Vancouver Canucks Would Be Foolish To Trade Mason Raymond

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If you frequent the popular hockey websites and forums as much as I do, you have probably noticed a curious trend emerging. It is difficult to go even half an hour on a hockey site these days without stumbling on a new “trade proposal” involving Mason Raymond in exchange for some player with about one-tenth his talent (but a bit more grit!).

Then again, you might be thinking, what’s so strange about that? Over-zealous fans of all teams have bounced around unrealistic trade proposals heavily weighted in their teams’ favor ever since the internet was first invented. How is this any different? Well, what is so curious about these unbalanced Mason Raymond proposals is that they are all being proposed by fans of his own team, the Canucks. Why, you ask?

In the wake of last year’s Stanley Cup Final loss to the big, bad Boston Bruins, Vancouver Canucks fans have in large part grown to undervalue Raymond because he is neither big nor bad, which has led to them throwing him into all these hypothetical trade proposals for everyone from Steve Ott (for Raymond “plus“!) to Unrestricted Free Agent Tuomo Ruutu.

It’s natural; whenever you lose a playoff series to someone with a distinct style of play, you can often come to overvalue that style of play. Even GMs and coaches have been known to overreact in this manner in the past.

For instance, teams who have lost to the Detroit Red Wings over the years have often reacted by trying to become more like the Red Wings. But in looking to add more “Red Wing like” finesse players of their own, they would completely forget the value of power forwards and physical two-way defenseman, (much like the actual Red Wings of today have).

Likewise, watching a fast and skilled Vancouver Canucks team lose to the ever-physical Boston Bruins might make a Canucks fan become obsessed with size and grit, while forgetting the value of speed and skill, two assets paramount to the Canucks reaching the Final in the first place.

Now, it’s not that these fans are wrong about the value of size and grit, it’s that they are forgetting the value of everything else. Could the Canucks benefit from adding a top-six power forward, or even a top-nine type like Steve Ott (or what they should do: both)? Absolutely, there is no doubt, and if GM Mike GIllis does not add more of that “power” element to both his offense and defense before the trade deadline, Canucks fans have every right to be displeased. However, at the same time, we need to keep perspective here. Mason Raymond is a better player than Steve Ott, and by a significant margin. He is also younger and slightly cheaper.

Canucks fans might also remember that Raymond did not play game seven of Cup Final, and Kesler was hobbled all series, and that those and other key injuries may have played a larger part in the Canucks loss to the Bruins than they realize. A lack of size and grit is not by any means entirely to blame for the Canucks’ Stanley Cup Final loss like many pundits would have you believe.

You see, when Vancouver played Nashville in the Western Conference Semi-final, the Predators’ league-best top defensive pair of Shea Weber and Ryan Suter was able to shut down the Canucks first line, but their second line, led by Ryan Kesler, picked up the slack against lesser competition and carried the Canucks to a series victory.

I predictated the same phenomenon to happen against the Zdeno Chara led Bruins in terms of the Canucks first line having problems, except with Kesler hobbled on the second line, and Janik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, and possibly even Alex Burrows looking slowed from the hard-fought earlier rounds, I forsaw trouble for the Canucks because I didn’t think the second and/or third line would be able to ride to the rescue this time.

That is why I couldn’t pick a winner for the series when asked, except to say, “I think everyone picking Vancouver to sweep the series or have an easy go is in for a surprise. All I know is it’s going to be a lot harder for Vancouver than people think, and it will be a long series.” And that was my thinking before the smooth-skating Dan Hamhuis suffered an injury in game one, and Mason Raymond hurt his back in game six, two injuries which each further served to slow down the Canucks’ vaunted transition game.

The series pretty much played out accordingly. With the Canucks top line being shut down by Norris candidate Zdeno Chara and Selke candidate Patrice Bergeron, and the next two lines missing a lot of their speed, epitomized by Ryan Kesler’s injury (and later Raymond’s) effectively rendering the entire second line unproductive, the Canucks were unable to replicate the same blueprint they used to win against Nashville, and so succumbed to defeat after seven games.

Does this mean the Canucks would have beat the Bruins if they were healthy and at full speed? I’m not saying that, but I’m not saying they wouldn’t have. My point is just that there was far more at play in the Canucks losing that series than simply a lack of grit on the roster. Let’s remember that speed, skill, hard work, and some muscle and grit are what got the Canucks to the Final against Boston, allowing them to beat three very different teams to get there in Chicago, Nashville, and San Jose, and those same elements are still very valuable, even against a big team like Boston. The Canucks just didn’t have enough to beat Boston at that moment in time.

Certainly, you can’t blame Canucks fans for wanting to adjust the roster in light of that fact, but giving Raymond away just because he’s not a “power forward” does not help the team. You have to look at the whole picture and remember that there is more than one way to be a valuable player in the NHL. Canucks fans forget that Raymond is a very good player on an affordable contract, a rare blend of speed, skill, and responsible two-way play that is not easily replaced. I believe we should not discount his importance to the Canucks success, or the significance of he and his teammates’ injuries to Vancouver’s failure in the Final.

Is Raymond a perfect player? No. He would be a lot better if his shot didn’t suck, for one. He is similar to Patrick Kane in that his exceptional quickness with the puck yields him many quality scoring chances, yet his actual production on the score sheet never reaches the lofty heights it should because he is so bad at finishing those chances.

However, he does create chances on offense for himself and his linemates, and moreover, he is a great two-way weapon through the neutral zone, both in transition on offense and in shutting down the other team’s attempt at a transition game on defense. Raymond has the ability to almost simultaneously be the farthest forward up the ice on the attack and the forward farthest back on defense when the play goes the other way. He is an elite back-checker due to his speed and, well, willingness to back-check.

Such a skill can easily be overlooked, but Raymond’s value extends far past the stat sheet. There is a reason so many fans out there of other teams immediately begin to worry that their team does not have enough speed to win a Cup right after they see the Canucks in action against their boys, and that reason is players like Mason Raymond. They watch as their premier power forward tries to skate the puck through the neutral zone and gain the offensive blue line after a Canuck’s rare high turnover, with a seemingly insurmountable gap between him and the back-checkers trailing him 20 feet behind him. And then, in a flash, they see Mason Raymond appear all the way from off the screen behind and catch the forward, causing a turnover the other way and getting the play turned back in the right direction. That’s what Mason Raymond is, to me, he’s a great “territorial player,” he keeps the play moving towards the other net instead of his. And when you’re on the ice with someone like that, you have a greater margin for error, because he has the speed to recover and prevent rushes going the other way.

Would you like him to produce more? Yes, absolutely, he has all the talent except for that damned shot, which he would be well-served to work on every day after practice. However, he is a skilled player that creates many chances for everyone on offense, and is very helpful in making sure the play goes in the right direction. Big, gritty power forwards may dominate the offensive zone, but less-appreciated is how players like Mason Raymond dominate the neutral zone. I mean what is a power forward’s use in the neutral zone? Is he going to post up the puck along the boards of the… bench? No! Although he might smash you into the bench. Especially if you’re the type that disparages his kind on your blog. Hmm. Starting to wonder if maybe I shouldn’t publish this…

But seriously, don’t get me wrong, I am a huge believer in the importance of power forwards, and I think the Vancouver Canucks really need one, but players like Raymond have value, too.

The one problem you can get into is if you have a team solely comprised of Mason Raymond types, and Sedin types, without any muscle to compliment them. Although, what many pundits don’t realize about the Vancouver Canucks, specifically, is that they are much stronger and grittier than they are given credit for.

For instance, the Chicago Blackhawks and always-adored Detroit Red Wings are actually much softer than the Canucks, and much more lacking in muscle and players who can win battles along the boards and in front of the net. If you want proof (for the Red Wings, anyway), just watch how the Wings played against the big San Jose Sharks lineup the last two postseasons compared to how the Canucks played them. One team looked completely out of its league physically, outmatched and scared, and one team had far less problem with the Sharks’ size. That’s not to say if I’m a Canucks fan, I’m not wishing for more roster help in the form of physical forwards or physical two-way D, but I know if I’m a Blackhawks or Red Wings fan, I’m wishing a lot harder for those same things.

I’m amazed at how much flack the Canucks receive for a lack of grit while the Red Wings get none at all, even though they are the team who got manhandled two years in a row by the Sharks. How is being manhandled by the Sharks better than being manhandled by the much more physical Bruins when you’re injured?

Regardless, Mason Raymond is an integral part of the Vancouver Canucks forward group. He is a really a key cog in their territorial game, capable of playing well as a second line winger, or, if GM Mike Gillis can make the necessary roster additions to push Raymond down to the third line, he could prove a fantastic mismatch against other team’s third defensive pairs during the postseason, when advantageous matchups like that often pay huge dividends. I believe the Canucks would be foolish to trade him for the likes of Steve Ott or Tuomo Ruutu. You only trade Raymond if he’s part of a package for an elite piece like Corey Perry or Shea Weber. If you can move Cory Schneider, Mason Raymond, and Keith Ballard for an elite player, even if you have to take a 2M bad contract back that you have to bury in the minors in exchange for them taking Ballard, you do it, but only if the other team won’t take a 1st round pick instead of Raymond. Honestly, as Schneider is the main piece in any deal, I would think Gillis should be able to negotiate a deal without having to include Raymond. The Canucks are in a position where they should be dealing in futures and and one of their goaltenders (since there is only one net and they have two goaltenders), not important roster players like Raymond.

The final verdict: you either trade Raymond for a big fish, or not at all. And preferably you get the big fish without giving up Raymond, because really, you teach the kid to shoot, have him add a bit more muscle, and all of a sudden he’s a fairly big fish himself.

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Written by Shark Circle

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