What happened to the old Mason Raymond?

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.

Jeff Vinnick, Getty Images

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.

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25 comments

  1. Andrew Fleming
    March 19, 2012

    Only Batman can truly come back from a broken back.

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  2. Bob
    March 19, 2012

    Raymond really needs to change his game plan.

    Currently it consists of:
    -carry puck in
    -miss net
    -fall
    -cause turnover

    Wash rinse and repeat, the main time I was impressed with Raymond last year was when he was playing center

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    Rating: +3 (from 5 votes)
    • Josh D.
      March 19, 2012

      If all of those fail? He’ll try a wrap around, and then I will yell at the television again.

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      Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
  3. Bert
    March 19, 2012

    Actually ramond could be a 50+ goal scorer if they play the flames 82 times a year

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    • Nick
      March 19, 2012

      Maybe MayRay will be a Flame next year? I think Vancouver might be a better fit for him, but perhaps playing in Calgary could really bring out his best.

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      • bob
        March 19, 2012

        I think he might, Calgary has some addiction to Alberta born players

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  4. Andre
    March 19, 2012

    Raymond needs to get his groove back [Ya, I know: I check the trailer, but will leave it to Daniel to post the link to it].

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  5. John Andress
    March 19, 2012

    Does his PDO say anything about what is happening to Raymond and where can one find that number?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      March 19, 2012

      In Thom’s latest Drance Numbers, he points out that Raymond’s PDO is the highest on the team, shockingly. His luck is actually better than everyone else’s and he’s still visibly struggling.

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      • John Andress
        March 19, 2012

        Oh dear, oh dear!

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    • Lenny
      March 19, 2012

      His PDO is one of the highest on the team… weird.

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  6. bergberg
    March 19, 2012

    *Breaking News* Raymond is not in the line up for tonight.

    Does AV monitor this site hourly now?

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    • Joel Willoughby
      March 19, 2012

      AV is a Zen scientist…

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    • Nee
      March 19, 2012

      I feel bad for the guy. I’d love to see him succeed. But if there are better options for the line-up, the coaches have to do it.

      Salo is also not playing. I guess it’s just a case of oldman-itis?

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    • Brent
      March 19, 2012

      Well of course, everybody reads this blog!

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      Rating: +5 (from 5 votes)
  7. Phileo99
    March 19, 2012

    Great analysis Daniel. I would say all of the above: loss of strength, line shuffling and the loss of confidence all contributed to the decline in Raymond’s game. Trusting in your ability to perform – that makes all the difference in the world.
    Like everyone else, I too, yearn to see the Raymond v1.0 who scored 25G in his breakout season. The unfortunate and sad reality is that we may never see that again.
    Raymond becomes an RFA in July, that is the latest we have to wait for a definitive answer regarding what MGGM wants to do with him.

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    • Nick
      March 19, 2012

      Unless Calgary comes calling, I don’t think any team will put in an RFA offer sheet for MayRay.

      And, unless Schroeder or Sweatt or Jensen are ready, there are no skill forwards in Chicago/Oshawa who will be busting the door down and forcing their way onto the team in September.

      I see Gillis deciding to keep Raymond and getting him to sign for the same or less.

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  8. Nick
    March 19, 2012

    Resting Mason tonight makes sense. My take is that he is physically “hitting the wall” in a marathon season. Everybody else used last summer to train and prepare for this, whereas Mason was still in a back brace and barely able to walk.

    Nevertheless, he looked (very) impressive in his first 10 games back … almost like he’d never been away.

    And I think he’ll be as good after some rest … given the seriousness of his injury and having no off-season to train, he deserves a pass for year, and will be back to form next season (if there is one).

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    • Brent
      March 19, 2012

      I don’t have a problem with his “resting”. I know people have posted that sitting him will result in an even further loss of confidence, but I think he is likely mentally stronger after coming back from a potentially career ending injury. It is a tough, long season and I think it would be good to have a big perspective of the game from the height of the press box for 1-2 games and then see how he is when he comes back. Don’t want to lose him, but would like to see him get better.

      So how do you find out who is in and out? Is it on the Canucks home page? Also who is in? Manny and Weise?

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  9. J21
    March 19, 2012

    I’m going to give Daniel flak for spelling the word “flack”. How many times in English do you get the chance to use the juicy letter combination when it’s not a different vowel sound (i.e. bleak and oak don’t count!) It’s a word that must not be missed.

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  10. akidd
    March 19, 2012

    i’m not disappointed in raymond’s offense. because i gave up on him as an offensive player by about the middle of last season. and that’s not a dig. not every player has what it takes to score goals in the nhl but that doesn’t mean they can’t contribute. and raymond and his blessed speed do contribute.

    the canucks have raymond, booth and hansen, all with the great legs and suspect hands/scoring strategies. we’ll see how she goes for the rest of this season and depending on its outcome i wouldn’t be surprised if raymond is the odd man out next year and jensen takes his place.

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    • akidd
      March 19, 2012

      argh. horrible, horrible sentence structure. feel free to delete.

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    • Nick
      March 19, 2012

      That’s pretty much how I see Raymond’s new role too. It’s almost like he and Hansen switched skill sets over the past year, and now Jannick has the better offensive upside. Hansen did ok in his few games with the twins, and maybe he should have been the one to get promoted rather than MayRay.

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  11. shoes
    March 19, 2012

    well cr*p….with his blazing speed…if he could just get the simple parts of the game together he would be a nightmare to defend against especially when 1/2 the D men in the league look like they are powered by international harvestor and cannot get over about 3 km per hour.

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  12. PK
    March 19, 2012

    I understand why Raymond is being dropped from the line-up, as he has not played well this season. However, I agree with Daniel Wagner’s analysis of Raymond’s play last year. He has been a valuable contributor offensively and defensively. I only hope that Gillis doesn’t make any rash decisions in the off-season to trade away Raymond. A player needs more time to fully recover from such a severe injury. If people recall, Bieksa wasn’t playing all that great 2 seasons ago after his ankle injury. Yet, in hindsight, the benefit of a full off-season to recover and train made all the difference. Our defensive core would be a lot weaker today if Gillis had traded away Bieksa as many people were calling for.
    I believe the same is true of Raymond, and we will be regretting it next season if he is traded away, despite his poor play of late.

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