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."
Author: Dan Rosen | NHL.com Senior Writer