Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mason Raymond was angry during the summer, and it turns out he had a good reason to be.
Raymond didn't doubt that he still could be an NHL player, even a top-six NHL player, but no one in a position of power was telling him the same thing. An unrestricted free agent, Raymond couldn't get a guaranteed contract before training camp began, a likely victim of the salary cap going down by approximately $6 million from the 2012-13 season.
"There are a couple of routes you could take in situations like that, but I believed in myself and my capabilities," Raymond told NHL.com. "To be honest, I had a pretty good year last year and that was a big part of it. There are a lot of what-ifs but I focused on what I had to do."
He trained and waited. He stayed ready and optimistic that someone was going to call, that his NHL career would continue.
"You want to prove to everybody you're still worthy of a job in the NHL and make it look like other teams maybe should have grabbed you," Raymond said.
He's doing that now.
Raymond finally got his chance when Maple Leafs general manager Dave Nonis brought him to training camp on a professional tryout contract. Nonis drafted Raymond (No. 51) in 2005, when he was the general manager of the Vancouver Canucks. They trust each other, and so far Raymond has made Nonis' decision look like a genius move.
He was the Maple Leafs' leading scorer in the preseason with five points in five games and that earned him a one-year, $1 million contract. His production has carried over into the regular season. Raymond has 11 points (five goals, six assists) in 15 games. He has helped Toronto win 10 of its first 15 games while playing in a top-six role.
"As the summer progressed I thought I would go somewhere and find a new home for my family, and that wasn't the case," Raymond said. "I had to go in on a PTO, but it was an opportunity. It's a process. You go through those steps, and I believe in myself. Dave Nonis was exceptionally good to me and still is. He was a big part of why I went to Toronto."
Raymond said the mental part of changing homes and teams has been easy to deal with because it has been good for him. He likes having new teammates, a new coach and new surroundings. He feels re-energized him after six seasons with the Canucks, and he isn't surprised with how productive he has been so far.
"I totally believed I could do this, whether it was going in on a PTO or going in somewhere on a contract," Raymond said. "People don't like change, but change can be a good thing and it's been a great thing for myself and my family. I'm so grateful to be in Toronto to get the opportunity.
"Change was something that was needed and I'm glad it has happened to me."
Raymond, though, won't allow himself to feel comfortable. It was a tough summer for him and his pride, but he learned that nothing is guaranteed in the NHL, no matter how good you think you are.
"I've learned a lot of things playing in the NHL, a ton of life lessons in and out of hockey," he said, "and one of them is getting comfortable can get you into trouble."
Parise, Koivu searching for the right RW
The Minnesota Wild entered their game Tuesday against the Calgary Flames having won five of six games in part because their second line of Jason Pominville, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter had combined for 21 points (10 goals, 11 assists).
Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu have been mainstays on the top line, but the problem has been finding a right wing to play with them. Prior to the game Tuesday, Parise told NHL.com it was holding he and Koivu back.
"It's been a revolving door," Parise said.
The door opened again for Charlie Coyle against the Flames and it should stay open for him for a while. Koivu, Parise and Coyle combined for the Wild's first goal in a 5-1 win. Parise and Koivu finished the night with three points. Coyle had one assist in what was his fourth game of the season because of a knee injury.
Parise definitely wants to see Coyle stay with him and Koivu. He thinks Coyle fits well on the line because of his size, the way he skates up and down the wall and the way he can protect the puck in the corners.
"I know there was talk of him playing center and I don't know if they still plan on him doing that, but I liked playing with him last year," Parise said. "We were still getting to know each other as linemates but we played pretty well in spurts."
Capitals' Ward working on a significant change
At coach Adam Oates' request, Washington Capitals right wing Joel Ward started cutting down on the length of his stick shaft last season. He still is tinkering with it this season, but Ward said his stick is shorter now than it ever has been and it's helped his offensive game.
Ward had a hat trick against the Philadelphia Flyers last Friday and entered the game Tuesday against the New York Islanders with six goals and 10 points in 15 games. He had eight goals and 20 points in 39 games last season and six goals and 18 points in 73 games in 2011-12.
"He needs to shorten his stick more, but it's not easy to make changes. It's a gradual process," Oates told NHL.com. "It was a pole vault compared to what it is now. Ridiculous. It was like a pool skimmer."
Oates wanted Ward to shorten his stick so it would force him to use his big body to get after pucks in tight areas along the boards instead of trying to reach for them. He thought it would make him appear quicker, and it has.
Ward scored his second goal against the Flyers because he used his body on the half-wall to shield Vincent Lecavalier, giving him the time and space to set up a quick give-and-go with Jason Chimera.
"You have to move your feet a little bit more [with a short stick] to try to get into those open areas instead of reaching in and relying on your stick so much," Ward told NHL.com. "With a shorter stick I'm able to spin off and use my hips a little bit more. I can make more plays."
Lightning trying to be a puck-possession team
Tampa Bay Lightning center Steven Stamkos saw his team's goals-for and goals-against stats from the past two seasons and was half-content and half-disgusted.
"Goals-for we were right up there and goals-against we were at the bottom," Stamkos told NHL.com. "That's something we have been consciously aware of."
The coaching staff in particular noticed that combined in the past two seasons the Lightning scored 2.92 goals per game, but gave up 3.26 per game. Even though coach Jon Cooper only took over behind the bench with 16 games to play last season, he saw enough to know that if they didn't start playing a different way the stats likely weren't going to change.
So Cooper is trying to make the Lightning a puck-possession team. It's working.
The Lightning still are one of the League's best offensive teams (3.21 goals per game), but because they're holding on to the puck more and getting quality goaltending from Ben Bishop, they have cut way down on their goals-against (2.50 per game). Tampa Bay is allowing 28.1 shots on goal per game, down from 30.2 per game last season and 30.5 in 2011-12.
"You look at our defense, when there isn't a play they're not just dumping it up the boards," Stamkos said. "They're keeping the puck, going back, regrouping, letting our forwards change. Now we still have the puck and have a fresh line out there. It's little things like that … not as many hope plays or cheating plays."
The one issue so far, Cooper said, is the Lightning have been too selective with their shots. They're averaging 26.6 shots on goal per game and Cooper wants to see that number rise in November, but not at the expense of playing with the puck at all costs.
Pittsburgh's unheralded blueliner
When defenseman Kris Letang went down with an injury days before the season opener, Pittsburgh Penguins coach Dan Bylsma didn't have to think too hard about who would assume the bulk of Letang's minutes playing alongside Rob Scuderi.
Matt Niskanen was the easy choice. He also was the right choice, and even though Letang returned six games ago, Niskanen continues to give the Penguins quality top-four minutes.
He has nine points, a plus-11 rating and an effective 56.4 Corsi-for percentage, according to ExtraSkater.com. Niskanen, who was the subject of trade rumors for most of the summer, is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent after the season.
"There were a lot of people in a lot of different places that assumed and said Matt would be gone," Bylsma told NHL.com, referencing the trade rumors that had swirled around Niskanen. "He had to come to training camp and be ready to play, to get going. He's done a good job. He came in with a little bit of a chip on the shoulder. Our defense has been really good and he's definitely been a part of that."
Niskanen started the season by assuming most of Letang's minutes, including power-play time. In the six games since Letang returned, Niskanen has three points and is playing approximately 18 minutes per game.
And now, because Scuderi is out with a broken ankle, Niskanen is paired with Letang because he belongs in Pittsburgh's top-four.
This and that
* Parise had an interesting take on what it was like to play his former team, the New Jersey Devils, on Sunday. It was his first game against the Devils since he became a member of the Wild two summers ago.
"I've always said before even when you're practicing or scrimmaging in training camp, anything against your own team is so hard because you know what they're doing and it just makes you think more," Parise told NHL.com. "That's how the game felt.
"I knew exactly how they play, how they forecheck, how they do everything and it kind of gets in your head a little bit. It was really weird."
* By definition of the depth chart, Joe Pavelski is the San Jose Sharks' third-line center, playing behind Joe Thornton and Logan Couture. He sure doesn't produce like a third-line center and he's definitely not treated as one.
Pavelski entered the game Tuesday against the Buffalo Sabres third among the Sharks' forwards in ice time per game at 19:29 because he was playing more than four minutes per game on the power play and nearly two minutes on the penalty kill. He had 16 points, tied with Couture for the most on the team.
"When you look at his minutes, he's rewarded like a first-line center with power play and penalty kill [time]," Sharks coach Todd McLellan told NHL.com. "At the end of the night, not a lot of third-line centers, if you want to call him that, have those types of minutes. It's easier for him to understand playing that role when he gets rewarded with everything else. That works well for him."
* Chicago Blackhawks center Brandon Pirri finally is getting an extended look in the second-line role and coach Joel Quenneville told NHL.com that so far he's been "OK," but it remains a work in progress.
The big issue with Pirri is his play away from the puck. As one Blackhawks player noted, Quenneville only will play you in a prominent role and late in tight games if you're as good away from the puck as you are with it. Pirri hasn't proved that he is.
He played 12 shifts totaling 8:32 of ice time through two periods Sunday against Calgary, but just four shifts totaling 1:54 in the third period largely because the game was tied at 2-2.
Conversely, Pirri played more than 15 minutes, including seven shifts totaling 5:14 in the third period, in Chicago's 5-1 win against the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday. The difference was that the Blackhawks had a 4-1 lead entering the third period.
* Watch NHL Live every Tuesday on NHL Network (5-7 p.m. ET) for a sneak preview of what will be in Over the Boards.
Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter: @drosennhl
Lightning coach Jon Cooper talking about defenseman Eric Brewer's effectiveness while playing fewer minutes this season:
"He's been a horse his whole career and I think there is a huge difference between playing 25 minutes a game and 16 minutes a game. You may not see it on opening night but you're going to see it by Christmas time and you'll see it by Easter. That's when guys really start to wear down. Even though ultimately he may not be entirely happy about it, he's playing as good of hockey as I've seen him play in years. Part of the success is he had a great summer. He came in in great shape. He's hungry. He wants it and I think less minutes is helping."
Blackhawks defenseman Duncan Keith on what the visit to the White House on Monday meant to him:
"Any time you're in the presence of the President it's always a special moment. As players and just as regular people we don't take that for granted. It's an honor and hopefully we can come back again. And I think it does make it extra special that he's from Chicago and we know he's rooting for us. He exemplifies what the people of Chicago are about. He's a good person, down to earth."
Do the Oilers stay the course or do you see a major shake-up trade-wise? -- @chrisbutton19
They shouldn't stay status quo, that's for sure. There has been talk, or at least rumors, of the Oilers looking to move Nail Yakupov to get a franchise goalie. The guy always mentioned is Buffalo Sabres goalie Ryan Miller, but he has a modified no-trade clause and there's no guarantee that he'd be willing to go to Edmonton. Yakupov is interesting trade bait, but should the Oilers give up on him so quickly? He might just need time to figure out how to play in the NHL. He just turned 20 last month. It would be a mistake to trade him. Ales Hemsky, who is in the final year of his contract, is another possible trade target. Hemsky, though, could be a rental closer to the NHL Trade Deadline if the Oilers don't get back in the race soon.
Is there a chance that the Rangers will send Marc Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes? -- @BuyMeABurrito
Brothers don't always have to play together in the NHL. The Hurricanes have Eric, Jordan and Jared Staal, but I'd be stunned if the Rangers gave them Marc. He is signed through next season and carries a reasonable $3.975 million salary-cap charge. I think he's the Rangers' best defenseman. He plays 20 minutes a game in all situations. He's even getting better.
Due to his multiple concussions, do the Rangers now have to consider buying out Rick Nash in the offseason? -- @BAbassAle
They do not have to consider that now, and remember that teams are prohibited from using a compliance buyout on injured players, so if Nash's concussion problems extend into the offseason the Rangers likely won't have the option. Nash needs time to recover. It's way too early to be thinking about what the team will do with him in the offseason.
Which goalie can the Islanders obtain through another blockbuster trade and would also make them a serious contender? -- @DallonHorch
Ryan Miller should have been the guy they got from Buffalo instead of Thomas Vanek, but there may have been behind-the-scenes talk that the public is not privy to that made Miller to the Islanders impossible. It's hard to find a proven No. 1 goalie if you don't draft and develop him. There are some guys who are backups now that could become options for the Islanders at the NHL Trade Deadline, but they may have to wait until the offseason, when Miller, Jonas Hiller and Jaroslav Halak could be available as unrestricted free agents.
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer
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