So we’ve pretty much heard the last of Mason Raymond. The disappointing winger failed to return to his Canucks glory days, or even continue the good form he had in Toronto. It was a smart move at the time that failed to pan out. That happens in hockey.
What’s glossed over is that Raymond was still useful, and was a member of one of the better lines the Flames had this past season. This article was written prior to the buyout news, arguing for Raymond to join up with Mikael Backlund and Michael Frolik to form a formidable middle six line.
The missing piece
The Flames’ forwards, and generally all NHL forwards, are best seen as pairs rather than complete lines. Players come and go, and whole lines rarely stick together long enough to be seen as one unit rather than just a temporary solution for a period of time. For Calgary we have duos such as Monahan-Gaudreau, Stajan-Jones (RIP), and Backlund-Frolik.
Frolik and Backlund were a match made in heaven as soon as the ink dried on Frolik’s contract. They both play smart possession games and formed a great partnership. Together, they played nearly 600 minutes this year, and drove play north almost every time they were on the ice.
However, they lacked a scoring touch. Backlund and Frolik can certainly get the puck into the offensive zone, but they seem to have problems lighting the lamp. Throughout the year, many solutions were attempted with little success. Colborne played there (106:53, 5 GF), Bouma did (52:04, 0 GF), Bennett did (260:13, 11 GF), and so did Mason Raymond (58.54, 4 GF). In terms of GF/60, only Raymond cracked over 4.00 with Frolik and Backlund. No one else hit above three.
If he can do one thing okayish, Mason Raymond can score goals. He is the toe for the tic-tac. He may not excel in the dirty work that results in offensive zone time and shot generation, but he can apply the finishing touches. That’s why he could be great if he spent a full season with Backlund and Frolik.
The case for Raymond
To argue why Raymond would be a good fit with Backlund and Frolik, we can take a look at a whole number of things. Let’s start with some simple charts.
All at 5v5, all from hockeyanalysis.com:
Here’s how Raymond performs with regards to goals for with the entire team. Ignoring Brodie (the dot wayyyy over on the right), Backlund is the main standout with Frolik coming closest among forwards. Frolik is the red ‘O’ in Ramo.
In terms of corsi for%, Backlund is once again far and away the best with Raymond, and Frolik is not far behind (he’s the red dot overlapping the ‘BA’ in Backlund).
Now the two stand out even more. What these charts prove is that Raymond is absolutely dependent on Backlund and Frolik for any kind of success. For whatever reason (likely because of Backlund and Frolik’s amazing abilities to absolutely put the team on their backs), Raymond can only work with these two. Why mess with something that’s working?
The counter argument is that there is already something working. Sam Bennett played on the left wing after Raymond fell off the face of the Earth, joining a line that was occasionally the only thing worth watching on certain nights. With Bennett taking an extra leap next year, that line could be a juggernaut.
Looking at Puckalytics’ Super WOWY tool, we can really answer this question. MMM is Mason-Mikael-Michael, and BBF is Bennett-Backlund-Frolik.
Factoring in zone starts, it can’t possibly be said that the BBF line was better than the triple-M line. While triple-M didn’t have as much TOI together, they are still far and away the better combination. They drive possession north with zone starts that start south and score at a better clip, too. They’re everything you want from a middle six line.
The final word
Before the news broke, this article was supposed to go up today arguing the case for the Flames to keep Raymond around. Seeing as he’s being bought out, that can’t happen anymore.
Instead, we can now argue that Raymond should probably not have been the buyout target. Even if only he held value in a niche circumstance, the value provided in that niche was at least in the neighbourhood of the cash he was being paid. You probably can’t say the same for Dennis Wideman, who could’ve saved the team an extra $2M if he was bought out.