Canucks’ cap crunch could cut out Mason Raymond
Fleet winger looks to be a casualty of off-season salary dump
VANCOUVER — Winger Mason Raymond is expected to be back in the Vancouver Canucks lineup on Saturday night.
Whether he's still here next season is an entirely different matter.
The Canucks face a serious salary cap crunch next season and right now it's looking like Raymond may be one of the casualties.
He will be an unrestricted free agent this summer and the team has made no overtures to Raymond and agent J.P. Barry about an extension.
Raymond said Friday that after weathering some nerves leading up to Wednesday's NHL trade deadline, he's trying not to think about next season.
"Who knows, right?" he said. "You can't think about it. If you are looking too far ahead, you are going to steer yourself off track."
Barry said Canucks management has expressed its satisfaction with the bounce-back season Raymond is enjoying, but there has been no talk of a new contract.
"There have been discussions and encouragement about how well he is playing and they like what he is doing and want him to keep it up," Barry said over the phone Friday. "So that's all positive, they are happy with how he is playing and turning it around."
The likelihood of Raymond being around next season appeared to take a hit when the Canucks re-upped with fellow winger Chris Higgins, who was another impending unrestricted free agent. Higgins signed a four-year $10-million deal with the Canucks on Tuesday.
That signing leaves the Canucks with a real cap conundrum heading into next season when they have nearly $63.8 million committed to 16 players (including rookie Nicklas Jensen). That leaves them about $500,000 short of next year's cap of $64.3 million with seven roster spots to fill. You can't even fill one for $500,000, so the Canucks will have to make some major off-season moves including one, or possibly two, buyouts of roster players. And of course, they must trade one of their two goaltenders to free up space.
Even then, it won't be easy.
In addition to Raymond, centre Max Lapierre , depth defenceman Andrew Alberts and newly acquired centre Derek Roy will be unrestricted this summer. And Chris Tanev, suddenly a key part of the team's defence, will be a restricted free agent and figures to get a substantial raise from the $900,000 he is making this season.
Wingers Dale Weise and Tom Sestito are other present roster players who will be restricted free agents this summer.
Raymond said he was delighted to see Higgins get rewarded with a new deal and is not letting himself think about how it might affect him or why the Canucks have not approached him about a new deal.
"I am a believer if at the end of the day you have played the way you feel you can play things will work out the way they are supposed to," Raymond said.
So far, Raymond seems to be doing his part on that front. He has been a much more effective player this season and will enter Saturday night's home game against the Calgary Flames (7 p.m., CBC, Team 1040) with nine goals and 18 points in 35 games.
"He came into camp with a real strong attitude and was feeling good physically about himself," Canucks coach Alain Vigneault said of Raymond on Friday. "Since Day 1, I think he has been skating well and going to the hard areas and using his attributes every time he has the opportunity. He has got a good skill set and we need that skill set on our team."
One thing seems certain. It is unlikely that Raymond will be taking another pay cut next season, wherever he ends up playing.
Last summer, Raymond took a $325,000 pay cut when he agreed to a one-year deal for $2.275 million. That contract was signed after the Canucks took the unusual step of taking him to arbitration in an attempt to lower his salary after his disappointing 10-goal, 20-point season in 2011-12.
If he finishes his season strong, Raymond could in fact set himself up for a handsome raise this summer.
"I have played much better this year and I want to continue to do that down the stretch," said Raymond, who suffered a serious back injury in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. "Getting healthy is a big part of that. As I said, when you are playing good hockey, everything else should fall into place."
And if it doesn't fall into place in Vancouver, his agent does not think there will be any shortage of interest in Raymond's services from other clubs this summer.
"Yes, 27-year-olds with his kind of speed and his kind of offensive ability are usually quite marketable in free agency," Barry said.
ICE CHIPS: Raymond, who pronounced himself fit after missing two games with a shoulder injury, skated in practice Friday on a line with Andrew Ebbett and Zack Kassian. He also worked on the second-power play unit. With Raymond ready to play, the Canucks reassigned Jensen to the Chicago Wolves of the AHL.
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