April 03 2012 02:53PM
Mason Raymond hasn't been able to find his form this season, and time is running out.
Needless to say, Mason Raymond is not having a particularly good season. Leading up his benching on Saturday against Calgary, Raymond has struggled to drive possession (like he was able to do in the past several seasons), his defensive game has fallen off significantly, and to top it off, he's benefitting from the on-ice bounces and still can't seem to bury his chances. What's worse, quickly glancing over how Raymond's presence impacts his most frequent line-mates (and in particular Ryan Kesler), reveals that Raymond's presence in the top-six may be a drag on the performance of his team-mates.
The Canucks are going to need Raymond's speed in any run they may make deep into the Stanley Cup Playoffs, so they need him to find his game. In fact, so much of the way they've handled him of late, he's spent six of the past ten games on the team's top-line for example, strikes me as an effort to rebuild his confidence. Hopefully that effort pays off, because Raymond's contract expires at the end of this season, and if he doesn't pick it up in the postseason, then common sense dictates that the speedy forward will be in serious danger of not even being qualified by the team.
Read on past the jump!
I've been a big fan of Raymond's game since his rookie season, and have long defended him from erroneous charges of being a "perimeter player" who "totally sucks." That's become a less tenable position this season. Raymond's possession game has cratered to the point where the Canucks surrender more shots with him on the ice than with any other skater, and his With or Without You (WOWY) numbers demonstrate that he's been dead-weight on Kesler's wing this season.
In fairness to Raymond, his performance this season hasn't resulted from a lack of effort, or a lack of fitness. He broke his back on a freak play in the Stanley Cup Finals less than a year ago, so he's been recovering from an extremely serious injury. On 27 other teams, he would be a shoe-in finalist for the Masterton trophy (I imagine that one member of the Vancouver chapter of the PHWA briefly brought up Raymond as a candidate for the award, and was laughed out of the room in short order). It's very possible, in fact it's likely based on his overall body of work as an NHL pro, that he'll re-find his old form as he puts more time between himself and the moment he slammed awkwardly into the boards on June 13th in Boston.
In the meantime however, there's a lot of pressure on the winger to produce or, at least drive play. While Raymond hasn't been sheltered in terms of competition this season, he's started over sixty percent of his shifts in the offensive-zone, yet, from a possession stand point he's still finished marginally underwater (49.4 Fenwick %). In terms of scoring efficiency, he's eighth on the club among forwards, and only a fraction of a point per sixty minutes ahead of Manny Malhotra, who plays some of the most uniquely difficult minutes in the league. That's despite Raymond carrying the highest individual PDO on the team (102.7)...
It's important to remember that this isn't the continuation of a trend that began last season: Raymond's even-strength scoring rate was actually higher in 2010-11 than it was in his breakout 2009-10 campaign. This is a new trend, and I have to believe it's related to his recovery, and probably, to accumulated frustration as well.
Whatever is going on, Raymond's status with the team heading into this summer has to be in doubt. For pending restricted free-agents who make more than a million dollars per year, they're entitled to a qualifying offer worth 100% of their salary. That means the Canucks need to commit 2.6 million to Mason Raymond by June 25th, to maintain their "right of first refusal" this summer.
Generally speaking, if a player knows he'll lose a decision at arbitration, or that the process will be particularly arduous, he'll accept his qualifying offer right off the bat (like Shane O'Brien did, a couple of months before he was traded in the preseason). The rub for Raymond and the Canucks is that, gambling on the winger to re-find his form probably isn't worth 2.5 million dollars against next season's cap. Obviously the Canucks could choose not to qualify him, and then extend him more cheaply, but that sounds like a serious long-shot.
All of this can change, of course, if Raymond is able to tighten up his defensive game, drive play and chip in the occasional goal in the postseason. Frankly, when Raymond plays like he did in 2009-10 or even last season: he's well worth 2.6 million dollars. I'll be rooting for the guy, he brings a unique look to the team with his speed, he performs well by our chance data, and generally speaking has had an uncanny ability to tilt the ice towards the opponent's net during his Canucks tenure. This season, we've seen too little of that, and while the situation demands our compassion (the dude broke his back 10 months ago for chrissakes!), common sense dictates that if Raymond can't return to doing the things that made him successful, he'll probably have to work through these issues on another club next season.