Drance Numbers: Has Mason Raymond’s game changed since his injury?

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.

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About this there is no doubt: Mason Raymond has guts, and twice the testicular fortitude of Johnny Knoxville.

Even if you hold the schmaltz, it’s fair and accurate to describe his recovery and his performance following his return as inspiring. He’s filling in on nearly every forward line, dominating possession and generating a boatload of chances and offense.

But that’s all stuff that Raymond was doing during the last campaign as well, yet he was disappointing to the majority of Canucks fans. What’s different so far this year is that he’s scoring goals at a much higher rate than he did the season previous. So is he scoring goals because his game has “changed” since his return from injury? Now that is a more contentious issue.

While Mason Raymond has been an effective and versatile top-six forward for three years now, his progress was said to have stalled last season, as his goal totals fell from 25 in 2009-10 to just 15 in all of last season. To top it off, he only scored two goals in 24 postseason games.

Through nine games since his return from injury, he has three goals and seven points, leading many observers to contend that Raymond’s game has “changed”.

Raymond contended it himself, stating that his improved play was the result of a change to both his approach and perspective. After Saturday’s win against the Leafs, Jason Botchford asked Raymond if “enduring a traumatic, life-changing injury has altered [his] approach on the ice?”

“Of course it has, there’s no doubt in my mind it has. Why is it one of those situations where it takes an injury like that for you to have a different look at the game? I don’t know. But I’m enjoying it and I’m going along for the ride. I’ve been through a lot mentally, and that’s a big part of being in a good state physically, too. You get a different outlook on the way it is. I watched a lot of games up in the stands for the first bit of the season.”

Now I don’t mean to remove the human element from this analysis: players can improve, and there’s a mental component to any endeavor that is difficult, even impossible to quantify. I remember reading about the American Caesar, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was stricken by polio at the age of 39 (in political years, that makes him a 26 year old winger) and emerged on the other side of his paralytic illness a political heavy-weight.

That is to say, that there’s anecdotal evidence to support the idea that people can respond to an extreme hardship or ailment with personal and professional improvement.

So could Raymond, having seen rock-bottom, have returned from his injury a more focused and determined player? It’s possible, but my eyes don’t see a difference between his play last season and this season so far, with the exception of the results.

For what it’s worth, the Canucks’ head-coach and general manager don’t seem to believe that Raymond’s play has been significantly altered this season — or at least, they’re not pointing to any particular change in public. Vigneault credited Raymond’s strength, but when asked if Raymond had made a change to his playing style, he said: “I’m not sure if anythings changed, I couldn’t put a finger on anything specific.”

Thursday afternoon on the Team 1040, Jeff Paterson asked asked Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis whether the team had instructed Raymond on “What wasn’t working for him last season,” implying that “taking the puck hard to the net” was a new tool in Raymond’s offensive tool-belt this season.

Gillis’ response was noncommittal. He praised Raymond’s effort the season prior.

Either way, Jeff Paterson’s phrasing of the question strikes to the heart of a new “Raymond Misconception,” that is making the rounds this December like it’s a phony in Iowa. Last year’s misconception was that Raymond was struggling and had taken a major step back from the year previous (he hadn’t, he was just unlucky and saw a lot less ice-time on the power-play). This year, it’s that Raymond is “stronger on the puck,” he’s “going to the dirty areas” and “is no longer playing like a perimeter player.”

My hypothesis is fairly simple here: I’m confident that such statements are hocus pocus.

I don’t believe that Raymond played any differently from 2009-10 to 2010-11, and I don’t think he’s playing any differently now. Raymond is what he is; a defensively responsible, skilled, fearless speedster with an uncanny ability to get to the net despite his slight frame. He was a gutsy player before his gruesome injury last June, and he’s continued to play that way.

In September of 2007, then Manitoba Moose coach Scott Arniel spoke with Ben Kuzma and raved about: “Raymond’s uncanny ability to cycle the puck without getting knocked down, blazing speed and quick release.” I’d say that description of Raymond’s skillset rings true today, and I think it was consistent with what he displayed last season as well.

But let’s look for these big changes by comparing Raymond’s game so far this year with his two previous seasons to see if any of the popular theories pass the smell test.

To begin with, let’s start with shot-location. Shot-location is the dark-arts of hockey analytics, and no stat-nerd worth their salt actually trusts this data, or would use it to claim anything conclusive. But in terms of giving us a general idea of what distance a player is shooting from, it’s slightly better than relying solely on our eyes.

Season Avg EV Shot Distance
2007-08 31.8
2008-09 30.5
2009-10 31
2010-11 31.7
2011-12 27.2

 

Curious. A couple of things to bear in mind, the relevant shot sample for the 2011-12 season is only 18 shots. With a sample that small, obviously a few particularly close-in shots skew the overall number quite a bit. Still, the table is interesting, and something to look at over the balance of this season, but the difference isn’t significant enough, nor has it been demonstrated for long enough to have any analytical meaning — yet.

So is Raymond taking more shots this season than he has previously? Shot volume is a big part of goal scoring (just ask Alex Ovechkin), so if Raymond has managed to create more opportunities for goals this season than he has previously – that would indicate some sort of change in his performance…

Season EV TOI EV Shots Shots/60
2008-09 796: 27 106 7.98
2009-10 1122: 25 153 8.18
2010-11 935: 17 155 9.94
2011-12 124: 51 18 8.65

 

These numbers are pretty consistent, and are pretty impressive. If Raymond is given 15 minutes of even-strength ice-time per game, he’ll manage at least a couple of shots on goal and that’s extremely useful to a team. Raymond is taking shots at a somewhat slower rate than he managed a season ago, but at a higher rate than he did during his twenty-five goal season. Also, the relative steadiness of his shots on goal rate would indicate to me that not much has changed in his performance.

Let’s see if there’s any discernible change in Raymond’s possession numbers so far this season (compared with years passed). I’ll use Corsi and Fenwick here, numbers which count a player’s “on-ice events” for and against and are used as a proxy for possession. Corsi is the sum of all shots, missed shots, blocked shots and goals for and against when a player is on the ice, and Fenwick takes into account all of those things as well, except for blocked shots. So has Raymond’s play so far this season been demonstrably better than his play in the previous two years from a possession standpoint? No.

Season

Fenwick

Corsi

2008-09

-0.86

0.39

2009-10

9.6

13.88

2010-11

12.69

18.09

2011-12

10.12

25.34

In terms of possession, Raymond’s best season as a Canuck was in fact the 2010-11 season, not the 09-10 season in which he scored 25 goals, though it’s likely a product of the team’s improvement that season. Generally I prefer Fenwick to Corsi (I tend to consider most blocked shots the fault of the shooter, and fenwick more closely correlates with the chance data that teams count) and by that number Raymond was better at controlling on-ice events throughout last season than he has been so far this year.

So what’s changed? Ah yes, we get to the rub. Let’s check out Raymond’s on-ice shooting percentage, individual shooting percentage (even-strength only) and PDO, to see if there’s been a major shift in those numbers.

Season On-Ice Sh% EV Personal Sh% EV PDO
2008-09 6.65% 3.4% 101
2009-10 7.67% 7.5% 98
2010-11 7.33% 5% 99.2
2011-12 10% 7.1% 105.4

 

So what stands out to you from the above table? For me, it’s this season’s 10% on-ice shooting percentage, and last season’s 5% individual shooting percentage. Basically, last year Raymond was marginally unlucky in terms of the bounces, but personally couldn’t buy a break. This season, everything his teammates touch (or at least, one in every ten of their shots) finds the back of the net.

Hockey fans, like all human beings, are generally results-based creatures. We see a guy consistently on the ice for goals and we start looking (and sometimes inventing) reasons why. That’s the utility of advanced stats: to qualify and contextualize our impressions. Last year, Raymond was unlucky and wasn’t scoring, so he was perimeter player who couldn’t go the net. This season, Raymond is scoring, so he’s “shooting with confidence” and “going to the net like he never used to.”

Most likely, neither of these misconceptions are true. Rather, Mason Raymond has returned from injury and continued to do what he does well (drive play and generate offense).

In fact, he’s been consistently doing the same things for a number of years with varying degrees of success. The “Raymond returns from a devastating injury a better player with more heart” story is a nice one, but it’s not a particularly accurate one. If you want a better, more honest story, try this: “Raymond returns from a devastating injury the same player.” That’s just as impressive.

All of the above numbers come courtesy Behindthenet.ca. All photos via Getty Images.

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11 comments

  1. peanutflower
    December 23, 2011

    Well, I must admit I sort of tuned out the numbers part, but there is no doubt the injury hasn’t appeared to have affected Raymond. He’s doing great. But I always wonder when players suffer such bad injuries — potentially career–ending, and for the Canucks that would be Malholtra, Salo x 10, Bieksa, Raymond and perhaps more, how they find the intestinal fortitude to just jump back in, and you have to wonder if there’s ever any sort of fear to have another injury happen again and what process they go through to overcome that mentally.

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    • tj
      December 23, 2011

      I seem to recall a recent interview with Salo on that subject. The way the players admire and respect fortitude and the confidence acquired from successfully coming back must factor into the equation. I know I respond better when my coworkers and bosses appreciate me. Kind of just human nature. While the stats don’t lie, and the numbers say he hasn’t changed, I’m of the belief that if the player suggests things are different, and his teammates acknowledge an adjustment, then there must be something to it. Maybe it’s akin to a placebo effect, but I’m a humanist not a stoic, in terms of philosophy. If AV is downplaying the change, he has a coach’s reason for it. That said, I don’t believe it’s as Sunday TV movie miraculous as some of the fans and media are making it out to be.

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  2. Proto
    December 23, 2011

    I agree with most of what you’ve written, with one caveat: I think Raymond on the RW forces him to open up the ice a bit more. To me, he seems to be reading his teammates a bit better and moving to open ice earlier in the high slot rather than going down the boards behind the net. Of course, this is impossible to qualify statistically, but it certainly seems like he’s a guy that benefits from playing on his off-wing.

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  3. Beantown Canuck
    December 23, 2011

    Mason Raymond is a more than good player who is under-appreciated. He is never a liability, which is enough, in my opinion, to keep almost any player, and he has that speed and ability to transition to offense so quickly that just compounds his value. I think the one source of frustration I’ve always had with him is his tendency to blowout when cutting to the net. Many times last year and before I recall him bursting beautifully up the wing with the puck only to fall to the ice as he attempted to turn in towards the net. I feel like I’ve seen that less this year. Wonder if there’s any quantification of that available?

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  4. tom selleck's moustache
    December 23, 2011

    Was this written by Drance or Mooney? Thanks for the article either way.

    I was curious, though, by the progressive increase in Corsi over the years. Could that be interpreted as an increase in puck possession over the years ie more time in the opposition zone?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 23, 2011

      D’oh. I make this mistake every freaking week. It’s a Drance original. I’ll fix that.

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      • ArtemChubarov
        December 23, 2011

        I’d get upset about it every single week, except that I make the exact mistake every single week at Canucks Army with Jeff Angus’ weekly.

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  5. Nee
    December 23, 2011

    His PDO for this year so far is 105.4. If I remember correctly, PDO should hover around 100. So does that mean Raymond’s due for a regression?

    Please say no. He’s doing great and I’d like to see it continue, for the team’s sake and for Raymond’s own satisfaction. That guy is a classy player.

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    • ArtemChubarov
      December 23, 2011

      sadly it does mean he’s due for regression. But it doesn’t mean he won’t keep playing well, just that he’s been extremely fortunate through 9 games.

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  6. Ablefish
    December 23, 2011

    Y’know, some charts would really raise this feature to the next level…

    Here’s my scientific take on Raymond’s performance this year –

    I notice him more this year than last. He just looks more dangerous in his possession of the puck.

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  7. Jabu
    December 24, 2011

    Great analysis. Love these posts.

    It misses what is in my opinion the biggest reason for his success – he no longer has that anchor Samuelsson on his line to drag him down. Many nights last year, Kess and Raymond were essentially without a linemate as Sammy sulked, floated, and b-tched his way back to the bench after an uninspired shift.

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