Feb 242011
 

(with contributions from Richard Loat and J.J. Guerrero)

Since his hat trick against the Calgary Flames on December 1st, Mason Raymond has 3 goals in 27 games. And with only a few days left until the trade deadline, the heat is starting to build around him.

On the surface, it’s easy to say that May Ray is having an off-year. A 25-goal scorer last season, he’s on pace for only 14 this year. Part of this is because he played through shoulder and wrist injuries during the early part of the season. Another part is because he was sidelined by a thumb injury a couple of games after his Calgary hat-trick. (At the time, the latter thumb injury was actually seen as a blessing in disguise as it allowed for his original injuries to heal at the same time.) Yet another part, however, is his decline in powerplay production.

As anyone who watches Canucks games can tell you – a major difference between how the team is deployed now in comparison with last season, is that Newell Brown has wisely loaded-up the first power-play unit. The “loaded first unit” approach has been an overwhelming success – powering the Canucks to the top power-play conversion rate in the league. One ‘negative’ side-effect of employing this loaded unit, however, has been to decrease the amount of power-play time Mason Raymond gets by a rough average of 40 seconds per game. Not only has Raymond’s power-play time diminished, but the new power-play combinations have lessened the quality of that time as well. Instead of skating with a point per game player in Kesler on the second unit, Raymond is being centred by Malhotra.

To that, Raymond has 5 PP points on the Canucks’ second PP unit; last season he had 18.

Looking at it another way, Raymond still has 31 points this season, 25 of which came on even-strength – or an average of 0.50 ES points per game. Last season, he had 35 ES points in 82 games – or an average of 0.43 ES points per game. As funny as it sounds right now, his total production actually hasn’t dipped as much as it seems. His 0.62 points per game average – he’s still on pace for 44 points – is only slightly lower than his 0.64 points per game average last season. He’s still getting his chances, as evidenced by his shot totals (2.78 shots/game this season vs. 2.65 shots/game last season) and good Corsi rating.

The problem is, obviously, he hasn’t cashed in on as many of those chances.

Once you take away the powerplay time argument, Raymond is still only on pace for 10 even-strength goals (he had 17 last season) and this is what is frustrating most Canucks fans. The assists are nice and you can maybe make some argument about his improved passing or on-ice vision; however, the Canucks gave him a 2-year/$5.1 million contract this summer, not because of these intangibles, but primarily because of his goal-scoring ability.

Like winning games, scoring goals masks a lot of deficiencies. Unfortunately for Raymond, the warts are showing again.

I have a buddy who constantly rips on Raymond. Not coincidentally, this is the same buddy that thinks there should be a statistic that tracks the number of times the play dies on a guy’s stick. It’s an interesting concept. He’s not talking about giveaways, which is a questionable statistic that’s mostly dominated by big-minute defenceman and play-making forwards. (Take the 18 leaders in giveaways in the NHL and put them on a team and you’d have a pretty good team.) The statistic my buddy would like to see tracked occurs when a player gets knocked off the puck or rubbed out along the boards leading to a change in possession. It might also include a poor dump-in that leads to a change in possession, or maybe a player that skates in circles in the attacking zone before unloading a weak shot or a pass to nobody in particular. Sound familiar? Yeah.

At least publicly, both GM Mike Gillis and coach Alain Vigneault have both stood behind May Ray. They probably see the chances and missed chances as well. For his part, Raymond acknowledges he needs to start burying more of them.

We hope he does too. Or, come Monday, Gillis might need to find someone who will.

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