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.Tags: Mason Raymond, The 'P' in 'PITB' stands for 'party-pooper'