The Blue Jackets had the worst record in the league last year at 29-46-7. Mason did play better in the second half as the club went 18-21-2 after Scott Arniel was fired and Richards took over as interim head coach (he had the interim tag taken away last summer).
For the franchise to lift itself out of the depths, it has to get better on defense. It has added several blue-liners in the past year to help that effort, including steady veterans Adrian Aucoin and Jack Johnson. But the goaltending must get better to foster any hope for the downtrodden fan base.
"Coming into the season I had a pretty good focus on what areas we had to improve in," Richards said. "That was, plain and simple, keeping the puck out of our net."
Bobrovsky is making $900,000 and Mason $3.2 million heading into this, their final season before both become restricted free agents. They know they must produce.
Mason worked out in his native Toronto with several other NHL players during the lockout.
"It's going to be a great thing for the team, having two young guys competing for ice time," said Mason, who set almost every Columbus franchise record in 2008-09. "It's going to make sure that we both bring our best stuff."
Bobrovsky was extremely effective playing in his native Russia during the lockout.
"Of course, competition is good," said Bobrovsky, a skinny 6-foot-2 left-handed catcher. "It makes you better and I understand that I have to get better every day."
So it all comes down to this: Two guys the same age out to show who's more deserving of a new contract and a place on a team that hopes to be much more competitive this season.
Everyone is keeping an eye on the two goalies.
"It's never bad to have competition within a team," defenseman James Wisniewski said. "We all want a job. Sometimes you've got to earn it and it's not always given to you. I know both guys want to play more games than the other one, but it's going to be up to them to prove that."
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