Samuelsson v. Raymond

VANCOUVER, CANADA - JANUARY 5: Ryan Kesler #17 (left), Mason Raymond #21 (right) and Mikael Samuelsson #26 of the Vancouver Canucks discuss strategy during a break against the Columbus Blue Jackets at General Motors Place on January 5, 2010 in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada. (Photo by Kim Stallknecht/NHLI via Getty Images)

The Vancouver Canucks may be sitting in first place in the National Hockey League, but that doesn’t mean that all is peachy.  While the team is blessed with quality in every position, there is some concern about secondary scoring. Specifically, Mikael Samuelsson and Mason Raymond are both well off their scoring pace from last season, and that’s led to rumours that the Canucks would consider moving one of them if their games don’t turn around.

From where I sit, it’s pretty obvious which of them is the better candidate to be moved, if it comes down to that.

Before I get into which player I’d be willing to move if I were standing in Mike Gillis’ shoes, I want to make it clear that I don’t believe either Samuelsson or Raymond is having an especially bad offensive season, despite the drop-off from last season.

It’s true that Samuelsson scored 30 goals last season, but that only happened thanks to a massive spike in shooting percentage, one that becomes obvious looking at the last few seasons:

Season Goals Shots Shooting Percentage
2007-08 11 249 4.4%
2008-09 19 257 7.4%
2009-10 30 219 13.7%
2010-11 10 140 7.1%
Career 126 1,542 8.2%

Samuelsson has only once previously shot at a rate higher than 10.0% before: back in 2005-06.  At his career rate, Samuelsson would only have scored 18 goals in 74 games last season; this season he’s on pace for 15 goals.  Samuelsson recorded 23 assists last season; his pace this season translates to 28 assists over the same number of games.  The only significant difference in production between this season and last season is that last year pucks went in at a rate unprecedented in Samuelsson’s career.  In other words: the problem is that Samuelsson’s goal totals last season created unrealistic expectations, rather than that his performance this season is particularly bad.

Then there’s Mason Raymond, who has had to fight through injury troubles and has seen his goal-scoring drop off slightly.  Let’s compare his present season to 2010-11; to make the comparison easier we’ll project his numbers this year over 82 games:

Season GP G A PTS SH%
2009-10 82 25 28 53 11.5%
2010-11 82 18 29 47 8.0%

Again, we can see there’s almost no difference between offensive production between the two seasons.  The only reason for the decline in points is the drop in Raymond’s shooting percentage; if he were still scoring at an 11.5% clip he’d have 26 goals and two more points than last season.

Both are solid second-line players; Samuelsson’s bigger and more experienced, while Raymond’s younger and has more upside.  They’re both under contract for another year, and they’re within $50,000 of each other in salary.  Ideally, I don’t think the Canucks really want to move either – both are cheap, signed and competent.  If too good an opportunity comes along, Samuelsson’s probably the preferred option to move just because of his age, but it’s hard to imagine a better forward coming along at a price the Canucks can afford.

That said, if something comes along, the difference between Raymond and Samuelsson isn’t pivotal: there’s not a lot to separate the two players now, the Canucks are tight enough to the cap that if Raymond improves they’ll have trouble paying him, and most importantly they’re a strong contender this year.  If they can deal one of those two players for a superior performer – even a superior performer who will vanish into the night come July 1 – I think they need to do it.