By Joe Pelletier
The 2012 NHL trading deadline yesterday proved to be a fairly uneventful event. Then the Vancouver Canucks shocked the hockey world by trading Cody Hodgson.
Heading into the weekend, I really believed the Vancouver Canucks were going to do little at the trading deadline. Then came a few hints that maybe they would be more than just tire kickers.
First it was the injury scares to Byron Bitz and Dale Weise. Suddenly the team needed to rethink its depth up front. Then it was the retroactive long term injury exemption status to concussed defenseman Keith Ballard. Was the team clearing cap space?
That was followed on Sunday night by TSN’s Bob McKenzie (one of the few talking heads who I trust knows what he is talking about) tweeting “That $4.2M in available cap space is burning a hole in the Vancouver Canucks’ pocket. They are my choice as most motivated Canadian buyer.”
That is when I knew something was up. And when it was announced early yesterday that the Canucks had acquired veteran center Sami Pahlsson, I immediately knew they were moving one of their own centers, and that would likely be Mike Gillis’ very first draft pick – Cody Hodgson.
I like Cody Hodgson. He has shown a lot of growth this season, impressing with his great shot and improved foot speed, and is clearly going to be a good NHL player. But with Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler going to be holding down the top two lines for the next several seasons, he needed to move on to truly develop.
One thing Hodgson was not was a true third line center for the desired long playoff run. He was offensive insurance, but his defensive game and his physical game never suggested he was going to be a difference maker in the 2012 playoffs.
Coach Alain Vigneualt greatly sheltered Hodgson’s minutes. He rarely played hard minutes. He rarely played against top defensemen or top centers. He hardly ever took defensive zone starts. He did not kill penalties. In other words, he did not do any of the stuff a third line center does.
The Canucks now enter the playoffs with Henrik and Kesler followed by either Pahlsson or Manny Malhotra, who has quietly played all those hard minutes all season. Max Lapierre, Andrew Ebbett and Stephen Reinprecht will also slot in and out of the line up. The Canucks look very good at center ice without Hodgson.
But where the Canucks did not look so good was on the wings. They were essentially returning to the playoffs with the same team as last season. By bringing in Kassian they are changing up their look quite a bit. Kassian – the 13th overall draft pick in 2009 – is a nasty piece of business. He is a monstrous power forward who gives the Canucks what they lacked against the Bruins last year. If the Canucks hope to get by the Chicagos, Nashvilles and San Joses of the Western Conference, they needed to add that element to their team.
The best analogy I have heard is the Canucks are like a bunch of beautiful shiny Porsches. But they have trouble in the demolition derbies against those F-350 pick up trucks. The Canucks are trading a Porsche for what they hope will be a Monster Truck.
The question is how much can Zack Kassian contribute right away? He is a rookie with three goals in 27 games. Can he really be expected to be the final difference maker to get the Canucks the Stanley Cup? That is a pretty tall order, but it was the same tall order for Hodgson.
This trade really is more about the future than for right now. Hodgson was an asset that the Canucks did not really need, now or three years from now. The one thing this team really did need was more belligerence, both now and three years from now. Hodgson will become a consistent offensive player in the NHL, and will be remembered, rightly or wrongly, as the guy who never got a chance in Vancouver. Hopefully Kassian can develop into that 20 goal scorer he was projected to be coming out of junior, and it will be win-win for everybody.
Here’s some trade deadline Slap Shots:
This trade certainly will make this Saturday’s game more interesting. Vancouver’s opponent: Buffalo.
The Canucks also traded seldom used Alexander Sulzer for Marc Andre Gragnani in the Buffalo trade. Kassian is the centerpiece of the trade, but the 24 year old defenseman could be an excellent addition.
He was a standout last year with 60 points in 63 AHL games and then 7 points in 7 NHL playoff games. He could fit in nicely on Vancouver’s blue line given their more offensive mindset. His defensive game is the question mark.
In Sami Pahlsson the Canucks not only land Daniel Sedin’s summer cottage neighbour, but a long time friend of the Sedins. He has always been effective playing against them, most notably back when Anaheim captured the Stanley Cup. The Canucks are hoping between Pahlsson and Malhotra that Ryan Kesler can play more of an offensive role. Now they just need to get him scoring more often than once every 18 games.
The Canucks also swapped minor league defenseman Sebastien Erixon for Anaheim’s Andrew Gordon. Gordon had played 37 games in the NHL this season, scoring two goals.
One thing about GM Mike Gillis – His trades are never accompanied by rumours. No one saw Chris Higgins or Max Lapierre joining the Canucks last year. Or David Booth this season. And I don’t think anyone had discussed Cody Hodgson being traded since Christmas. And none of the players rumoured to be coming to Vancouver – and there seemed to be no shortage of them – ever did come. When it comes to Canucks trade rumours we really should know by now not to expect the obvious.
Elsewhere: The one player I was really curious to see where he landed was Paul Gaustad. Great job by Nashville to pick up the strapping center. He is exactly the type of playoff performer every team wishes they could add. He will certainly help Nashville, though I think he would have made more of an impact in Detroit or San Jose.
Otherwise trade deadline day was a pretty quiet, anti-climatic day. Rick Nash did not move, which was the correct call by Columbus. His market value will be higher in the summer when more teams have more cap flexibility.
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