Vancouver Canucks forward Mason Raymond remains stoic as trade rumours fly
By any measure, it’s been a trying eight months for Vancouver Canucks forward Mason Raymond. It’s been a battle to regain his health after both his back and his Stanley Cup dreams were crushed by Boston Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk on the first shift of the sixth game in last spring’s final.
Raymond suffered a compression fracture of his vertebrae when he was taken into the boards awkwardly, spent the summer in a back brace, and wondered if he would ever play hockey again. But through hard work and determination—both his and the Canucks’ medical staff—the fleet-footed winger made a triumphant return to the Canucks lineup on December 4.
Raymond’s character had been tested repeatedly, and the 26-year-old from Cochrane, Alberta, aced the exams. His body was up to the challenge and he was able to resume his professional hockey career.
Now, however, Raymond’s mental fortitude is being tested as his name swirls in trade rumours ahead of the National Hockey League’s February 27 trade deadline. The Canucks have set themselves up for another lengthy playoff run and will likely be looking to add a piece or two for the postseason push. However, in order to get something, the hockey club has to be prepared to part with something, too. And that’s where Raymond figures into the equation.
“I’m not reading papers, but it’s the same as anybody else: it [a trade] is something that can happen. This is pro sports, and that’s something that can happen,” Raymond told the Georgia Straight in the locker room after a recent practice at Rogers Arena. “But, to be honest, I couldn’t even walk eight months ago, so I’ve got a whole new outlook, and I’m lucky to even be standing here. If it happens, that’s part of hockey, but I’m not even going to think about that. I know it’ll be in the back of my mind, but I just have to focus on what I do here.”
Not wanting to touch the core of the hockey club, the Canucks could find themselves using Raymond as trade bait. Once a 25-goal scorer, he possesses speed and offensive instinct that may be attractive to a team looking to build for the future.
However, Raymond’s recent performance isn’t doing much to help the Canucks or to attract attention from would-be suitors. With three goals and three assists in his first seven games back from injury, Raymond gave every indication he was returning with a vengeance. Since then, though, his production has virtually ceased.
Raymond has just two goals in the 16 games since the start of January, rarely looks dangerous in the offensive zone, lacks the grit and intensity to win many puck battles, and has seen his role on the hockey club drop along with his offensive numbers. A second-line forward for the past few years, Raymond now finds himself languishing on the third line, with some penalty-killing duties and shootout responsibilities sprinkled into his job description.
“I guess anybody is going to say they’d always like to be better, but overall I have been [happy],” he says of his recent play. “It’s been a long way back to where I am now. I’ve only played 20-some games. I came out of the gates really hot and haven’t scored as many points of late. But, overall, I’m pleased, so I’m going to continue what I do and have fun.”
Unfortunately for Raymond, the days leading up to February 27 may not provide much enjoyment. Unless he finds a way to increase his contributions to the hockey team, his name will remain out there in trade discussions.
The reality of the situation is that Raymond has become expendable to a Canucks team on the cusp of realizing its goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup. Even last spring, while playing alongside Ryan Kesler—who on many nights in the playoffs was the team’s best player—Raymond managed just two goals in 24 postseason games prior to his devastating injury (and one of those was the seventh goal in a 7-3 victory over San Jose). So the Canucks advanced as far as they did with little or no significant offence from a guy who was expected to deliver.
The best case for all involved would be for Raymond to make a statement to Canucks management with inspired play and show them what he can do to help the hockey club. Unfortunately, he’s had ample opportunity to do that since Christmas, with nothing to show for a regular spot in the lineup. Although he claims he’s trying hard not to get caught up in the speculation, Raymond’s on-ice performance looks very much like that of a guy distracted by what’s going on around him.
“It’s a Canadian market; talks are going to happen, but I guess it’s just talk until things happen,” he says. “The most I’m going to hear of it is from the media, and that’s where it all gets going. I have a whole new outlook on the game as far as being lucky to be able to play. I have to go out there and do what I do and control what I can be. But if it happens, it happens.”
By those comments, it sounds as though Raymond is fully aware—and perhaps even resigned to the fact—that he could soon have a new hockey home. If he’s dealt before the deadline, he may not be happy about having to pick up and move on from the only NHL team he’s ever known. A trade would certainly present some challenges, but nothing compared to what Raymond has been through since last June. And perhaps a change of scenery at this point would be the best thing to get his career back on track.
Jeff Paterson is a talk-show host on Vancouver’s all-sports radio Team 1040. Follow him on Twitter.