Do you have a player that you know is far from a superstar, probably won’t hit his originally thought potential, and might even make too much money for what he contributes to his team, but you’re a massive fan despite all rational thought? The Canucks are my "second team". They have been almost as long as the Leafs have been my first (thanks, Pavel Bure). Mason Raymond, to me, is "that player".
As such, I’m more than happy to see that he will be reporting to Leafs training camp as part of a Professional Tryout. Here’s what you should know…
After scoring 25 goals and 28 assists on the last year of his entry level contract in 2009/10, Raymond has not achieved the same results since, falling to 39 and 20 points in the seasons following. This wouldn’t be so bad, if the team wasn’t paying him $2.55 million for the efforts, the result of an arbitration case. Despite his (relatively) bloated salary, the Canucks wanted to retained his rights, so they filed for arbitration on him. A pre-hearing settlement brought the figure down to 2.275 million, and Raymond did have an improved year, with 10 goals and 12 assists in 46 games, but it wasn’t enough to convince the Canucks to have him in their long term plans.
You can’t really blame them, either. Vancouver has recommitted to Roberto Luongo, has four defencemen making $4.5 million or more, and nearly $34 million committed to forwards. Many teams like having cap room buffers (Leafs management slowly walks out the door), and re-investing in the 27 year old Raymond when the team now has just $2.2 million in cap space would not be a wise move.
The Leafs, on the other hand, may be able to use Raymond’s situation to their advantage. A similar situation was had in 2010 with Clarke MacArthur, who the Leafs signed for just 1.1 million on August 28th, 2010 after he was unable to find a team to make a significant investment in him. MacArthur’s situation was a bit different, as the Atlanta Thrashers walked away from an arbitration ruling, but it’s another case of a potential low-budget, late offseason pickup of a player who’s dollar figures have left him out of favour.
While not the star many thought he could become with his dazzling top speed and acceleration, Raymond still had a decent offensive year last year. Playing with Jannik Hansen and Jordan Schroeder as his primary linemates, Raymond put up 1.53 points per 60 minutes (5 on 5). By comparison, Toronto’s own Tyler Bozak (1.51 with Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk) and David Clarkson (1.33 with Patrick Elias and Travis Zajac) weren’t as efficient.
Some of the more "advanced" stats aren’t so kind to him. His Corsi relative to the quality of his competition is just barely positive (middle ground on the Canucks), his individual PDO is a bit on the lucky side this year (1016, with 1000 being neutral), and he starts more shifts in the offensive zone (56.5%) than he finishes (48.3). These are the type of numbers that would keep me from committing any significant cash or term too, but make a tryout at least sensible.
An issue, of course, is the Leafs current cap situation makes this a move out of left field. In case you’ve forgotten, the blue and white currenly have $4.9 million dollars remaining to sign Nazem Kadri and Cody Franson. That, as you may know, is not a lot of money. It becomes $6.1 million if you send down Trevor Smith and Korbinian Holzer (very likely), but even if you were going to get the dynamic RFA duo to sign at under market value, Raymond needs to get paid something.
What that something is? Who knows. It won’t be last years salary. Maybe Dave Nonis, Raymond’s original GM, can convince him to sign on a discount as a favour to both the Leafs and himself, but you’re still probably looking in the range of $1-1.5 million.
With this considered, I see two possibilities. One – there’s a trade coming at some point. Maybe it’s one of the RFA’s. Maybe management thinks there’s still a suitor yet for John-Michael Liles (not holding my breath). Maybe Nikolai Kulemin’s $2.8 million price tag is seen as unsuitable for the third line, but suitable for another team. Whoever it is, a contract offloaded would make room for Kadri, Franson, and Raymond.
The other? It could just be a tryout. Maybe it’s Nonis helping out his old player by showing other teams he’s capable. Maybe it’s them trying to find a speed skater that falls a lot (except less diving, more actual loss of balance) like Kadri to fill the void during his hold out. Who knows.
The basic point here is that Mason Raymond is a pretty decent hockey player who may be available on a bargain, because he spent some time being far from that. I wouldn’t expect a ton from him, but he can still contribute. Plus he skates circles around his competition. I’m excited to see a player I’ve always liked wearing the blue and white, though it remains to be seen how long that will last.