Mason Raymond’s road to redemption

When you sign a contract on the opening day of free agency, there’s a certain degree of expectation for you. When it’s a three-year deal worth nearly $10 million, those expectations go up. It’s not first liner money, but it is a contract that says, loud and clear, “We expect you to be a good player for us.”

And initially, Mason Raymond held up that bargain. He scored a hat trick in his second game in a Flames uniform; he had seven points over 10 games throughout the month of October 2014, including another three-point game. It was a great story: the Cochrane kid returning to Calgary to play for the team he grew up cheering for.

And then he got injured. He missed all of November. He went pointless through 10 games in December. By the end of the year, he was on the fourth line – if he was so lucky as to make the lineup to begin with.

That’s not the player the Flames wanted when they signed him on July 1, 2014 – and it may no longer be the player they have.

It’s a long road back

All that said, it’s still early yet. Raymond had an extremely underwhelming pre-season, right up until the penultimate game. It seemed like a last chance for him, and he responded. Raymond led the way with six shots on net, and despite no goals, he was a force to be reckoned with. He earned the 24:50 he played, second to only Jakub Nakladal in ice time that night.

And then he was scratched for the final preseason game. And then, of course, he was waived.

First off: there’s no way that being waived can be a good feeling. For your team to essentially say, “Nah, we’re cool with giving you away for free,” is an indication of just how much it values you (not much, in this case). For whatever reason, it makes you an unwanted commodity. In Raymond’s case, it was likely a factor of both play and contract. The play wasn’t good enough compared to the rest of the team, and when you add in that price tag, there’s no justifying it.

Second off: to not even be claimed has to be an extra sting. We all saw Paul Byron was sad to leave the Flames, but hey, at least the Canadiens showed interest in him. He may have been given away for nothing, but a team still wanted him. (Now, if they’d actually dress him…)

Raymond, on the other hand? Nobody even wanted him for free. That’s exactly what needs to happen in order to get you sent to the minors; that’s the sort of thing that can signify your NHL career as over (see: Setoguchi, Devin). 

Demoting Raymond wasn’t exactly an option, though. Not with that contract. That pretty much would have been the death knell: this is an expensive, underwhelming player we don’t even want on our team. Who would pick up that contract (at least not without having to throw in some sweeteners you’d rather not have to part with)?

That really only left one option: sending a message. Nobody got rid of your problem for you, so you have to try to not make it a problem anymore. That means telling Raymond something along the lines of, “Look at how close you came. Prove everybody wrong.”

And then Raymond was, of course, scratched for the 2015-16 season opener.

Game time

When Raymond drew in for the second game of the season, he was given a legitimate shot. He went from healthy scratch to second line left winger in a matter of days, playing on a line with two guys who should give him a genuine boost: Michael Frolik and Sam Bennett.

And Raymond responded. He failed to register any points, but then again, neither did his linemates. What was really evident was how hard he was playing, though, and he led his team with five shots on net. He also led the way with four individual scoring chances, two of which were high danger ones, so his lack of scoring wasn’t for lack of trying. He really, really wanted it.

That’s when things were going well, though. The Flames, as a collective whole, looked pretty good in their rematch against the Canucks. A true test of character, though, is when times are tough.

You could argue times have been tough for Raymond for quite some time now – finding yourself on the outside looking in on your team will do that – but still, it’s easy to look good when everyone around you is, too. 

Against the St. Louis Blues, the Flames did not look particularly good. Sure, they did to start the game, and the third period is still a thing now, apparently, but outside of that, the Flames, as a whole, were sloppy and uncoordinated, unable to get much of anything going.

Raymond did have a good start – he drove to the net hard enough to temporarily remove himself from the game, after all (and was rewarded for it! It was a nice goal) – but after that, he wasn’t seen from as much. He still tied for the team lead with two shots on net, and he was one of the very few Flames with more than one individual scoring chance (and an actual high danger chance; driving the net that hard will do that), though.

That is to say: he was still trying. And when you have someone in Raymond’s position, that’s the absolute minimum you can ask for. That’s the absolute minimum he needs to do.

And he’s doing it.

Where do we go from here?

Before, the best case scenario was to be rid of Raymond’s contract with no losses of the rest of the organization’s assets. A waiver claim would have done that. It didn’t happen, though.

Not having Raymond’s contract on the books may still be the best case scenario, but fact is, it’s not realistic.

So the best case scenario that might actually happen? Exactly what’s happened these past two games. Raymond continues to drive the net. He continues to put himself in position to score. The left side has a lot of bodies, but after Johnny Gaudreau, none particularly stand out; if Raymond can make himself the guy to stand out, then his cap hit isn’t as big an issue anymore.

If Raymond can go back to the 45 point guy he was in Toronto, then that’s awesome. It probably won’t happen – Raymond’s best years have come with him playing top six minutes, and with the Flames and their uncertain forward makeup after the top line, that’s no guarantee – but coming within reach of that would be outstanding. Last season, only two non-top line forwards reached the 30 point mark. This season, if Raymond can get there, he’ll be an asset to the Flames.

He still has to find his place in the lineup, but then again, a lot of guys do. As it stands, though, it looks like Raymond will be a Flame for the next two seasons.

Hopefully he makes the best of it.

  • CofRed4Life

    Raymond’s a very interesting case. Some nights he seems to be lighting it up and skating around everyone, and other nights he’s completely invisible (and that can happen in the same game, like it did against St. Louis).

    I think management is trying to give him every chance to succeed (since no one claimed him on waivers and we have so many injuries), and he seems to have responded a little, but it’s such a small sample size, I’m not sold yet. I still believe there’s middle 6 potential for him like his contract suggests, but he’s at the point where he needs to prove he can perform night in and night out before he solidifies that spot in my mind.

  • everton fc

    Has he really been redeemed?

    He’ll need to continue playing the way he has for the past three or so games and put up points for full redemption, meaning he’ll have to show consistency every game. I hope he succeeds – seems like a good guy.

  • beloch

    Even while he was making great plays, getting lots of shots, etc. Raymond was still being badly outplayed along the boards or pretty much any time there wasn’t open ice around him. A butterfly can still fart him off the puck.

    Perhaps Raymond is one of those players who is top six on a good day but utterly inept at playing a bottom six role. When he’s with linemates who can open up the ice with snappy passing plays his speed and puck skills make him an offensive threat. If he’s playing with bumpers and grinders he’s worthless.

    The lines Sportack tweeted have him moved down to the fourth line with Jooris and Bollig. To me, this says Raymond is in deep trouble and, barring an outstanding performance or two, in imminent danger of being sent down.

    • beloch

      I completely disagree and honestly have no idea where you would be getting that idea from. I’m fairly certain that the lines were shuffled in order to try and find more secondary scoring, as after the first line there hasn’t been much working.

      Moving Backlund to 2C, thereby bumping Bennett to 2LW will hopefully address this lack of secondary scoring. The invariable result of this roster shuffle is that Raymond is moved down the lineup. Not sure how you can say thats a sign that Raymond is in “deep trouble” and in “imminent danger of being sent down”. Especially after one great performance and one decent performance, i thought he has been one of the better forwards the last two games.

      Besides, even if you send Raymond down, what are the better options from the minors? Hathaway likely won’t help with the scoring woes, Agostino might but he is unproven, as is Poirier.

      • beloch

        I say Raymond is in deep trouble because he’s likely going to have to win a lot of close-in puck battles when he’s playing on the fourth line. Any line with Bollig on it isn’t going to generate a lot of fancy passing plays and open ice. Raymond is going to have to dig pucks out of the corner after dump-ins or take them away from the opposing team, and he’s terrible at those things. I like Jooris, but he’s not good enough to single-handedly drag Bollig and Raymond North on a consistent basis.

        Who you call up from Stockton is an interesting question. You probably don’t have to worry about replacing Raymond’s scoring because he’s simply not going to be scoring much if he stays on the fourth line. The bar will be set lower. Anyone who doesn’t get pushed off every loose puck he tries to corral will be an improvement.

          • piscera.infada

            The amount of cap relief you get from “burying contracts in the minors” is equal to:

            [minimum salary for that year] + $375,000.00.

            The amount left on a player’s AAV still remains on the team’s salary cap.

            [Above: NHL CBA article 50.5 (d)(i)(b)6]

            For Raymond:

            The minimun salary for 2015 is $575,000.00 [CBA article 11.12 (a)].

            Thus: $575,000.00 + $375,000.00 = $950,000.00 (total cap savings).

            $3,150,000.00 (Raymond’s AAV) – $950,000.00 = $2,200,000.00 (remaining cap hit).

  • MattyFranchise

    Hate to admit it at this point but Raymond will play his ups and down season. There has been no real reason to think something is going to change other then if his issue has been due to injuries. However, his career has been that way since his Vancouver days. My guess he will play this way this year too and because of the need for cap space the Flames will buy out his final year of his contract next summer.

  • al rain

    I don’t have a strong opinion one way or another on Raymond’s redemption, but I’ll dispute your reasoning that “nobody even wanted him for free”. Yes, picking a guy up off waivers doesn’t cost picks and players but it costs cap space and a contract. If Byron’s price tag was $3M and Raymond’s was $1M, we’d be bumming about giving up on Raymond too soon and Byron would be our pariah.

  • Derzie

    In simple terms, playing well takes skill and will. With Raymond it is all about inconsistent will. If you scratch/waive someone and they magically turn into a player, that’s will. The skill was already there. You look at guys like Gio & Monahan, they are example of players who’s will almost always keeps up with their skill. Consistent. Mason is old enough now that we know as soon as this latest kick in the pants wears off, the will drops. Hartley is good at this but he is in tough to keep Mason motivated.