August 13 2014 10:30AM
My initial reaction to the signing of Mason Raymond was undoubtedly tinted by the departure of Michael Cammalleri. The squid left big shoes to fill and the timing made Raymond the obvious man to step into them. The fact that Raymond was drafted by the Canucks and has been their property for most of his career didn't exactly help either. However, reviled opponents often become beloved allies. Is Raymond likely to win over devoted Canuck-haters such as myself?
Mason Raymond is a 28 year old (Born Sept. 17) native of Cochrane, which might be a giant suburb now but was more of a small town while he was growing up. He was drafted #51 overall by Vancouver in 2005. Listed by the Flames as being 6'0" and 185 pounds, Raymond doesn't precisely fit with Burke and Treliving's desire to make the Flames a bigger team. With a career shooting percentage of 9.7%, he's not exactly a sniper with a finishing touch like Cammalleri. During his time with the Canucks Raymond wasn't notable for his ability to score or even to get into dirty areas of the ice. He was occasionally called out for sticking to the perimeter. However, he was a key part of the team that went to the Stanley Cup finals because he drove possession and made everyone around him better. Unfortunately, in game 6 of those finals, Raymond was hit by Johnny Boychuk (who still plays for Boston) and fractured two vertebrae. He didn't play again until mid-December the following season and was a very different player when he returned.
The Backlund Parallels
When Raymond debuted with the Canucks, he was initially very sheltered, as one would expect for a rookie. The following season, in 2008-2009, he played primarily with the Sedin twins but managed just 23 points (the Sedin's combined for 164). In 2009-2010, at the age of 25, he was put into a shut-down role where he excelled, putting up excellent possession stats and a career high 48 points. The future looked very bright indeed for Mason Raymond at this time. He looked eerily similar to how Mikael Backlund did last season during his own 25-year old season, except Raymond put up more points and played with better teammates on average.
The (assisted) Fall
The 2010-2011 version of the Canucks was one of those rare championship caliber teams that could roll four lines. Almost all forwards faced the same QoC and Raymond was no longer in a shut-down role. Unfortunately, his Sh% plummeted from 11.5% to 7.6% so his point total was not nearly as high as it was the previous season. However his possession stats continued to be excellent. A WOWY comparison indicated that this wasn't simply due to his line-mates. His line-mates were significantly better with him on the ice than off. Mason Raymond was driving possession on a team that went right to Game #7 of the Stanley Cup finals. Unfortunately, during Game 6 of the 2011 Stanley Cup finals, Johnny Boychuk ended Raymond's season.
Aftermath and Recovery
|Team||Season||OZS%||ES QoC TOI%||P/60||S/60||Sh%||CF%||CF% Rel|
*Stats are for all situations, courtesy of ExtraSkater
Many have since blamed this injury for changing Raymond from a possession driving monster to a much more mediocre player. Raymond returned to the Canucks in December of 2011 and slotted in with roughly the same line-mates. However, while he had made them all better the previous season, in 2011-2012 he was a possession anchor that dragged everyone who played with him down. His sh% continued to be relatively poor and he took fewer shots to boot, making 2011-2012 a very disappointing season. The following season, in 2012-2013, he was given substantially more shelter but failed to take advantage of the easier competition to improve his possession stats or point production. It surprised few when the Canucks declined to extend his contract at the end of the season. Raymond went unsigned through the 2013 UFA season and was a training camp tryout with the Leafs.
Imagine a player like Mikael Backlund being ignored through the UFA season and being reduced to a tryout contract because nobody was willing to sign him! This is essentially what happened to Raymond. While he missed only 2 games in the shortened 2012-2013 season due to a shoulder injury, Raymond was clearly still suffering the effects of his spinal injury. The good news is that Raymond appeared to turn things around in Toronto last season. Although his CF% was lower with the Leafs than it was with Vancouver the year before, Raymond received less shelter with Toronto than he did in his last season with Vancouver. It should also be noted that Toronto was the second worst possession team in the league last season, ahead of only Buffalo.
WOWY: The Leafs and Raymond
Here, we see even strength difference (between without and with) in CF% for Raymond and the Leafs he played over 200 minutes with. Negative numbers in the first column indicate the player was worse without Raymond and negative numbers in the second column indicate Raymond was worse without the player. In general, Raymond's line-mates look worse without him than he does without them, although he still suffers quite a bit without some of his line-mates as well. Mason Raymond might not have been driving the bus last season, but he showed signs of shouting generally helpful directions from the back-seat.
Even better than his possession game improving, Raymond's point production also doubled. Last season he posted the second best total of his career, although it took him a full 82 games to do it. He finished #5 in scoring on the Leafs with 45 points. Toronto undoubtedly got a bargain last season, paying just $1M for Ramond's services.
Mason Raymond is at an age where he should be very close to his peak, but it's clear that he still has a ways to go before returning to the form he was in three seasons ago. Recovering from a spinal injury such as Raymond suffered can take several years and might never be complete. If the Flames are lucky Raymond could improve year-over-year throughout his three year contract. If he returns to anywhere near the level he was playing at before his injury, Raymond could be a very important contributor to the Flames before his contract expires. That may not happen next season though. If Raymond is immediately expected to play top competition it may go very poorly for both him and the team! He will probably need to be sheltered to be effective, at least for a while. On the other hand, even if he merely treads water Raymond should at least provide good value for his relatively cheap ($3.1M/yr) contract and possibly bring a useful asset back if traded.
The key to appreciating Raymond is to forget about losing Cammalleri and view Raymond strictly as a free agent plucked from the ether. On his own, he is immediately useful in a sheltered scoring role. He can also be viewed as project player, since he has the potential to eventually become a possession monster like Backlund if his recovery continues.
I would wager that Raymond is pretty amazing on the golf green too...