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.
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.