TORONTO – David Clarkson had yet to even officially learn of his fate before the Toronto Maple Leafs set about finding his short-term replacement.
The team acted quickly by signing speedy winger Mason Raymond to a $1-million, one-year contract on Monday afternoon and it ended up being a prudent move.
Raymond attended Toronto’s training camp on a professional tryout and scored twice in his first three pre-season games. However, the urgency to sign him was sped up on Sunday when Clarkson left the team’s bench to join an altercation with the Buffalo Sabres, a decision that saw him handed a 10-game suspension by the NHL on Monday night.
That helped set the table for the signing of Raymond, who had originally been battling for a role on the team’s third line but will now be a candidate to replace Clarkson on the second unit. Another potential option is Nikolai Kulemin.
“We’ve got lots of bodies and we’ve got people who have performed well,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said after Monday’s practice. “Now it gives another guy an opportunity.”
An opportunity was all Raymond was looking for when he agreed to come to Toronto on a tryout basis. The 28-year-old winger became an unrestricted free agent for the first time earlier this summer and failed to land the multi-year deal he was looking for once the market opened on July 5.
As time went on, the money and opportunities dried up.
“It was a time that you had to be patient when it was hard to be patient,” Raymond said recently.
The familiarity with Leafs general manager Dave Nonis, who drafted him while working for Vancouver in 2005, was one of the reasons Raymond accepted the tryout from Toronto rather than the other five or six he received.
He also believed there was room for him on the roster. Carlyle gave Raymond the chance to play specialty teams during the exhibition games and grew comfortable with what the speedy veteran had to offer overall.
“Based on Mason’s play in the pre-season, we feel he fits in well with our group and will have a significant role on our team,” Nonis said in a statement.
The Leafs are still dealing with a number of moving pieces when it comes to their roster. Defenceman Cody Franson remains unsigned and the team would need to clear some cap space if he were to change his mind and accept the $5.1-million, two-year deal on the table.
Lingering injury issues with Dave Bolland (sore groin), Colton Orr (bruised foot) and Frazer McLaren (broken finger) are also clouding the team’s salary cap picture with the Oct. 1 opener in Montreal just one week away.
Raymond should have plenty of motivation after spending six seasons with the Canucks and having to wait this long before signing a contract with another team. He also took a big paycut from the Leafs after earning a pro-rated $2.275 million last season.
However, the former 25-goal and 50-point player isn’t too far removed from a veterbrae compression fracture the required almost six months of recovery. He suffered that serious back injury during the 2011 Stanley Cup final after taking an awkward hit from Johnny Boychuk and didn’t return to Vancouver’s lineup until the following December.
Even though his offensive production has dipped since that point, Raymond calls the injury a “non-issue” now.
“I still feel like I’ve got what it takes to play in this league,” said Raymond. “Sometimes you’ve got to prove it. Other players have gone through situations like this where you’re reintroducing yourself a little bit, if you will.
“But so be it. You deal with the situation.”
So far, so good. But the real work has only just begun.