Word comes this morning that the Nashville Predators have traded goalie Chris Mason to the St. Louis Blues for a 4th-round draft pick. This clears the way for handing the #1 job to Dan Ellis, who in yesterday's Tennessean discussed the three-way situation between himself, Mason and Pekka Rinne as an obstacle to re-signing with Nashville. This morning the Predators have also announced a multi-year deal with the one-time University of Nebraska-Omaha standout.
The question of course is how much it will cost the Preds to lock up Ellis (terms weren't disclosed immediately), who came out of nowhere to have a successful, if at times inconsistent, season. Mason is entering the first year of a two-season contract worth $3 million per, which was earned at the time based on 82 games of NHL action, mostly as Tomas Vokoun's backup. In 2006-7, Mason had one of the top performances in the league as he played 40 games due to injury troubles for Vokoun. At this point, Dan Ellis has 45 games under his belt, with similarly solid numbers. How will his new contract compare to what Chris Mason received? My guess is that they'll be in roughly the same ballpark, but I would lobby for something slightly less given the concerns about his ability to maintain playing weight, and unproven ability to handle the starters job for more than a few weeks at a time. UPDATE: John Glennon reports that the new deal is for 2 years, averaging $1.75 million each. A great deal for both sides, as Ellis gets his shot at a #1 job and the Preds go into the season projected to spend a mere $2.3 million on their goaltending.
No matter the case, Predators GM David Poile has appeared to have successfully resolved the logjam in net, and while a 4th-round pick isn't great value in return, the likely alternative would have been for Nashville to let Ellis walk away via free agency, and receive nothing. This way, they did land an extra pick (along with that 5th-rounder for Darcy Hordichuk, will they bundle a few to move up, perhaps?), and set themselves up well for the medium term with Ellis as #1 and Pekka Rinne having the opportunity to back him up while learning the ropes at the NHL level. Rinne's $575K salary also helps offset some of the payroll increases of the last few months, so I'm sure that was part of the consideration. Well done, Mr. Poile...
And, of course, you have to wish the best of luck to Chris Mason in St. Louis; during a trying 2007-8 season he never appeared bitter at seeing Dan Ellis take over in goal, and his team-first attitude was apparent during Preds TV coverage, when he'd provide on-the-bench commentary during the 3rd period. He was on the air when Jason Arnott scored the go-ahead goal against the Red Wings in Game Three of the playoffs, only 9 seconds after the game had been tied, and his excitement and enthusiasm came through loud and clear. He always seemed to be a grounded, regular guy with a great attitude, and the fans in St. Louis will appreciate that.