Drance Numbers is the silly research wing of PITB. While Messrs. Wagner and Mooney blog nationally and solve mysteries, Drance Numbers will look into the minutiae of quantifiable NHL data and bore you with it every Friday. Today, Drance looks at Mason Raymond’s reputation as a “perimeter player”.

Mason Raymond’s imminent return to the Canucks’ lineup is a great comeback story. Despite some question of whether he would ever play again, Raymond has fully recovered from the fractured vertebrae he sustained during the Stanley Cup Final last June, and will be soon making his season debut. It’s fantastic news.

While Raymond was criticized throughout last season by fans and media alike for his reliance on “perimeter play” and his lack of “finish” – he was something of a darling among Canucks fan stat-heads (all five of us). With his return to the lineup imminent, I figured I’d examine why, and look into the validity of some of the criticism he took last season.

As last season progressed, criticism of the speedy winger heated up. His production diminished from the career-highs of the year prior, and many said that he had taken a step-back. Raymond’s regression was lamented, and the frustration directed at him was probably amplified by the emergence of former Canuck Michael Grabner as a thirty-goal scorer elsewhere. Every time a Raymond wrister hit the goalie, hands were wrung.

By mid-February, the criticism really started to take off: Raymond loses every puck battle; he just can’t finish when he gets glorious chances; he’s not going to the net like he did last season; he’s a perimeter player. He had become a favorite whipping boy of Team Radio callers, and compulsive in game live-tweeters.

Mason Raymond, thinkin' about tractors and stuff.

It wasn’t quite fair. The main thing to remember about Raymond last season is that his role was substantially curtailed from the 2009-10 campaign, largely a result of the arrival of Canucks’ assistant coach Newell Brown, and the signing of Manny Malhotra.

When Brown came to the Canucks to pump up the Canucks special team’s performance, the first thing he decided to do was “load-up” on the first unit powerplay. Instead of rolling a balanced first and second unit, the Canucks put their best power-play goal scorer, Ryan Kesler, with their best power-play point producers. Brown’s adjustment was wildly successful, as the team led the league in power-play percentage, and continues to do so this season, largely on the same strengths.

For Mason Raymond, however, this meant less ice-time with the man-advantage. In fact Raymond’s overall ice-time per game dropped by nearly two and a half minutes per game, about 40 seconds of which was powerplay ice-time. What powerplay time he did get was with Manny Malhotra and Alex Burrows, who are not exactly dynamic point producers with the man-advantage, especially when compared with Ryan Kesler.

Also, with the offseason addition of Manny Malhotra, the Canucks had a legitimate “tough-minutes” line in Malhotra, Hansen and Torres. They were a massive tactical improvement over what Wellwood, Demitra and Bernier brought to the table during Raymond’s 25 goal, 50+ point campaign the season previous and Alain Vigneault gave them the toughest defensive assignments and the majority of the team’s defensive-zone starts. Conversely, he gave the Sedins basically every possible offensive-zone start. So while Raymond and Kesler were able to play “easier” minutes at even-strength, they also played fewer minutes overall and received fewer plum offensive opportunities.

Through all of the criticism, I remained convinced that Raymond was an effective top six player last season, partly because his underlying numbers were spectacular. The Canucks had more shots-for per sixty minutes when Raymond was on the ice than when any other Canucks forward was. He played the fifth highest quality of opposition, his possession stats were off the charts, and he generated well over two shots per game. Among Canuck forwards who played over twenty games with the team, he had the lowest PDO, and I’m convinced that his cratered percentages fuelled the “Raymond regression” myth. The fact is, however, that his production rate (points per sixty minutes) was actually higher last season than it had been the season previous (albeit fuelled by secondary assists).

I wanted to test whether or not Raymond was in fact more of a “perimeter player” last season than he had been the season previous, so I used the “Super Shot Search” app at SomeKindOfNinja.com to graph his shot location data from 2009-10 and 2010-11. These blue dots are not fake freckles from a Judy Blume book – they represent every shot Mason Raymond took at even-strength on the road in 2009-10 and in 2010-11. Here’s what the images look like:

2009-10

2010-11

Shot location data is a contentious issue in the hockey analytics community, mostly because the sources responsible for gathering the data are notoriously unreliable. One of the major issues is that homer stats keepers often doctor stats, which is why Cal Clutterbuck is credited with a hit for every piece of perfunctory contact and passing glance at Xcel Energy Center, or why Darcy Hordichuk was hilariously credited with a hit on this play. To correct for this, I looked only at even-strength shots that occurred on the road. It’s not perfect, but the hope is that the “arena bias” of 29 different stat collectors all comes out in the wash.

Once I had the total for road shots taken at even-strength, I compared them to the number of shots that Raymond took from within home-plate (home-plate being the high percentage area that is used to define a “scoring chance”). Raymond’s results were predictable: while his shots came from the perimeter a touch more in 2010-11 over the season previous, it wasn’t by as much as last year’s outcry would have you believe.

Season

Road Shots Within Home Plate

Road Shots Total at 5-on-5

Home-Plate %

2009-10

33

72

46

2010-11

31

74

42

I was pretty satisfied with this number, but I figured I’d look at some comparable top-six wingers on other teams to determine whether or not Raymond’s numbers were more perimeter-ishlike than those other skaters. I picked power-forward types Ryane Clowe and Nikolai Kulemin, as well as Michael Frolik (a player whose speed, possession stats, production and two-way ability is somewhat Raymondesque). Here’s what I found (data is combined from two seasons, both 2009-10 and 2010-11):

Skater Road Shots Within Home-Plate Total Road Shots Home-Plate %
Mason Raymond 64 146 44%
Ryane Clowe 64 140 46%
Michael Frolik 65 195 33%
Nikolai Kulemin 55 114 48%

While these numbers are by no means definitive, they do give us a reasonable idea of where these respective skaters are shooting from. The similarity between Raymond’s number and that of Clowe’s (and to a lesser extent Kulemin’s) should perhaps give us pause. Maybe Raymond isn’t the “perimeter player” who is “afraid to go to the net” that he was perceived to be by some in the media, and by many a fan ranting on Team1040 call in shows.

Editor’s note: If Raymond is unafraid to go to the dirty areas, doesn’t that make him more of a “perineal player”?

While it will likely take a while for Raymond to re-adjust and become comfortable playing NHL hockey again (recent interviews have shown that, while cleared to play, the largest remaining barrier may be his own comfort level — Ryan Kesler he’s not), he’s a useful two-way player who generates a lot of chances and shots, moves the puck well and plays a solid two-way game in the top-6. To top it off, I’d suggest that his penchant for “perimeter play” is largely a figment of a frustrated fanbase’s collective imagination.

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16 comments

  1. Bran
    November 25, 2011

    The 2009-10 and 2010-11 “super shot search” charts are the same. just an FYI.

    Also, when are the winners anounced for the Salo is your palo?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      November 25, 2011

      Winners should be announced shortly. We’re waiting to hear back from two judges.

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  2. Reuben
    November 25, 2011

    Your 09-10 and 10-11 shot charts are identical.

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  3. ArtemChubarov
    November 25, 2011

    That was my bad, I used different charts assembling the data but accidentally inserted the same image in the .doc I sent Harrison. It’s now fixed and had no impact on the data itself.

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  4. Cam Charron
    November 25, 2011

    …do you even WATCH him play?

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 25, 2011

      Cam, I’m pretty sure you have never watched a game in your life, despite tallying scoring chances all the time.

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      • Benny
        November 25, 2011

        Don’t feel badly guys, I got it.

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        • Benny
          November 25, 2011

          and it was funny.

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  5. RhysJ
    November 25, 2011

    Some excellent analysis, Mr. Drance. It frustrates me to no end to see and hear the ignorance and plain stupidity of some media and fans when Raymond comes up in conversation. For example, I e-mailed Barry MacDonald’s show on the Team last season pointing out that Raymond’s points/game and points/60 min played both were not suffering, and would both put him at a respectable total over 82 games (exactly what you pointed out) and was promptly laughed off air. I’m glad to see that there are others looking at this issue that actually have basic math and critical thinking skills as well.

    Another factor that I think contributed to Raymond’s decline in goals (and that you didn’t mention) was Ryan Kesler’s evolution from a playmaking centre to a shoot-first pivot. Two seasons ago, Kesler had 25G-50A and 2.6 shots/game, leading to career high goal totals from both of his wingers, Raymond and Samuelsson. Last season, Kesler tallied only 32 assists, but his increase in goals (and shots/game – up to 3.2) was leading to career-high assist per game numbers for both Raymond and Samuelsson, as of late February.

    In fact, at the time that I looked at this, the 2nd line as a whole was producing identical goal/game, assist/game and point/game totals in 10-11 as they were in 09-10, the only difference being the distribution of the goals and assists between players. Individual points/game also remained nearly identical from one season to the next.

    In short, Kesler’s play hurt Mason Raymond’s goal totals last year, but expecting identical goal totals from Raymond between 09-10 and 10-11 as well as Kesler’s 41 goals last season would have also been asking Ryan Kesler to become a 90-point player. As good as he is, this isn’t going to happen.

    Sure, my analysis is fairly rudimentary (I didn’t exactly spend hours upon hours researching and charting and graphing it), but I think it underscores the point that the criticism heaped upon Mason Raymond last season was, for the most part, undeserved and unjustified. Can’t wait for him to return to the lineup.

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  6. Arnold Jamtart
    November 25, 2011

    I really enjoy these features, but in this case, I feel like the metric doesn’t necessarily address the claim: you’ve indicated that he doesn’t *shoot* from the perimeter significantly more than the previous season. I’d like to see a stat on “number of laps of the offensive zone per shift”. I love MayRay, but it’s frustrating to watch when he starts his one-man offensive cycle.

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  7. JS Topher
    November 25, 2011

    Raymond a perineal player? I suppose he is an albertan farm boy!

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  8. Zach Morris
    November 25, 2011

    why did you compare mason raymond to power forwards?
    mase is not a power forward.

    compare mason raymond to somebody like marion gaborik.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      November 25, 2011

      I believe the point in comparing him to power forwards is that those players are well known for going hard to the net and not being perimeter players. His shot-location stats compare favorably to those players, indicating that he has more in common with Clowe and Kulemin than people think.

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  9. natevk
    November 25, 2011

    Instead of “silly research wing’” i like to think of Drance Numbers like the Research&Development wing of Wayne Enterprises!! …and yes, I recognize the great compliment that is to Thomas Drance by associating him with Morgan Freeman!

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  10. natevk
    November 25, 2011

    Also, I looked up perineal… definitely not what I was expecting!

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  11. annie
    November 27, 2011

    So yes, all these things are true, thesis accepted, that’s what I’d like to say. But also: I love Raymond, especially (as I keep saying) that aggressive forecheck he got going late in the season: it was really beautiful. When he’s good he’s really delightfully good, and he certainly received more abuse than he should have last season, it is true. THAT SAID: I think part of the problem with Raymond (or his reputation, anyway) is that when he messes up, he does so spectacularly – not in the sense of “terribly badly,” in the sense of “causing a spectacle.” He doesn’t just turn the puck over under pressure from a checking line forward, he overskates it by five feet, flails wildly, and falls over with no-one in a ten foot radius. It’s not so much that he’s unlucky; I think his confidence with the puck just gets the better of him occasionally. He puts on very public displays of failing to do things, while a lot of his talent and skill is quite subtle.

    But also he’s so wonderfully, wonderfully, wonderfully pretty, and we can’t have that.

    ps. raymond’s shot data as freckles sounds like a WONDERFUL cryptic tattoo idea.

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