Mason Raymond has been a target for criticism for the vast majority of the season and it’s easy to understand why. The speedy winger has just 8 goals and 8 assists in 46 games and has been noticeably prone to losing his edge and falling to the ice. He’s survived a broken back, but it’s unknown if he’ll survive the displeasure of Vancouver hockey fans.
His recent promotion to the first line with the Sedins made sense on closer inspection, but that didn’t stop Canucks fans from freaking right out and calling for Vigneault’s head. Fortunately, the Canucks organization installed a statue of Roger Neilson in front of Rogers Arena and not a guillotine, or things could have gotten ugly.
I’ve been quick to defend Mason Raymond this season, pointing out that his deficiencies frequently mask his proficiencies. After all, Raymond was often criticized last season for his lack of production, but his underlying numbers were still strong, indicating that he was still a useful player whose efforts were under-appreciated. It was easy enough for me to assume that the same was the case this year, that Raymond’s lack of offensive production was making him an easy, and undeserved, target of criticism.
I was wrong.
While I would love to be the alternative voice on this issue, especially considering how much flack Raymond has been getting recently, it looks like that criticism is actually deserved.
Let me preface my comments by clarifying that I don’t think Raymond is useless or deserves to be sent to the press-box. Raymond still has a role to play with the Canucks and may, in fact, be able to find success with the Sedins in the short-term. There were some encouraging signs that this might be the case on Saturday against the Blue Jackets, but it still feels like a temporary solution that won’t last much longer.
One of the main reasons Raymond is a target for criticism is that Canucks fans know he can play better. The average fan who doesn’t care about advanced statistics can still look back at his 2009-10 season when he broke out with 25 goals and 53 points and wonder where that production has gone. Raymond was even a late call up to Team Canada in the World Championships after the Canucks were eliminated from the playoffs.
That breakout season earned Raymond a 2-year, $5.1 million contract extension. Unfortunately, his production appeared to sharply drop off the following season, starting the criticism.
Yes, I said “appeared.” While Raymond scored just 15 goals and 39 points in 2010-11, that drop in points wasn’t as bad as it may seem. With Ryan Kesler promoted to the first powerplay unit, the second powerplay unit lost its primary scoring threat and subsequently its identity. Raymond went from 8 powerplay goals and 18 powerplay points to 2 powerplay goals and just 6 powerplay points, largely because the second powerplay unit rarely saw the ice. Raymond’s average powerplay ice time dropped by over 40 seconds per game.
At even-strength, Raymond’s point production actually improved, though it again doesn’t seem like it at first glance. Raymond went from 35 even-strength points to 32 in 2010-11, but did so in 12 fewer games and with more than a minute less in average ice time per game.
In 2009-10, Raymond scored 1.87 even-strength points per 60 minutes of ice time. In 2010-11, he scored 2.06.
But the main reason Canucks fans who care about advanced stats defended Raymond was that his possession numbers were simply ridiculous. Raymond’s Corsi numbers weren’t just good last year, they were the best on the team. He continually drove play into the offensive end of the ice using the skills we’ve frequently highlighted on PITB. It might be easiest to understand his impact last season by pointing out that he allowed the fewest even-strength shots against per 60 minutes of ice time than any other player on the Canucks.
All this is to show that, despite his drop in point production, Raymond still contributed both offensively and defensively last season. When he was on the ice, the opposition shots were few and far between and the puck was mostly in the offensive zone. This season, that isn’t the case.
Despite starting his shifts mainly in the offensive zone, Raymond’s possession numbers have suffered this season. Last year, his Corsi was a team-high 18.09. This season, it’s 4.43. The only forwards on the Canucks with worse Corsi numbers have started the majority of their shifts in the defensive zone in checking roles. What is most disconcerting is that he has allowed the most even-strength shots against per 60 minutes of any Canuck.
Once again: last season, Raymond led the team with the fewest shots allowed. This season, he’s dead last on the team and has allowed the most shots against. The difference is as stark as Arya.
To what can we attribute this change? The easiest answer, and possibly the right one, is that his recovery from the compression fracture to his vertebrae and subsequent loss of off-season training and preparation has derailed his season. It certainly seems like some of his core strength is lacking, judging simply by his battles along the boards and tendency to get knocked off the puck.
Another potential issue is that he has been shuffled up and down the lineup all season. It’s likely not a coincidence that his best seasons in terms of possession and production have been when he’s lined up alongside Ryan Kesler. With both David Booth and Chris Higgins emerging as better options for Kesler’s wings, Raymond has played on a tertiary scoring line with Cody Hodgson or on various checking lines. Deploying him with the Sedins may just be a last-ditch effort to wring some offensive production out of him before relegating him to a purely checking role.
Finally, it could simply be a matter of confidence. Raymond’s body language has been speaking volumes of late. He’s well aware that he’s not producing and not playing as well as he is capable, and that knowledge alone may be making things worse.
Hopefully, he can put up a few points with the Sedins and get his head in the right place to contribute come playoff time.Tags: Mason Raymond, Raymond, Statistics, Stats