What to do with Mason Raymond

By Nick Greenizan

Speedy Vancouver Canucks forward Mason Raymond – who suffered a vertebrae compression fracture (ie: broken back) during last June’s Stanley Cup Finals against the Boston Bruins, is on the mend and has been working out and even skating on his own for a few weeks now.

And while he’ll no doubt have to be worked back into the lineup slowly – back injuries are serious ones, after all – there is a question about where, exactly, the 26-year-old former  25-goal scorer fits back into the Canucks lineup.

Since scoring 25 goals two seasons ago – he slumped to just 15 last year, and had just two in 24 playoff games – Raymond had been a fixture on the team’s second line, but, barring any injuries to the team’s current crop of healthy forwards, that spot doesn’t appear to be open any longer.

Now, he hasn’t necessarily been Wally Pipp’d just yet – and Cody Hodgson, David Booth and Chris Higgins are not exactly Lou Gehrig-level replacements, they’ve more than made up for the absence of Raymond. Higgins leads the team with 6 goals and has been arguably the team’s most consistent forward, while Hodgson and Booth have teamed to form a potentially strong second line with Ryan Kesler, though Booth has yet to score this year; the potential is there for the trio, though.

So if the second line is out of the question, coach Alain Vigneault should just employ Raymond – who may only be out another month or so – on the third line, right? Well, not exactly. His skillset – speedy offensive player – isn’t likely to work well in a checking role (although he is an adequate penalty killer, so I suppose it’s possible) and he’s not likely to replace either Higgins or Jannik Hansen on that line. And though centre Manny Malhotra has struggled this year as he comes back from a summer full of eye surgeries and doubts about his career continuing, he’s not coming out of the lineup either. Besides, even if he was, he’s a centre and Raymond plays the wing.

And playing Raymond on the fourth line is not really even worth talking about. For one, the line of Max Lapierre, Aaron Volpatti and Dale Weise has been consistently strong in the season’s early stages. But either way, Raymond doesn’t fit on a line expected to crash and bang. That’s simply not his game.

So, by process of elimination, the obvious option is to use Raymond as a trade chip, possibly to bring in another defenceman. But that’s not easy either because a) Raymond’s cap hit is $2.55 million this year, which is a hefty pricetag for a guy coming off a serious back injury, and who was struggling before he got hurt anyway.

Also, in that vein, it’s going to be near impossible to trade Raymond – or anyone coming back from a serious injury – without playing them first as proof that they’re fully recovered and able to resume playing at a high level.

So to sum up: There’s no room to play Raymond, so the Canucks should trade him, but they can’t trade him unless they play him. But there’s no room… oh, you get the idea. It’s a vicious circle.

But, assuming they could trade him once he’s healthy, there is likely still a market for the Alberta-born winger, 2010/11 struggles aside. He’s fast, only 26 years old with a resume (however small) that suggests he can score at the NHL level. He’s also a pending RFA who likely won’t command much more (and perhaps would end up with less) that the salary he currently pulls in.

You have to think plenty of teams would be interested in him, whether it’s a rebuilding team like Ottawa, or Toronto – where former Canucks GMs Brian Burke and Dave Nonis run the show – or someplace else. What those teams would potentially offer in return is a speculative post for another day, but most reports on the subject suggest the Canucks could use an offensive-minded blue-liner (Hello, Cody Franson?). But what would also help, I’d suggest, would be a defensive-minded defenceman adept at blocking shots – Kevin Bieksa leads the Canucks with 21 blocks so far this year, which is only 34th best in the NHL. A shutdown d-man would also ease the defensive burden on Bieksa and Dan Hamhuis,

But short of starting crazy, Internet message-boardesque rumours that the Canucks should go out at trade their spare parts for either Nashville’s Shea Weber or Ryan Suter (Nashville just committed $49-million over seven years to goalie Pekka Rinne, so money’s tight in Predatorland) we’ll leave the trade suggestions to GM Mike Gillis and the team’s front office.

(But seriously Mike – Cody Franson. Local boy. Frequent healthy scratch in Toronto. Offensive upgrade on Alberts and Rome. Perfect buy-low candidate. Make it happen.)

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