the moment as to where he could be looking to head in 24 hours’ time.
*This story was updated with additional information following the original publication*