At 36 years old, Chris Mason decided it was time to do something different.
So he joined the Nashville Predators. For the third time.
“My whole career I kind of was on teams that have been in the rebuilding mode,” he said. “I just felt you only get so many chances to be on a winning team, a team that’s ready to win. I just felt Nashville was at that point, and that really is what my decision was based on.”
That opportunity was worth enough to him that he rejected a two-year offer to stay with the Winnipeg Jets and accepted a one-year deal with Nashville just hours into the free agency signing period, which began July 1.
Two weeks later he remains the team’s only significant acquisition of the offseason. The Predators did hang on to center Paul Gaustad and defenseman Hal Gill. They also were disappointed, though, when they lost defenseman Ryan Suter to Minnesota, a decision that did nothing to alter Mason’s confidence in his decision.
“Nashville … had an unbelievable season last year,” he said. “The players they have, the coaches and the organization — I just really wanted to be part of that again.”
It has been three years since the last time Mason was on a playoff team. He hasn’t been the winning goalie in a playoff game since 2006, and that was with the Predators, a postseason participant in seven of the past eight seasons and the only Western Conference team to get beyond the first round each of the past two years.
Other than that, he could not find a situation that offered more familiarity.
He was in the Nashville system during the franchise’s first three years of competition and then returned for a four-season run beginning in 2003-04. The vast majority of that time, which included 135 appearances for the Predators, he was a backup to Tomas Vokoun.
This time he’ll be the No. 2 behind Pekka Rinne, and if things go according to plan, he will play somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 games. The coaches, including head coach Barry Trotz and goalie coach Mitch Korn, management and many of the players are the same as four years ago when he last suited up for them.
“Coming back to Nashville was really easy because the familiarity with all the staff, and 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. …” he said. “It just felt like Nashville was home.”
In a way, it was.
When he left Nashville the last time as a free agent and signed with St. Louis, Mason unsuccessfully attempted to sell his home in Franklin for several months.
Finally, someone offered to rent the property, so Mason agreed. He has been a landlord ever since and has no plans to alter that arrangement. He and his wife Courtney last week settled on a place in Brentwood that they will rent for the coming season while the house they own remains occupied.
“We always kind of talked as a family that maybe we’d like to come back,” he said. “But we never knew for certain. Now going back to play with the Predators is really, really cool, and we couldn’t be happier it worked out that way.”
Somehow, it always seems to work out that way.
Nashville first acquired Mason in a trade with Anaheim less than a week before the first game in franchise history. He spent the 2002-03 season in Florida’s system, but Nashville promptly brought him back through the waiver draft at the end of the 2003 training camp. This time they got him as a free agent after two seasons with St. Louis and two more with Atlanta/Winnipeg.
“They like me, and then they don’t like me,” he said. “Right now they like me. So I’m happy with that.”
What else is new?