Pouring some cold water on Mason Raymond’s comeback season

With both Ryan Kesler and David Booth on the injured reserve list to start this season, the Canucks were forced to rely on Mason Raymond to anchor their second line and provide secondary scoring. Considering his decline in offensive production over the past couple seasons, this seemed to be a cause for concern.

Raymond, however, stepped up in a big way and was one of the Canucks most consistent forwards early in the year. It appeared that the extended off-season created by the lockout significantly helped his recovery from a broken back in the 2011 Stanley Cup Finals and that Raymond was back to his 25-goal form that earned him a two-year $5.1 million contract extension in 2010.

Over the course of the season, however, Raymond’s play has gradually begun to flatline and there are some significant causes for concern for the future. With Raymond approaching his first off-season as an unrestricted free agent, the Canucks need to seriously consider whether they will re-sign the speedy winger, with his playoff performance likely playing a large role in the decision.

Before the season started, I speculated that Raymond was unlikely to provide the kind of secondary scoring the Canucks needed, unless he started producing a lot more on the powerplay. I outlined my expectations for Raymond’s offense and it turned out that I underestimated him:

If Raymond can score 20 points at even-strength, approximately equivalent to 35 even-strength points in a full season, then that should be considered a fairly successful season. If he embraces his role as the leader of the second line at the start of the season and scores more than 20 points, Canucks fans should be thrilled.

Raymond has 21 points this season, including 10 goals, with five games remaining in the schedule. He’s tied for fourth in team goal-scoring and is fifth among forwards in points, which has been a pleasant surprise. Sure enough, it’s because of his powerplay production: Raymond has 4 powerplay goals, tied with Alex Edler for the most on the Canucks.

The Canucks’ powerplay hasn’t been good overall, but Raymond played a significant role in its success earlier in the season. Unfortunately, he hasn’t scored on the powerplay since February 17th.

So if Raymond has exceeded my expectations, as modest as they were, why am I still so concerned? The issue isn’t with what Raymond has done this season, but with how he’s done it.

Raymond’s 10 goals in 41 games this season puts him on a 20-goal pace over a full 82-game schedule, which is solid production from a second/third-line winger. He’s scored those 10 goals, however, with a career-high shooting percentage of 13.5%. Raymond’s career shooting percentage up until this season was 9.2% and it is very likely that Raymond’s shooting percentage this season is simply unsustainable.

What makes this more of a concern is that Raymond is taking the fewest shots per game of any season since his rookie year. Raymond is averaging 1.80 shots-per-game this season, when he hasn’t averaged fewer than 2.01 in his last four seasons.

When he scored 25 goals in 2009-10, he averaged 2.65 shots-per-game to go with a then career-high shooting percentage of 11.5%. The following season, he actually increased his shots-per-game to 2.81, but saw his shooting percentage drop to 7.6%, resulting in just 15 goals.

Shooting percentage fluctuates so much from season-to-season that it isn’t particularly useful for predicting how well a player will do in the future. Shot quantity, however, is far more reliable: good offensive players tend to take more shots. This doesn’t have anything to do with advanced statistics: just look at the top shooters in the league and you’ll see a list of some of the top goalscorers and best offensive players in the game.

I find Raymond’s drop-off in shots very concerning and it shows up in his underlying possession statistics. Overall, Raymond is a positive possession player, with a Corsi% of 51.2%, meaning 51.2% of all shots attempted when he’s on the ice are directed at the opponent’s goal. That sounds good, but in comparison to the rest of the team, Raymond has struggled. He’s 8th among Canucks forwards in Corsi, excluding Booth and Kesler, who haven’t played enough games this season to properly judge them.

When you include the context of the type of minutes Raymond has played, it becomes even more of a worry. Raymond has started the vast majority of his shifts in the offensive zone and is fifth on the team in Offensive Zone Start Percentage, behind only the Sedins, Burrows, and Schroeder at 59.6%. In addition, Raymond has faced some of the weakest quality of competition among Canucks forwards: he is 9th on the team in Corsi Quality of Competition.

Essentially, Raymond has been given sheltered minutes, which makes sense since he played much of the season alongside a rookie centre, Schroeder. With those minutes, you would expect an offensively gifted player like Raymond to excel, but his puck possession statistics tell a different story.

At even-strength, this has actually been one of the worst seasons of his career. If we account for ice time, this becomes clear. His even-strength points per 60 minutes are the third lowest of his career, ahead of only last season, when he was struggling to fully recover from his broken back, and his sophomore season. His even-strength goals per 60 minutes is the second lowest of his career, below even last season and ahead of just his sophomore season.

This raises some serious doubts in my mind over whether the Canucks should re-sign Raymond this off-season and it makes it a bit more clear why Gillis was more focussed this season on signing Chris Higgins, a more versatile two-way player, to an extension. Higgins has similarly struggled this season, but has played a tougher, more defensive role, and it’s easier to see this season as an outlier for Higgins given his past success.

If all of this seems overly pessimistic, consider that the Canucks were without Ryan Kesler for most of the season and his absence had a butterfly effect throughout the Canucks lineup. Raymond is a better fit as a complementary player, so it’s understandable, perhaps, that he struggled in the absence of Kesler, as well as other injured players like David Booth and, briefly, Chris Higgins.

Since Kesler’s return, Raymond has 3 points in 5 games and will likely get to play more alongside Derek Roy in the future, whose playmaking abilities should help his offensive game. Roy’s addition to the second unit on the powerplay will hopefully also help Raymond score a few more powerplay goals. Still, Raymond has just 1 shot or fewer in 7 of his last 8 games.

I sincerely hope that Raymond can step up once again in the playoffs and provide the secondary scoring that he did earlier this season. The Canucks will need to have their offence firing on all cylinders against tough defensive teams like St. Louis, Los Angeles, San Jose, and, if they make it far enough, Chicago, and Raymond scoring goals from the third line and second powerplay unit would be a big bonus.

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23 comments

  1. Sunshine
    April 17, 2013

    Great article.

    I noticed a significant decline in Raymonds defensive play this yr. He’s always been pretty reliable in his won end- even when he wasn’t producing. But this yr he looks like a fish out of water. In multiple games, Schroeder had to cover up for his defensive misques. In last nights game, he let his check breeze by him and it led to a 3 on 2 and almost a goal against. He had better wheels than his check, but made no effort to get back. It was very concerning cause it’s been a pattern this yr. Very surprised he hasn’t been benched.

    I really hope they don’t resign him this summer. Love MayRay, but a change in scenery would be good for him and Canucks. They need a grittier type 2 way guy in his spot. I also don’t expect him to produce in this yr playoffs. Why? Cause he never has, it’s just not where he has ever stepped it up. But here’s hoping he can prove me wrong.

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  2. kenahora
    April 17, 2013

    MASON RAYMOND is good….very good and puck savvy.

    No concerns….yes more is more….WATCH….it is coming…!

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  3. Dougster
    April 17, 2013

    I was hopeful at the beginning of the season that MayRay was going to revert to his pre-Boston SCF form. The last 10 games I have been noticing a lot more tentativeness in his game, and against St. Louis in particular it seemed like he was awfully easy to move off the puck in puck battles. I like MayRay… At his best he is speedy with a deadly shot. If we played 82 games against Calgary it would be a no brainier to keep him, but as it stands I won’t be sad to see him go.

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  4. Andrew
    April 17, 2013

    Well this is depressing.

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  5. Zach Morris
    April 17, 2013

    He’s a good player on a great team.
    I’m not complaining.

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    • Zach Morris
      April 17, 2013

      The argument for not firing Vigneault comes to mind:
      Is there anyone better out there?
      Is he hurting our team?
      Would we rather have no-one, than Raymond?

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      • Dougster
        April 17, 2013

        I would rather have a healthy Higgins, or for that matter, Booth who drives the net and has good possession numbers.

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      • J21
        April 18, 2013

        We wouldn’t, but the cap crunch this offseason won’t leave the Canucks with a whole lot of choice. They simply won’t be able to afford him.

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  6. akidd
    April 17, 2013

    it’s true he seems to have disappeared recently. not sure why exactly. healthy? streaky? dizzy from the revolving linemates?

    all players get hot and cold. maybe because raymond had a lot to prove this year we have less patience when he gets into the wane part of the cycle.

    we’ll just have to see how the year plays out for him. i know he can play great hockey but will he? i remember him in that last epic series with the hawks when there were a couple of games of hockey at its best. and raymond was right up there with the best on the ice. he got in so fast on the forecheck and made that dman hurry up just enough so two or three passes later the canucks could take the puck. little things but huge things.

    he’s a smart player i think. knows the game pretty good. and ya, his shots per game are down but that’s partly due to him not taking those low, low percentage bailout shots like he and booth did all last season. he’s figured out that it aint’ worth the corsi. good for him.

    i hope that raymond shows us his good hockey this spring. if it doesn’t happen for him then i can understand him moving on, to the benefit of both sides. my preference would be for him to kick some ass this spring and sign an extension. but i would prefer a lot of things, both hockeywise and otherwise. that’s nice.

    in some ways raymond is like a microcosm of the canucks as a whole. ‘box of chocolate’ types. sensitive artistes. i dunno.

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  7. Tom 1040
    April 17, 2013

    Hey…akidd….

    What happened?

    What about intangibles, core player? I thought I was dead wrong for suggesting he was trade potential?

    If the Canucks let him go at the end of the season, then he will have walked for nothing.

    Wouldn’t it have been better to get something for him as he is unlikely to be a difference-maker in the playoffs?

    Just wondering what made you change your mind – everyone has that right.

    Best,
    T.

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    • Chris the Curmudgeon
      April 18, 2013

      Raymond is the exact type of player that can make a difference in the playoffs while trying to earn his new contract. Anyone remember Fernando Pisani?

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  8. akidd
    April 18, 2013

    hey tom,

    whims and fancies changed my mind of course. the blowing wind.
    i see raymond almost as a bellwether for the team. i really do wonder what kind of team this is. there’s been such extremes these past few years.
    . and i guess i’m saying that even if there’s this wonderful potential if a player can’t be consistent enough then after a certain amount of kicks at the can you try a different fit for everyone’s sake.

    and raymond is needed this year, this spring. which is why, even if the canucks don’t intend to sign him(and apparently no one has contacted his agent) they don’t trade him at the deadline because it’s all about now for this canuck team.

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    • Chinook
      April 18, 2013

      I agree with you that “it’s all about now for this canuck team.” But it shouldn’t be; there should always be a thought about the future. Even though Raymond might score a game-winning goal in the playoffs, the Canucks won’t re-sign him and so (I agree with Tom) Raymond should have been traded. Perhaps a second-round draft pick, keeping in mind that 50% of second rounders make it, and every once in a while, there is a Shea Weber in the second round.

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      • dougster
        April 18, 2013

        Of course we don’t know any of the details but my guess is GMMG would have packaged MayRay into a Luongo deal (cheap winger/expensive goalie) or traded him straight up as long as there was a roster player coming back. The fact he wasn’t traded at the deadline is a signal perhaps that other GMs see the same things we fans do: inconsistent play, uncertain upside.

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  9. J21 (@Jyrki21)
    April 18, 2013

    Raymond seems like the type of player who could be quite good on a poorer team, where he’s more a focal point of the offense. I like him, but as mentioned above, I don’t think the Canucks can afford him once the cap goes down, and I think Higgins’ extension was a conscious either/or decision. On this site I came out saying I’d rather have kept Raymond, but this article does go a ways to making me feel better about the choice.

    I wouldn’t be too surprised if Raymond ended up signing in Calgary. It’s his hometown team, and the site of his greatest NHL successes (albeit as a visiting player), and fits the above criteria of poorer team where he could be more of a focal point.

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  10. Rob
    April 18, 2013

    I dont know how much truth there is too this but there was a rumor that the Canucks offered Higgins and Raymond the same contract, Higgins accepted and Raymond turned it down and this was before the trade deadline. Knowing that Raymond was probably not going to return next season, Gilles should have traded him. Better to get something than nothing and that something would have been a 2nd round pick or two lower round picks. I like Raymond as a player and would have no complaints if he stayed but Gilles dropped the ball on this one. He has been very good at trading away middle draft picks but not very good at aquiring them back. This is a move he had to make, and didnt, now Raymond walks for nothing.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      April 18, 2013

      Can you imagine the uproar if the Canucks traded Raymond at the deadline? This fanbase already thinks the Canucks “playoff window” is closing; trading away Raymond would have sent them into a tizzy. He’s still a useful player from whom the Canucks will need a contribution in the playoffs. If not getting anything for him at the deadline frustrates you, consider him a rental player for whom the Canucks didn’t need to pay anything.

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      • Rob
        April 18, 2013

        It’s a double edged sword and its a tough balancing act that Gilles has to play by building a team that can win now vs building a team to compete down the road. I know when I look at the Canucks as a whole and their chances of winning a cup this year I do not see Raymond as a make-or-break player, I think the Canucks would probably do just as well without him as they would with him and in that sense he is expendable. However, with the way the injury bug has hit the Canucks this year it doesnt hurt to have the extra body and he is bloody fast with a decent shot so I can see the benefits of keeping him as well. But It’s my opinion, after seeing Ehrhoff walk away for nothing (although he was a much bigger piece to the puzzle than Raymond is and it made sense for the Canucks to keep him) and after watching Buffalo lose Drury and Gomez for nothing, and countless other teams lose guys for nothing, it makes sense to me that they get something back for him rather than letting him walk.

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      • Rob
        April 18, 2013

        It’s a double edged sword and it’s a tough balancing act that Gilles has to play by building a team that can win now vs. building a team to compete down the road. I know when I look at the Canucks as a whole and their chances of winning a cup this year I do not see Raymond as a make-or-break player, I think the Canucks would probably do just as well without him as they would with him and in that sense he is expendable. However, with the way the injury bug has hit the Canucks this year it doesn’t hurt to have the extra body and he is bloody fast with a decent shot so I can see the benefits of keeping him as well. But It’s my opinion, after seeing Ehrhoff walk away for nothing (although he was a much bigger piece to the puzzle than Raymond is and it made sense for the Canucks to keep him) and after watching Buffalo lose Drury and Gomez for nothing, and countless other teams lose guys for nothing, it makes sense to me that they get something back for him rather than letting him walk.

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      • Chinook
        April 18, 2013

        Disagree with you. Management should do whats best for the team. Management can justify, stand up and answer for it but they should NOT blindly do what the fans want. The Sedins would never have made it 3 seasons if fans had their way. Don’t succumb to the Tony Gallagher school of logic!

        You are posting comments too quickly. Slow down.

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        • Chinook
          April 18, 2013

          Above post is a response to Daniel Wagner’s post, that Raymond couldn’t be traded because of fan disapproval.

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          • Daniel Wagner
            April 18, 2013

            Sorry, that wasn’t really my point. I honestly do think it would have been a bad idea to trade Raymond at the deadline, as I think he will be a useful contributor in the playoffs.

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            • Tom 1040
              April 19, 2013

              Okay, fair enough.

              All good points though differing opinions.

              My thoughts initially (several articles back) were that Raymond was redundant to a degree with Higgins and Hansen, but still certainly an asset.

              What’s more, he is one of the few without a no-trade.

              Hence, made sense (to me) to trade him at the deadline (whether packaged with Luongo or otherwise) and try to fill a team need.

              Bob McKenzie (TSN) and Iain McInture mentioned in tweets about Raymond’s name being bandied about.

              Well, whatever. At least everyone was polite. I like that.

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