VANCOUVER — Even tarred and feathered, Mason Raymond suddenly looks pretty good. Luckily, the Vancouver Canucks never found that rail on which to run him out of town.
Three days into training camp and three days from the start of a regular season when continuity and familiarity are supposed to be paramount, Raymond is the last second-liner standing after coach Alain Vigneault announced Tuesday that winger David Booth had injured his groin during physical testing for the National Hockey League club and will be out four to six weeks.
There remains no guarantee that vital centre Ryan Kesler, months behind schedule in his recovery from off-season wrist and shoulder surgeries, will be healthy before Booth.
Which brings us to Raymond, whom management seemed ready to run off last summer when the Canucks took the extraordinary step of arbitrating against the left-winger in order to force upon him a pay cut.
Let’s hope Raymond has no hard feelings. It’s difficult to imagine where the Canucks’ secondary scoring will come from unless Raymond returns to the form that saw him net 25 goals three seasons ago.
“I’ve got a chip on my shoulder but I want to show it on the ice,” Raymond said after Tuesday’s practice. “Do you want a pay cut? Nobody wants a pay cut. I feel like I’ve got things to prove and the best way to do that is go on the ice and score some goals.”
Raymond has scored only 25 in the two years since his breakthrough season. Last year was a disaster. He missed the start of the season due to a career-threatening back injury suffered in the 2011 Stanley Cup final. Raymond was rarely pain-free and finished with just 10 goals in 55 games. At one point, he was a healthy scratch.
General manager Mike Gillis obviously didn’t dig Raymond’s form or attitude because the club, which had never exercised its right to arbitrate against a player, used the prospect of a hearing to force a modest pay cut.
Raymond’s salary dropped to $2.275 million from $2.6 million — a savings that didn’t seem worth the potential damage to the relationship between player and team, which could have simply allowed the Calgarian to leave as a free agent.
“That was their tactic, that’s how they decided to do it,” Raymond said. “I learned a lot through that process, too. I guess business is business, but I’ve got something to prove. Nobody wants a pay cut. It was something that happened and they filed for it. But I’m not going to sit here and pout. All I can do is go out there and play well and prove to them I’m worth what I think I’m worth.”
If Raymond scores a hat trick in Saturday’s season-opener against the Anaheim Ducks, it might be a good time for him to negotiate an extension. His rotating linemates on Tuesday were Andrew Ebbett, Jordan Schroeder and Zack Kassian.
Kassian scored once in 17 games for the Canucks last season as a rookie. Schroeder, who hasn’t shown much since the Canucks drafted him in the first round three-and-a-half years ago, has never played a NHL game. And Ebbett has 16 goals in 112 NHL games for five teams over the last three seasons.
Essayist Frank Deford titled his sportswriting book: The World’s Tallest Midget. We would apply that euphemism to the battle for spots on the second line except that it would be insensitive, especially since Ebbett is 5-9 and Schroeder 5-8. At six feet, Raymond is a giant.
“My job is to play with the players that are available to our team,” Vigneault told reporters. “Like we’ve always done, we’re going to find ways to make this work.”
Booth’s groin strain occurred during a speed/acceleration drill on the ice during the Canucks’ physical testing Sunday morning. Vigneault said Booth, whose love of the gym rivals his love of hunting, may have over-trained.
At least we know Booth wasn’t lured to the ice and shot by a bear hiding in the upper deck at Rogers Arena, which would have been payback for the Canuck’s tone-deaf, public celebration of his baited bear kill last spring.
“Stuff happens,” Vigneault said of the injury, “whether it be in testing or practice.”
“It’s really unfortunate to train all off-season to get ready, then get injured doing physical testing,” Canucks winger Chris Higgins said. “We all want to do well in testing. But someone goes too far trying to make a good first impression. Pretty much every year someone gets hurt doing physical testing.”
Ebbett emerged unscathed from Sunday and skated well the first two full practices.
“I’ve dealt throughout my career with people who didn’t think I was big enough or strong enough or offensive enough to play at this level,” Ebbett, 30, said. “It’s like every season, you’ve got to prove yourself again. I’ve put up points down in the minors and when I’ve been given the chance, I’ve done pretty well on the second line in the NHL. The key is when you’re given the chance, you have to take advantage of it.”
It was on the Anaheim Ducks’ second line and second power-play unit that Ebbett recorded 32 points in 48 games in 2008-09. He played with Teemu Selanne that season and said Tuesday the style and speed at which Raymond plays is comparable.
That’s a staggering compliment.
“I’ve been through a lot of situations,” Raymond said. “It can’t get much worse than it was last year. Going through that, I never enjoyed it but I learned a lot. From those experiences … I think I can be a guy who’s leaned on (for a bigger role).
“Guys get hurt, guys go down and guys step into different opportunities and go forward with it. For myself, there’s a window of opportunity here to play well.”