Sober Second Thoughts on the Hodgson Trade

Unlike the dudes pictured above, these thoughts are sober.

Yesterday’s trade deadline was an unusually emotional one for Canucks fans. Canucks fans had become extremely attached to traded rookie Cody Hodgson over the course of this season, which made the buzzer-beating blockbuster that shipped Hodgson (and depth defenseman Alexander Sulzer) to Bufalo in exchange for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani as difficult to digest as a jagged metal Krusty-O. As the shock has diminished, curiosity has set in. There’s no bones about it: this was far and away the most fascinating deal that went down on deadline day yesterday.

Read on for some sober second thoughts on yesterday’s moves.

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A Trade Request?

The question of whether or not Hodgson "requested" a move will hang over this trade for years and it’ll likely be a while before we know for sure what really went down. Despite the denials from Hodgson’s camp, it seems likely that the prized rookie had let the Canucks know that he’d prefer to move on.

We all know that the team and Hodgson had a rocky relationship a few seasons ago stemming from the misdiagnosis of Hodgson’s back injury, but this tidbit from Jason Botchford yesterday makes it sound as if Hodgson was not too happy with the team as recently as this past summer (italics mine):

During the playoffs last year, the reality started to sink in. Hodgson’s playing time dwindled until he disappeared in the Cup final. When it was over, Hodgson’s agent Ritch Winter said this: "I’ve been telling Cody to stay with it, stay positive and that he would score the Cup winning goal. It didn’t work out that way and I’m waiting for things to cool down before we talk. It’s clearly going to be a challenging situation there." In the offseason, Hodgson’s spirits were lifted when he connected with Claude Lemieux, who worked as his personal mentor and coach. Hodgson was essentially told to stay positive. It was stressed to him the advantages of playing in a great organization. The thought was, he could ask for a trade, end up on a bad team, and regret it."

Reading between the lines, I think there was probably a trade request, but I doubt the trade request came recently, especially because Hodgson’s professed surprise yesterday struck me as genuine. Based on the subtext of the wash of "trade request" columns that have been written over the past 12 hours, I’d hypothesize that over the summer Hodgson’s camp had indicated a preference for being moved. It seems as if the relationship between the two sides improved over the course of this season to the point where yesterday’s trade did come as a surprise. 

This is all scuttlebutt in any event, but Gillis’ refusal to comment did seem loaded. I also think it’s fair to read Rich Winters’ comment that "we did not expect this trade" to mean "we did not expect this trade at this precise moment." Few did, save for Tony-G, and now it doesn’t matter. The Canucks made a hockey trade, and it was a pretty good one.

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The Kassassin

Gillis’ gamble was an interesting one. When you think about the trade in terms of the team’s contract structure: what it is precisely that Gillis is betting on becomes very clear.

The Canucks have eight players signed beyond 2012-13 (next season): 4 forwards (Sedin, Sedin, Kesler, Booth), 3 defenseman (Hamhuis, Bieksa, Ballard) and one goaltender (Luongo). Basically, Gillis has committed the bulk of his money to 8 players on long-term deals, and those 8 contracts currently account for 62.28% of the Canucks salary cap space. Gillis has done an excellent job filling in his roster with quality pieces on affordable deals (Burrows, Hansen, Higgins, Tanev, Rome and Cory Schneider) but what he obviously really wanted to add to his roster just doesn’t come cheap.

And what was it that he wanted to add? Gillis wanted to add beef, plain and simple. Over the past few seasons the Canucks have made trade offers for the likes of Andrew Ladd, Troy Brouwer, Steve Ott and Tuomo Ruutu, and they also went after and acquired David Booth earlier this season.

Obviously they lost out on Ladd and Ruutu – and then saw those guys sign expensive deals (4 million plus) elsewhere. Forwards who can produce and have size get paid well for it, as the Canucks well know having made a somewhat risky trade to buy-low on David Booth (signed through 2014-15 at 4.25 million per season). 

Because the Canucks have two really good top-six centreman, Cody Hodgson was a redundant piece. Hodgson added skill to a team with a surplus of it, and while a third liner who can produce forty points on an entry level contract is valuable – a top-six power-forward playing on an ELC is a monster steal. 

Yes it’s far from guaranteed, in fact I’d call it a long-shot, that Kassian will manage to play in the Canucks top-6 this season or in the playoffs. However, if he can get there at some point in the next two years he’ll make life an awful lot easier for a team with the majority of their cap-space already committed to a relatively small group of players. That’s Gillis’ bet in this trade: that Kassian will develop into a top-6 regular by at least the third year of his deal. Even if Hodgson goes on to be the best player in this trade long-term, if the scenario outlined above pans out, Gillis’ trade will have been a smart one for the team.

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No one man should have all that Pasta.

Marc-Andre Gragnani is already being jokingly referred to as "Andrea Bargnani" on the Team 1040, hence the headline above. If you don’t get the reference, though it’s pretty self explanatory, follow this link.

Gragnani is a talented offensive defenseman, a power-play specialist and an exciting player. He’s a project defensively but he’s young, affordable and has a tremendous amount of upside. Here’s what Hockey Prospectus prospect guru Corey Pronman had to say about Gragnani:

Gragnani is a very skilled defenseman who can create highlight reel moments with his skating and puck skills. Gragnani plays a high risk type of game though and is not a "defense" man by any means. He will need to be used against weak opponents, planted on the power play, and start a lot in the offensive zone to be fully utilized. Luckily though, Alain Vigneault is a master of knowing how to fully utilize his players with zone starts and will likely start him so much in the offensive zone, he’ll need to be reintroduced to Luongo after each game.

Our own Cam Charron also had an interesting by the numbers take on Gragnani over at the Legion this morning, and dropped an amusing, ironic line, stating that "[Gragnani] is Cody Hodgson on defence." Both Gragnani and Hodgson have been heavily sheltered situationally and in terms of competition this season and both have high PDOs and are slight liabilities in their own end of the rink. That’s well and good, but Cam as usual misses the human element here and his analysis fails to account for the fact that Cody Hodgson was a dream-boat and the next Trevor Linden for sure, until Mike Gillis traded him. 

Emotional attachments to Cody Hodgson aside, this is the second straight year that Gillis has brought in a guy at the deadline whom Alain Vigneault coached in junior. It’s just another reason why the "win or else" argument about Vigneault’s future in Vancouver confuses me: why would Gillis take on a Vigneault-guy and a medium term project like Gragnani, if he’s also readying the chopping block?

  • Mantastic

    In simple terms this trade is in reaction to the fact that you cannot win with TWO soft centers.

    The H.Sedin can’t carry his weight so he needs to be protected(check out his corsi realtive Q o C in the playoffs).

    Lapierre Hanson and Torres did a excellent job last spring(I believe they only allowed 2 even strength goals against)even though they had hard minutes (Corsi Realtive Q o C) but it wasn’t enough -hard to see how Paulson will improve on this. Or how much easier the road could be for the Sedins this year?

    Another reason why this trade is upsetting to knowledgeable Canuck fans is it marks a ‘philosophical shift’ by Gillis and his vision.

    Since day one he has said that we are going to ‘dominate’ with skill and (speed) a la Detroit.

    The problem with this is he has a coach that when push comes to shove resorts back to his instincts which is to shut things down and try to win 2-1.

    (we had only 3 clear victories in last years playoffs).

    Tony’s right Av has won out

    (its also why Rome is in over Ballard).

    This trade of Hodgson is an open acknowledgement that Gillis thinks his 4 year vision was flawed (in the sense of being able to win the cup)

    It is rare for a successful team to shift before playoffs.(and questionable)

    Gillis is quoted as saying we want to be able to win playing different styles.

    This is a pipe dream and as I don’t believe it is possible to do this in the cap era.

    Gillis move risks that the Canucks lose there dominate edge by plugging a perceived flaw.
    (Jack of all trades master of none)

    The past successful teams since the lockout all had flaws and but were able to ‘dominate’ one aspect of the game.

    Gillis has finally been persuaded by AV? to change direction

  • Mantastic

    Kassian is a much bigger project then one would think. He’s a powerforward and they take forever to develop.

    JVR has a better draft pedegree, drafted 2 years earlier and he still hasn’t broke out yet but Kassian does bring a lot more crazy to the table than JVR does.

  • Mantastic

    Like most of you I, too, have been trying to rationalize the Hodgson/Kassian trade (I know that it was a broader transaction than that but this seems to be the sticking point of the deal) and figure out why it had to be done now rather than later. Especially as it appears that so much hinges on the future development of Kassian when the stated imperative is to win now. My conclusion? The popular perception of what the Canucks need to get them over the top is size and grit. GMMG has often stated that he would not go for grit without skill so he was looking for a very specific kind of player. Something like the player that it is hoped Zach Kassian will, in time, develop into. So what about the need to win now? What can Kassian bring to help fulfill that need in the present as the team waits for the skill to develop? He can bring size and grit and, if he does it effectively, the Canucks will have got from the deal what so many have been claiming is so sorely needed. Thereafter, if he develops as planned the Canucks will have a very special player. I haven’t entirely been able to persuade myself that this is not merely whistling in the dark but it is certainly a hope to grab on to. We should know for sure within the next say, four months.

  • Mantastic

    I disagree with the pundits and some comments here that Canucks deviated from their Red Wings model, and that it’s a cause for concern. We have emphasized similar aspects that made Red Wings successful, but we need to develop our own identity as well.

    Also, Red Wings have Franzen, Holmstrom, Bertuzzi to name a few big bodies that can play.

    We have plenty of skill, so we use redundant piece to acquire what we don’t have.