Signing Mason Raymond high priority for Canucks GM Mike Gillis

The NHL draft and unrestricted free agency opening are fast approaching, and Canucks GM Mike Gills is taking a seat at a table where he will have a very full plate.  

Gillis has a number of issues on the horizon: draft day, who to sign before July 1st, and how to rebuild the Canucks aging and injury-prone defense. But at the top of that list has to be re-signing 2005 second round draft pick Mason Raymond.

Raymond is one part of a trend for the Canucks in recent years: he is a home-grown forward (that is, he was drafted by the Canucks).  The Canucks iced a roster this season that included five of their top six forwards either drafted by the team, or in the case of Alex Burrows, signed undrafted.  2006 first round pick Michael Grabner looks ripe to crack the top six next season, while blue chip prospects Cody Hodgson and Jordan Schroeder will provide a push from below in the near future.  Having drafted talent in the salary cap-era NHL has proven immensely important because often with good young players (as with the case with Raymond this year), they can have an immense amount of impact on a team before becoming eligible for anything more than the rookie maximum contract.

Raymond’s salary cap average of $883,000 last year is a mere pittance for an NHL forward who scored 25 goals last season.  His chemistry with line-mate Ryan Kesler also gives the Canucks one of the better second lines in the NHL. 

The biggest thing you notice when you watch Raymond, however, is his blazing speed.  With Raymond, more than a few fans with poor vision have likely thought Canucks legend Pavel Bure has made a magnificent return to hockey.  Raymond’s speed forces his opponents to play more conservatively and creates more open ice for the second line to work with.  His willingness to carry the puck through the offensive middle zone instead of chipping it along the boards and letting it die in the corner, has also added a new element to the Cochrane, Alberta native’s game, and likely proved paramount in his increased production.

Now comes the hard part: what dollar figure do you put on everything stated above? Will Raymond want a long-term contract? Or does he think he’ll continue to improve and be able to land an even bigger contract a mere couple years from now? 

Gillis and the Canucks face this dilemma: how much can you commit to a player who saw such a drastic jump from his previous career personal bests?  There must be the fear that Raymond will not be able to match the same numbers next season.

These are the questions Gillis needs to answer before sitting down with Raymond’s agent.  In the end, Raymond will undoubtedly get a substantial raise.  I would expect he will want between $3 and $3.5 million, and the Canucks to want to sign him in the $2.5 million range.  I see no reason why the two sides don’t meet somewhere in the middle.

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