In a move nobody saw coming at the trade deadline, Darcy Regier acquired 22 year old center Cody Hodgson from the Vancouver Canucks. Forget about what the Sabres gave up in the deal, and disregard Alex Sulzer as a throw in, Buffalo got the best player in the trade, and that’s our focus here.
Perhaps the single most difficult piece to attain when putting together a winning franchise is a top line center. They don’t just grow on trees, and the teams that have them very rarely look to move them. The Sabres have been notoriously thin at the pivot position since Chris Drury and Daniel Briere left 5 seasons ago. Derek Roy is certainly a top line talent, but he has never exhibited the leadership, or play-making qualities of a true #1 center.
Cody Hodgson possesses these talents in spades. Scouting reports on Hodgson entering the draft lauded him for his hockey IQ, vision, and leadership. He was not just the Brampton Battalion’s best player in juniors, he was their captain, their lifeblood, and ultimately he was the voted CHL Player of the Year in 2009, a season that saw him amass 92 points in 53 games.
Why then would Vancouver look to move such an asset? Well for Darcy Regier and the Sabres it was the perfect storm. Vancouver knows the ceiling for Hodgson is a lot higher than being a bottom 6 center, but with the Canucks that’s the only role he would be in as they have Henrik Sedin, and Ryan Kesler ahead of him on the depth chart. Both Sedin and Kesler are under contract for at least two more seasons, meaning there is no room for Cody to move up in the foreseeable future.
Additionally there were some lingering concerns over a back injury that Hodgson suffered in 2009. After being returned to Brampton, Cody continued to seek further medical opinions regarding his back, which Canucks GM Mike Gillis interpreted as Hodgson not wanting to accept that he wouldn’t be on the NHL roster.
Eventually an additional injury was found, and after returning to Brampton, many in the Vancouver media speculated that there was a rift growing between Gillis and Hodgson.
The third part of the equation was the Stanley Cup finals last year. As evidenced in Vancouver’s first round difficulties with Dave Bolland and the Blackhawks, and their collapse at the hands of the Bruins in the finals, the Canucks were too soft.
General Manager Mike Gillis has been hell bent on toughening his team for the playoffs this year to bring home Vancouver’s first cup. By acquiring Sammy Pahlsson from Columbus, a center with cup experience, Gillis saw the offensive minded Hodgson as being expendable for the right price.
That price would be a young winger with untapped offensive potential, and a whole lot of old school hockey grit. Fortunately for Buffalo Zack Kassian fit the Canuck’s need to a tee. Equally as fortunate for the Sabres was their own need to acquire a young talented centerman. The organizational needs matched up, and Darcy Regier was able to pull off the steal of the 2012’s trade deadline.
The Sabres will give Cody much more ice time and likely play him on the second line. Hodgson has 17 goals and 33 points playing on Vancouver’s 3rd line, and one would expect his numbers to improve exponentially once he adjusts to the new system and new line-mates. Heading into next season I would expect Hodgson to get an opportunity to compete for the #1 center role, as he looks like the perfect fit to flank Thomas Vanek.
Cody Hodgson appears primed to break out much in the way that Daniel Briere was on the cusp of stardom when the Sabres acquired him prior to the lockout. So take some time to mourn the losses of Gragnani and the power forward that was not to be in Zack Kassian, but only for a moment. Tomorrow the Cody Hodgson era begins.