The nine-year veteran signed a two-year deal with the Jets that pays the former Philadelphia Flyers’ starter an average annual salary of US$4.1 million.
"I’ll be in a Canadian market now, which is something that ever since I started playing is something I always dreamed about," Mason said in a conference call from his hometown of Oakville, Ont.
Winnipeg also addressed a need on defence, signing left-handed shooter Dmitry Kulikov to a three-year contract worth $4.3 million per season. The native of Lipsetsk, Russia, has played 507 NHL games, spending his first seven seasons with Florida and last year with Buffalo.
The 28-year-old played only 47 games with the Sabres because of a back injury suffered in the pre-season.
"Winnipeg is a team that I feel like in the near future could be contending for the Stanley Cup and I’m excited to join," Kulikov said in a call from Boca Raton, Fla.
Mason said five teams were interested in his services as he entered free agency for the first time in his career. He’s played 463 NHL games, posting a 200-177-63 record with 33 shutouts. His NHL career began in 2008-09 with the Columbus Blue Jackets and he was shipped to Philadelphia before the 2013 trade deadline.
The former Calder Trophy winner said he should be able to help Hellebuyck, who was given Winnipeg’s starting job in only his second season last year after veteran goalie Ondrej Pavelec was sent to the AHL following training camp. Pavelec signed a one-year deal with the New York Rangers Saturday.
"He’s had some success in the league, but he’s also experienced some difficulties, which is a good thing," Mason said of Hellebuyck.
"I believe that when you find a way to come out of a tough situation, it makes you better, makes you a better hockey player, makes you a better person, and I’ve gone through some similar things as Connor may have experienced and I believe that I’m somebody that can continue to help guide him through the early onset of his NHL career and, hopefully, he’ll find working with me beneficial."
Winnipeg’s 87 points (40-35-7) last season was the second highest since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011, but the Jets missed the playoffs for the fifth time in six seasons.
Hellebuyck went 26-19-4 with a 2.89 goals-against average and .907 save percentage. The 24-year-old was backed up by third-year Michael Hutchinson (9-12-3). Pavelec was called up in January and played eight games (4-4) before getting injured and never returning.
The 29-year-old Mason played 58 games last season for the Flyers, putting up a 26-21-8 record with three shutouts, a 2.66 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. He said he thinks he’s just entering the prime of his career and that the Jets are on the rise.
"I believe that I can be a piece that helps get this team over the hump here," he said.
Winnipeg general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said it was important to get the right term of contracts with Mason and Kulikov, as the Jets paid $4 million in performance bonuses last season and "we’re a cap team here now."
He also described Mason as being "in the prime" of his career and said Kulikov could play a "top-four role" on defence.
"I think we should focus on the now," Cheveldayoff said at a press conference. "These deals were about the now. They’re not necessarily about where we’re going to be as we move forward."
The Jets also signed a pair of forwards, Michael Sgarbossa and Buddy Robinson, as well as defenceman Cameron Schilling.
Sgarbossa is a 24-year-old from Campbellville, Ont., who played nine NHL games with Anaheim and 29 with the Panthers last season. New Jersey native Buddy Robinson, 25, skated in four games with the Ottawa Senators before being traded to San Jose in January and sent to its AHL club. Schilling is from Indiana and has six NHL games with Washington in five years.