Why Mason Raymond remains a better second-line option than Cody Hodgson

Most Cody Hodgson talk in this city centers around two things: the observation that he’s incredible, which is accurate, and the notion that Alain Vigneault has yet to figure this out. Most recently, this came up when Vigneault placed Mason Raymond with Ryan Kesler and David Booth on the second line while assigning Hodgson to centre Byron Bitz and Maxim Lapierre on the fourth. Admittedly, this was a curious move. Whither Mason Raymond?

Here’s what I know for sure: Alain Vigneault knows more about hockey than I do. One of the things that continually bewilders me is the perception that Hodgson’s success has come in spite of him, as though one of the league’s best coaches is unaware that the young centre is a natural scorer. Believe me — he knows and, as Thomas Drance illustrated beautifully awhile back, he clearly knows how to use Hodgson. That in mind, it’s probably smarter to investigate his reasoning in this instance than to assume I know more about running the Canucks than he does.

Here’s another thing I know for sure: when it comes to his forward lines, Vigneault prefers to work in duos, then add a complementary player to each line. For the past two seasons, the second-line duo has been Raymond and Ryan Kesler. This season, however, it would appear that Kesler and David Booth is his preferred pairing, which is great news for Mike Gillis, who acquired Booth with this marriage in mind. (It’s never a certainty that Vigneault will utilize a player the way Gillis projected. Ask Keith Ballard.)

When looking, then, to the complementary guy, it’s hard to see why it should be Mason Raymond — he of 14 points — and not Cody Hodgson, whose 32 points have him fifth among Canuck forwards, four points back of Alex Burrows, who plays with the freaking Sedins.

And let’s be honest here: Raymond has some infuriating tendencies. For every instance where he takes the puck hard to the middle of the ice and is rewarded for it, there are plenty of instances where he instead takes the puck wide, only to get separated from it in the corner or wind up cycling the zone and leaving it for a defender with no time or space. Any Canucks fan with eyes will eventually observe that the play dies on Mason Raymond’s stick in the offensive zone an awful lot. As puck doctors go, he’s Dr. Nick.

But, like Dr. Nick, he also generates a great deal of business. One of the reasons you’re able to observe this “gain the zone, lose the puck” phenomenon so often is that it’s pretty much all Raymond does. He’s a masterful backchecker, meaning that he recovers both his defensive posture and the puck very efficiently after he loses it, and he’s fabulous in transition, meaning the puck is back in the opponents’ end shortly thereafter. When you consider the importance of possession in the Canucks’ system, a player who spends the bulk of his shifts gaining the opposing blue line isn’t so bad, is it?

With Raymond, the second line lives and dies in the offensive zone, where the worst thing that can happen is failing to score.

Then you look at a young player like Cody Hodgson, who has a finish fans wish Raymond had, but struggles where Raymond excels — namely, transitioning and defending. Hodgson’s skating is coming along, but there’s no doubt he continues to do his best work when he starts in the offensive zone and doesn’t have to leave it. With his footspeed at the low-end of NHL quality, he’s not as skilled at getting there on his own.

Like Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle, and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton, Hodgson is still in that precarious place where his prodigious offensive abilities are clear, but they’re often offset by defensive issues. Because Edmonton is crummy, the young players are afforded the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. The Canucks, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being terrible. The next time you’re annoyed that Alain Vigneault won’t cede big minutes to Hodgson, consider that you’re effectively wishing the Canucks were the Oilers.

While there’s little doubt he’ll eventually master this aspect of the game, since it’s a learned skill and he’s a huge nerd, plus he has a history of strong, two-way play in junior, you’d be a fool to want him learning the defensive end of the game while your best offensive player after the Sedins is trying to score. If Kesler has to expend energy covering for Hodgson and chasing in the defensive zone, he’s simply not as effective a scorer. He’s supposed to be good for 40 goals. It doesn’t make much sense to ask him to spend his shifts babysitting a rookie, does it?

In short, the difference between Hodgson and Raymond is quite literally their ability to do legwork. Raymond may not have the same offensive instincts, but he requires far less maintenance and attention. Like Alex Burrows with the Sedins, Raymond may be playing a line above his skill level, but it’s because he makes things easier for the guys that aren’t. Since they’re the stars, that’s a good thing.

Hodgson will continue to get his opportunities and, as the better short-term offensive option, he will continue to be put in scoring situations when the Canucks are in dire need of goals — but over the course of a game, Raymond is the better linemate for Kesler and Booth right now.

 

Photo Credits: 1. Jeff Vinnick (Getty Images). 2. Jeff Vinnick (Getty Images).

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25 comments

  1. jub_al
    February 17, 2012

    I like the argument.. I don’t consider myself an AV Doubter / Hater, but i have been curious about his decision to not promote CoHo (i just thought it was because him and Kesler are both centres).. but this reasoning does seem logical.

    Thanks for the fresh perspective.

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  2. Phileo99
    February 17, 2012

    “The Canucks, on the other hand, don’t have the luxury of being terrible. ”

    I respectfully disagree. Canucks have 78 points, 13points above the final playoff spot. There’s a general consensus that regular season games serves only as a tune up for the playoffs, and are otherwise meaningless, especially if you have the talent to secure a playoff spot.
    CoHo is a natural centreman, Booth and Kess are natural shooters. Accelerate CoHo’s learning curve by putting him on the 2nd line. Plus you already recognize that being a nerd, he’ll learn quickly on the job.
    Steven Stamkos didn’t get to where he is today by playing 10min. per game, and Tampa made the playoffs the past few years too.

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    • Phileo99
      February 17, 2012

      plus the Canucks have the luxury of puling a Chicago and still lock up the NW division

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    • Hips
      February 17, 2012

      I wouldn’t say that regular season games are meaningless. Home ice advantage is huge, and so is the chance to start off playing a weaker team. Would you rather play Calgary or Minnesota first round or would you play the Hawks again? And plus you’re comparing Stamkos and Hodgson here. Sure, Hodgson has the potential to become a star player, but he doesn’t have half the offensive acumen that Stamkos had even as a rookie.

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      • JDM
        February 18, 2012

        Well, the way it’s going, the Hawks might not even make the playoffs, but the point is a good one – first seed is the goal. Whoever winds up with the 8th spot, it won’t be an auto-win like in the 90′s, but it’ll be a hell of a lot easier than playing St Louis or whoever. Not to mention do you really want to limp into the postseason? Begging for trouble is what you’re doing.

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  3. Don_Rocko
    February 17, 2012

    Someone send this article to Tony Gallagher, please.

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    • peanutflower
      February 17, 2012

      pkease, someone do it. I’m so tired of reading this non-stop Gallagher soap boxing on this subject.

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  4. Chris
    February 17, 2012

    Very nicely put Harrison. One of the best logical arguments I have seen on this subject.

    Having said that, Higgins and Hansen are also defensively responsible…

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    • Peter
      February 17, 2012

      …and not needed to score, like Kesler is. Higgins and Hansen can therefore afford to cover for Hodgson on the defensive end — Hodgson is essentially promoted to the star status on his line, while the other two become the complimentary players (as far as offense goes).

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  5. Innovation
    February 17, 2012

    (Dr. Nick voice) Need a doctor? call 1-800-Doctorb. Where the ‘b’ is for bargain!

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  6. sarah
    February 17, 2012

    Great article. Well-thought as always. I still really like the Kes/Booth/MayRay line and then the Hodgson/Higgins/Hansen line.

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    • sarah
      February 17, 2012

      And I’ve never really seen the Canucks as a classic 1st, 2nd, 3rd, 4th line team. It’s more like Sedin line, 2a line, 2b line, and 4th line. Because they have so many awesome players.

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      • JDM
        February 18, 2012

        I came in here to make this exact point. It’s not the 2nd line. It’s one of our defensively responsible scoring lines, of which we have 2. We then have a checking line (which on most teams would be the third line) centered by Malhotra. Which is why I don’t really get the Hogson / Malhotra swap over the past couple of games.

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  7. akidd
    February 17, 2012

    sounds like if you’re not for AV playing hodgson 10 mins per game then you’re for the child pornograhers:)

    impossible to debate the hard logic you’ve laid down there, harrison.

    1)AV knows more about hockey than all of us so he must be right.

    2)if you want hodgson to play more minutes then you want the canucks to be a bottom-feeder like the oilers.

    3) if hodgson plays with kesler it will be his fault that kesler doesn’t score 41 goals.

    i’m starting to think that pitb really stands for pitbull because once you guys get your jaws around an idea you won’t let go no matter what.

    questions:

    1)what are hodgson’s points per minutes played and where does that rank on the canucks?

    2)what is hodgson’s shooting percentage and where does that rank on the team?

    3)what % of hodgson’s points have come when the game is on the line(tied or a one-goal difference?)

    i could fill pages with why i think hodgson deserves more ice-time but i won’t because it would be fruitless. if you won’t admit that schneider has had an excellent season then you won’t admit that coho deserves a chance to prove that he’s a defensive liability that can’t be trusted in this crucial make-or-break part of the season. just saying he’s bad at the defense doesn’t make it so.

    and before you tell me that this article is specifically about raymond vs hodgson on the second line let me mention that all year you guys have been clearly ‘under-supportive’ of young coho. you have your favourite themes and won’t be swayed from them. and limiting hodgson’s ice-time has clearly been one of them. provocative journalism? stubborn ideology? maybe a bit of both.

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    • stathead
      February 17, 2012

      “i could fill pages with why i think hodgson deserves more ice-time but i won’t because…”

      Not concerned with why… deep sighs of relief echo across Vancouver.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      February 17, 2012

      Ah, akidd. Somehow I knew you’d take issue with this one. Did you actually read the post? It’s pretty complimentary of Hodgson, advocates him being with that line if they’re in need of a goal, and rags on Mason Raymond quite a bit. There’s no doubt in my mind that Hodgson’s the superior offensive player, could eventually become a better defensive player, and has the higher ceiling overall. I love Hodgson and we’ve been pretty outspoken about his strong play. However, he remains mediocre defensively right now is all, and it’s why he’s not right for the second line just yet.

      No provocative journalism here. Stubborn ideology, on the other hand… yessir. Pitbull? Guilty as charged. I’m not budging on this one right now.

      Why you heff to hate everything, man?

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      • akidd
        February 17, 2012

        cheers, harrison. i actually agree with your post in that i too prefer raymond on the second line. i like coho at centre. and kesler is hardly a playmaker. i’m starting to think that for a scoring winger playing with kesler might not be such a great spot. so it’s a perfect fit for raymond.

        it’s more the indirect message of all your posts supporting AV’s stinginess with coho’s minutes that i was taking issue with. i can understand that you enjoy taking a contrarian approach to the majority of canuck journalists or canucks fans(there’s not a whole lot of either who don’t want to see more ice time for coho, as you know.) i’d do the same in your position.

        i really enjoyed your post about cody’s faceoff prowess earlier in the season. it explained a lot. coho certainly has improved there and i think so too will his defense if given the chance. but how bad is his defense really? he misses the occasional check but he’s a plus 6. is he really that bad?

        i just think that coho could be a really special player and that he’s shown so much that he deserves better than centering bitz and malhotra and playing 10 minutes. maybe the canucks would be ‘in need of a goal’ less often if they let coho in from the start of games. if he goes -3 with a 20% faceoff win % then i will re-think but so far i haven’t seen him come close to that.

        i like the ‘H’ line at about 14-15 mins per with kesler’s line mostly playing against the opposition’s top line. that’s what i’d go for.

        and i’m no hater. i like hodgson AND raymond(but not at 2.5 mil and with scoring expectations) and i like schneider AND lou(but not when he’s making me cry in my beer.) and now that he’s taking it hard to the net i’m even warming to booth and his goofy ways. i like em all.

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        • Harrison Mooney
          February 17, 2012

          Yeah, more than anything, our obsession with Hodgson this season has been a desire to quell the intentionally manufactured controversies surrounding his icetime and AV not giving him a fair shake. I too think he might be able to handle more than he’s doing, but I don’t have a problem with the Canucks bringing him along slowly and nitpicking about the deficiencies in his game when they show. This is an impressionable superstar in the making, capable of excelling in all situations, and I like the way the AV isn’t giving him any free passes just because he can score. That’s a mistake a lot of teams make, and it only serves to develop one-way superstars.

          AV is effectively treating Hodgson like that new coach treats the Mighty Ducks in D3.

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          • akidd
            February 17, 2012

            “This is an impressionable superstar in the making, capable of excelling in all situations, and I like the way the AV isn’t giving him any free passes just because he can score. That’s a mistake a lot of teams make, and it only serves to develop one-way superstars.”

            a good point well said!

            i do wonder though how methodical AV really is. i get the impression that he’s a hunch guy but i have no idea really. would love to know what kind of guy/coach he really is. daniel (henrik?)sedin gave a bit of insight in a recent interview but that was a rare comment. it feels like AV keeps his cards pretty close to his chest in a lot of ways. if you’re ever looking for a topic,”Who is AV?” would be a great one.

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    • Body Schmautz
      February 17, 2012

      Seriously, since when did it become all about Coho anyway? The Canucks’ success has been built on making it NOT about individual players. It’s about the team winning hockey games. Who cares what line he plays on or how much ice time he gets? Maybe if we stop pumping his tires he won’t get over-inflated.

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  8. John Andress
    February 17, 2012

    Nailed it once again Mr. Mooney. No doubt there will be many readers whose consideration of your article will stop just after they have read the title. They will hold fast to their strongly held opinions concerning coach Vigneault and Hodgson’s ice time and equate not scoring goals with not contributing but, as you have so cogently pointed out, the reality is that Cody Hodgson is a very talented young man who is being given the opportunity to learn and hone his craft and is being supported and encouraged in this by a knowledgeable coaching staff and management. What I have learned over the past two years of reading the work of thoughtful commentators (and please, count yourself prominent amongst them) and the stats wizards who have opened my eyes to the depth and subtlety of the mass of information available for the in-depth analysis of the game, is that you have to think a little harder than just counting the number of times a player puts the puck in the net. Basing your hockey opinions on that criterion alone is like blandly declaring that the Sedins are soft players because they don’t punch people in the face. Think harder people. There is lots of information available and people pointing the way. This is a wonderful, textured game. Do it the honour of thinking it through.

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  9. zach
    February 17, 2012

    The bottom line is, Cody is a rookie. And like all rookies, he needs time to become a complete player. I think everyone agrees that he is a very talented offensive player, but he still needs time to develop defensively. It makes much more sense to allow Hodgson to play and learn from smart defensive players like Malhotra, Lapierre and Hansen in the mean time, so that when he eventually excels in that part of his game he will be a much more rounded player. This team knows how to develop their players, there are countless of examples of great development, just look at the current roster. There is no time or space on this team for liabilities on defense when the goal is to win a Stanley Cup. Lets not allow Hodgson to turn into an offense only superstar (you know who I am talking about) so that he is frustrating to watch night in and night out. Lets let him develop into a two way player, so that hopefully in a few years time we can enjoy a gifted offensive player who knows how to back check and play responsible defense. That is all, thank you Harrison for pointing this out.

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  10. DaNucklhead
    February 18, 2012

    I like how you are comparing Canucks in the same position. In readin this post I was wondering how Raymond’s numbers compare to Higgins on the second line and third line, or Burrows vs Hansen with the Sedins? Which defensive pair has been tougher to play against – Bieksa and Hamhuis or Edler and Salo? With the trade deadline approaching I have been wondering how much more valuable is one NHL player vs another. For example (and I use this because the Nash reports are out there) What is the difference in value between Booth and Nash? The salary difference is 3.8m/season, is Nash worth that much more than Booth? Or what about Nash vs Carter? Using stats can you compare impact and value (and cap hit) to see what player is a better fit? Moen or Gaustad? Weber or Suter? Daniel or Henrik? I’m sure you would never run out of comparisons of two players and I know I would devour those articles

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  11. Dazza23
    February 19, 2012

    I like the article in as much as it isn’t the same narrative constantly being repeated by the media.(and it is well considered). Hodgson will be very good but skating important and he doesn’t do it that well.

    The canucks and AV have a very good recent history of developing players from the Sedins to Burrows, Beiksa to Kesler, Edler most/all of the team has developed under AV, and i don’t think you could get more from a coach than we have with him.

    That said I think the Mason Raymond debate is interesting not just for your points but the alternatives. Based on the requirement for a quick forward to get the puck back in the offensive zone quickly I think Hanson could do the role you describe above as well as MR. Higgins is more tenacious in the corners (so is Hanson really) that Raymond and is obviously first choice. But Hason could be your fall back.

    If Raymond doesn’t score my concern is you have to many players of the same ilk. We can only carry so many players that won’t go to the corners and net do the messy work for the skilled players. I believe last year showed that. I would prefer to have 2 chris Higgins than two mason Raymonds.

    Hope that makes sense.

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  12. Steve Lockhart
    February 26, 2012

    “Here’s what I know for sure: Alain Vigneault knows more about hockey than I do.”

    Thank you for admitting that. To all other armchair coaches: Whenever you find yourself disagreeing with an NHL coach, repeat after me, “I will never know one tenth as much about coaching a NHL team as he does”.

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