Simpson: reflecting on the Hodgson/Kassian deal

Cody Hodgson as captain of the OHL's Brampton Battalion. Photo Courtesy Dustin Hall Photography

The NHL’s trade deadline day has come and gone, and while the Vancouver Canucks did end up making a few moves at the deadline, is it enough to power them past any competition that has previously left them short of their ultimate goal in the post-season?

By the time the deadline had arrived, Sami Pahlsson, Andrew Gordon, Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani were all on their way to Vancouver. For the most part, I liked the moves the Canucks made, although the latter deal that sent Hodgson and Alex Sulzer to Buffalo for Kassian and Gragnani did come as a shock to me, and many others.

Finally given the chance to perform, Hodgson seemed to be one of the key pieces to Vancouver’s future, although in retrospect, the deal seems to have been made with a distinct purpose.

After having some injury struggles upon graduating his major junior team, the Brampton Battalion, Hodgson, 22, came into the 2011-12 season as a rookie, but quickly proved he has what it takes to stick at the next level.

Hodgson has what you can’t teach: size, hockey sense and a nose for the net. This season, after training with former player turned fitness guru, Gary Roberts, Hodgson proved he could not only compete in the NHL, but also make an immediate impact on a deep Canucks team.

While being what some might say “buried” on the third line, Hodgson managed to rack up 16 goals, 33 points and a plus-8 rating, currently placing him fifth among rookie scorers. He is also a reliable option in the shootout, which traces back to his days in junior.

With Buffalo, who sent away key centre Paul Gaustad to Nashville at the deadline, Hodgson should have the chance to fill a bigger role, and could even eventually see time on the second line.

Gifted offensive (and defensive, for that matter) centres are hard to come by, but apparently for Vancouver, big bruising power forwards are even harder to come by. This is likely the motivation behind the move.

Zack Kassian, who was recently traded to the Vancouver Canucks, skates with his former team earlier in the season. Photo Courtesy Clydeorama.com

The trade for Zack Kassian gives the Canucks a legitimate power forward in the making – some say a response to Boston’s Brad Marchands and Nathan Hortons, who arguably made the difference for the Bruins in last year’s Stanley Cup playoffs.

While the Canucks are skilled and do have some power and grit in players like Kevin Bieksa and Ryan Kesler, it’s obvious they needed one more piece to enhance their physical game.

They seem to have found that in the 6’3”, 215-pound Kassian, who can hit like a truck, chip in offensively and as he’s not been shy to admit, stick up for his teammates. (To quote Toronto Maple Leafs’ GM, Brian Burke “he can do the line dance if he gets a dance invite”.)

Right now it looks like Buffalo gets the more skilled player whose able to make an immediate impact, but to me, this trade must be revaluated a year or two down the road, when Kassian grows further into his game – the very game that had him touted as a top prospect, drafted 13th overall in 2009, and earned him a spot on Canada’s 2011 World Junior squad.

The other minor piece to the trade, Alex Sulzer, didn’t impress me this year; he looked too soft and when he was in the lineup, he looked lost. With less than 100 NHL games played at age 27, it’s safe to say Sulzer wouldn’t have had much of a chance in Vancouver, and likely won’t in Buffalo either.

Marc-Andre Gragnani, on the other hand, has the potential to flourish in Vancouver, and could even replace some of the departed backend offence provided by Christian Ehrhoff, who ironically was part of another deal between the two clubs this past year.

With that in mind, did the Canucks improve enough to make another run at a Cup this year? If Kassian sticks and can be as effective as hoped in the playoffs, they might have a shot, but for those Vancouver faithful, it’s still a bit too close for comfort.

If this year turns out the way last year did, you can bet the Canucks fans will be calling for some changes this summer – let’s just hope they can do so without inciting another riot.

– Scott Simpson, Special to CoincidentalMinors.com

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