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Explaining the Inevitability of Mason Raymond's Early Maple Leaf Success
There's a reason teams trade players. There's a reason they cut them, and a reason they sign them. Sometimes, it's not even clear who won or who was made the better by it – and, in a way, that's sort of the point.
Let's put the chips on red and see where the little white ball lands. It's exciting, it's risky... but there's money to be made and winnings to be had.
If you take Mason Raymond's enforced exit from Vancouver this offseason – one which occurred after three or four straight years of bashing, shaming, and all-around scapegoating from Vancouver's fans and its media – you'll see a player who's worth far more than the budget deal Toronto just signed him for (one year and $1 million, if my memory and this link serves me) and a player whose embattled status in recent seasons completely overlooks the immediate offensive impact he can provide a team.
MayRay, as he was affectionately and not affectionately known in Vancouver, was never a player who couldn't dazzle you with his speed, hands, or the occasional burst of creativity:
Part of that – most of that – was his skill set. The rest, of course, was Vancouver's system. For all their lack of postseason success, the Canucks cannot be considered anything less than a team that has revolutionized pockets of the NHL's post-2005 lockout offensive swagger.
The cycling of the Sedin Twins and Alex Burrows, the hybrid forecheck/top corner presence of Ryan Kesler, the always-rushing, smooth-skating backend dependability of Dan Hamhuis, Alex Edler, and Kevin Bieksa, and the contribution of other players – like Raymond – who either fit in or completely took advantage of that complex moving body of parts.
For years, even while he suffered through sometimes season-long scoring droughts, Raymond was counted on to be the flash. The pizzazz. The sizzle, not the steak.
Raymond's pass to Nazem Kadri (below) in Saturday's Maple Leafs win was a sight for sore eyes for Torontonians – whose team has developed a style pretty much the opposite of Vancouver's – and a thing of beauty. His shootout spin-o-rama, which may have stunned Sens goalie Craig Anderson, was textbook from his Vancouver days. If anyone on the West Coast was watching – yeah, we all were – we all knew what he was going to do.
Raymond's immediate success and impact in Maple Leaf blue and white has no doubt caused some Canucks fans to wonder, "Gee, why couldn't the kid have done that when he was with us?"
Of course, he did do that with. Vancouver He did it all the time. That's how he always played. And, actually, that's the reason the Canucks' brass let him go. That's the reason the fans begged for him to go. It's the same reason Kyle Wellwood was cut from T Dot and the reason he was loved and then cut from the Canucks' camp, too.
Raymond, for all his speed and effort, was soft. He wasn't the guy Vancouver thought they could move forward with. They would had to have given him considerate minutes, and they wouldn't have been able to add any new pieces – which they've done quite well, mind you, in the first three games with Brad Richardson, Mike Santorelli, and even preseason studs Bo Horvat and Hunter Shinkaruk.
Leafs fans, you can thank Daniel and Henrik for teaching your new pet how to play, but the Canucks also know full well the advantage of adding other clubs' castoffs.
Saturday's shorthanded goal by Brad Richardson was a thing of beauty – a breakaway stamped with a confident backhand-to-forehand-to-backhand move, finished off with a sexy, Zidane-like slide through the wicket of Devan Dubnyk's suddenly not-so-sizable pads.
It was the exact sort of breakaway bravado that's been missing from Vancouver's shooters not named 'Kesler', and a relief for Canucks fans who are used to seeing Burrows pull the same move over and over and over again:
(NOTE: The Burrows backhand doesn't work every time, despite what that video above hints at.)
Two years ago, trade deadline guys Chris Higgins and Max Lapierre brought that same kind of fire, that same kind of spark. They were the something new. They hit, they skated, and they didn't ask questions before letting go a shot.
Prior to their arrival, Dan Hamhuis and Manny Malhotra brought their own self-refined styles to Vancouver's roster and, sometime before that, Swede Mikael Samuelsson did the same. Remember how dominant Christian Ehrhoff was from blueline-to-blueline?
These guys, the ones that make up this revolving door of new additions, are supporting actors that turn in starring roles in movies 10 years after you probably should have heard of them. Think Ben Whishaw, who had a monster 2012 as Q in Skyfall and the song writer in Cloud Atlas, but had already mastered the art of acting in the BBC's The Hour and some movie about John Keats. Think John Hawkes, a dude who's looked like he's 40 since he was 20 and has crafted a nice little niche career for himself after calculated scenes in Winter's Bone, Deadwood, Miami Vice, and The Sessions. They led to Steven Spielberg and to Lincoln.
Everyone has a style – a look, a move, or a signature – that makes them appealing. The key, though, is to keep moving. For Raymond, the key was to leave Vancouver, a city that no longer appreciated what he could give them, and took his still-there things of beauty for granted.
MayRay's new shine will certainly fade, but let's hope he keeps it up for a full season. If there's a guy who's done everything he can to earn a National Hockey League paycheque – on and off the ice – it's the pride of Canmore, Alberta.