Canucks fans rejoiced this summer when Mike Gillis avoided arbitration with Mason Raymond, the speedy winger that had broken out with a career-high 25 goals. Optimists said that Raymond was a future 30-goal scorer and that he would reach the next level this season.
His renovated ceiling and a new echelon of comparable players led to offseason chatter (or, at the very least, rumours mongered by superagent J.P. Barry) that Raymond was looking for somewhere north of 3.5 million dollars in arbitration. On the steps of the courthouse, however, the Canucks and Raymond agreed to a deal worth 2.5 million for two years. Here's what I said at the time:
I love [this signing]. Gillis gets Raymond at a reasonable cap hit for two years. This is brilliant, because if he turns out to be a one-season wonder as a genuine top-six forward, he's still got a ton of value as a speedy checker. Even if his scoring numbers dip a little bit, Raymond is worth 2.5.
It was and is a reasonable contract, which might be the only reason he's yet to be seriously called out for his slow start to the season. He isn't overpaid, and in a cap world, that seems to be all that matters to people. Furthermore, he's still contributing as a checker (fore- and back-); he doesn't take penalties (only 1 minor all season); he's an important part of Canucks special teams; and his speed backs off defenders 5-on-5, giving his linemates space and time to work. He's got 9 assists for his efforts, only one point back of his point totals through 22 games last year.
But he's not scoring. It's problematic, and it's tough to know what the problem is. Through 22 games, he has 4 goals. The season is still young, but last year, through 22 games, he had 8. A year after scoring 25, Raymond is on pace for nearly half that, at 14. So what's the problem? It's hard to say. He could simply be a one-season wonder. He could also be playing hurt. Was that last year an anomaly or is there something else wrong?
He hasn't missed any games this season, but there's been scuttlebutt about Raymond suffering a wrist injury early in the year. He admitted as much. From the Sun:
"I don't feel my best right now. My body's not 100 per cent, but that's all part of hockey. Some days are better than others. You're never 100 per cent."
If it was severe enough to genuinely hinder his play, you'd think he'd sit out in order to heal, but Raymond continues to dress, and it certainly hasn't prevented him from shooting the puck. You'd think he'd be shooting less if there was a problem with his wrist, but Raymond has registered 59 shots this season, two more through 22 games than last year. In fact, his shot totals are the third-highest on the team, behind Mikael McShooterson and a similarly trigger-happy Ryan Kesler.
Raymond isn't passing up opportunities to fire the puck on net. He's just not beating netminders this year. Raymond's shooting percentage is 6.8, the lowest of his career, and a full 3 points below his career 9.8 shooting percentage. We could turn our attention, again, to his mystery injury. Is it that his wrist shot, one of his best assets, just isn't strong enough right now to beat goalies the way it did last season?
The third option is that Raymond is just a streaky player, and he's poised for another strong December. Last season, he scored 8 times in the month, including a hat trick in Calgary. If Raymond closes out the calendar year with a handful of tallies, then this whole post is a waste of time. I wouldn't mind. Is MayRay on the verge of a criticism-silencing hot streak?
Maybe. Maybe not. It's tough to know if he's going to turn this around; it's tough to know if he's playing hurt, especially when he's playing. Worse, it's tough to know if the Raymond we're seeing right now is the Raymond we should get used to seeing.