News came yesterday that Nashville Predators starting goaltender Pekka Rinne had been injured while playing in the KHL. While the word isn’t in yet on the severity of Rinne’s groin injury, there’s a possibility that he might be out for an extended period. If the lockout ends soon and we do see a shortened hockey season, that means somebody other than Pekka could end up playing every game in net for Nashville. The number one man for the job is a player long-time Predators fans remember well: journeyman goalie Chris Mason.
Chris Mason has been minding nets in the National Hockey League since the 1998-99 season. The native of Red Deer, Alberta, played most of that season in the old International Hockey League with the Milwaukee Admirals, but he played three games that year for the expansion Predators in relief of starting goalie Mike Dunham. Mason spent the 1999-2000, 2000-01, and 2001-02 seasons putting up better numbers in Milwaukee, playing one game for Nashville during that span. After he moved to the Florida Panthers franchise prior to the start of the 2002-03 season and having a solid season with the AHL’s San Antonio Rampage, Nashville reacquired Mason in the waiver draft before the 2003-04 season.
That was the beginning of a four-year tenure with the Predators, where Mason advanced under the tutelage of Nashville goalie coach Mitch Korn. He posted solid numbers as the backup to starter Tomas Vokoun from 2003-04 to 2006-07. When Vokoun was diagnosed with a rare blood condition in April 2006, Mason started for the team during the playoffs. Prior to the 2006-07 season Vokoun was ready to return, but he hurt his thumb and Chris Mason got the call. Playing in 40 games for the Predators, 38 of them starts, he finished the season 24-11-4 with a 2.38 GAA and .925 save percentage.
Nashville’s starting job fell to Mason when Vokoun was traded to the Florida Panthers for draft picks in former Nashville owner Craig Leipold’s summer 2007 fire sale. Playing under less-than-ideal circumstances for a weakened team, Mason went 18-22-6 with a 2.90 GAA and .898 save percentage as the Preds barely squeaked into the playoffs.
After 2006-07, Nashville opted to go with Dan Ellis in net and Mason signed with the Preds’ division rivals, the St. Louis Blues. In two years of work there he started 112 games, winning 57 and posting respectable numbers. At the end of his contract he signed with the Atlanta Thrashers for 2010-11 and 2011-12, but he reverted to the backup role behind Ondrej Pavolec. This summer, he turned down an offer to resign with Atlanta/Winnipeg and returned to Nashville to become Pekka Rinne’s backup.
“Coming back to Nashville was really easy because the familiarity with all the staff,” Mason told the City Paper back in July. “I still know quite a few guys on the team, and just my family’s love for Nashville as a city — it was a no-brainer for me. It just felt like Nashville was home.”
The plan when he came back to Nashville was to have him play somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 games. That might still end up happening. But if the Predators have to call on Chris Mason more often this season in the event that Pekka Rinne’s injury is serious, he’ll be ready to answer the call. You don’t play 306 career NHL games in net without being reliable. He might not be a replacement for Rinne, but he’s precisely the kind of backup you want on hand in an emergency.