When Canucks General Manager Mike Gillis, a former player agent, went whole hog and essentially bashed Cody Hodgson for being a handful to deal with in his season ending press conference – it was jarring. Gillis has been an advocate for players rights his entire career, just ask Alan Eagleson, and it was surprising to hear him paint a talented young player as something of a prima donna. You knew that Cody Hodgson’s camp was going to respond somehow, and they found an ingenious vessel to do so in Hodgson’s well respected personal trainer: Gary Roberts.
Gary Roberts was the definition of a "playoff warrior" during his NHL career, and since retiring he’s become one of the leagues most well respected trainers, obsessed with diet and a unique mantra: "Train, refuel, recover, perform." Roberts has trained the likes of Chris Tanev and Steven Stamkos, and based on his work rebuilding Hodgson’s core strength and durability over the past couple of seasons, he knows what he’s doing. Roberts has got an inscrutable record, so, who cares that he would have been far removed from the issues with Hodgson that Gillis was talking about – he’s the right guy to go to bat for Cody Hodgson.
And go to bat he did. While talking to John Vogl, a sports reporter for the Buffalo News, Roberts cited Hodgson’s relationship with his four year old son, his work ethic and his being extremely coachable as reasons Mike Gillis was full of it. Here’s the prime snippet:
"I talked to Cody after this came out with Gillis," Roberts said. "I know he’s on vacation, and I said, ‘Hey, I know you went through a lot of stress. How are you feeling about some of those comments?’ He said, ‘Gary, I’ve dealt with a lot of stuff there in the last three years, and I’m just going to take the high road.’
"For me, I’d like to be the guy that looks at Mike Gillis and says, ‘You’re a moron.’ It doesn’t really do anybody any good other than the fact that Mike Gillis looks like, as they say on TSN, a dud."
The article itself reads like an advertorial. It excoriates Alain Vigneault’s "mocking" and "disparaging" remarks in 2009 following Hodgson’s misdiagnosed bulging disc issues. The take doesn’t mention Rich Winter, it doesn’t mention Hodgson going through three player agents in three seasons, and it doesn’t deal at all with whether or not Hodgson asked for more ice-time, or asked for a trade (as he reportedly did in June 2011, and again in the winter of 2012). It’s a treacly defense of the young Sabres centreman and paints the portrait of a hard-working, talented player who is eager to make the most of his fresh start.
Gillis, of course, never questioned Hodgson’s ability to take instruction, or Hodgson’s work-ethic publicly. He did, however, go out of his way to paint Cody as a handful to deal with, and a guy with something of a "diva" complex. Whether or not those charges are fair, what we do know after today is that Hodgson’s camp has a good handle on how to deploy their public relations assets to tell their own story – call in the Gary Roberts cavalry to tell Gillis off as "a moron," and find a water-carrying sports reporter at the local paper to tell the story (while working in details about Hodgson getting along swimmingly with children) and presto: you’ve got your push back story.
Forget Hodgson’s trade requests, his long-winded player agent or his issues with his ice-time in Vancouver; a young player with a smart PR team…now that’s a handful to deal with.