FROM THE VAULT: THE CODY HODGSON TRADE

Few trade deadlines in Canucks history have ignited a similar controversy. There have been better trades, and even some that arguably shaped the future of the franchise to a larger extent. But what transpired on February 27, 2012 was still a pivotal date in the history of the Vigneault-era Canucks. That it came almost entirely out of left field was simply icing on the cake. Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani may now only register as a minor NHL deal, yet at the time it was anything but.

Background

Drafted 10th overall in the 2008 NHL draft, Cody Hodgson was the highest-drafted Canuck since Daniel and Henrik Sedin in 1999. He also happened to be new general manager Mike Gillis’ first pick at the helm. Despite concerns regarding his skating and below average NHL size, the Canucks brass valued his high hockey IQ and leadership abilities. In retrospect, selecting a defenceman like Tyler Myers or Erik Karlsson (who both went in the next five picks after Hodgson) might have been a better move, but at least the Canucks passed on the player most pundits assumed they would draft – Kelowna product Kyle Beach. The Everett Silvertip forward, who went to Chicago, was one of only four players from the 2008 first round who never played a game in the NHL (I guess there is still technically a chance, but let’s assume his NHL career aspirations are finished).

Initially, however, the pick looked like a genius move by the Canucks. Hodgson had a strong camp with the Canucks, eventually being cut only towards the end of camp. Then, in his draft plus one season, Hodgson recorded 92 points in 53 games for the now-defunct Brampton Battalion, en route to being named the CHL Player of the Year for 2009. If that wasn’t impressive enough, he was also the leading scorer at the world junior tournament in Ottawa with 16 points. On a Team Canada that featured future superstars such as John Tavares, PK Subban, Alex Pietrangelo, and Jamie Benn, TSN’s Bob McKenzie called Hodgson the “best player for Team Canada” at the tournament. With a performance and endorsement like that, Canuck fans were understandably excited by Hodgson’s potential.

His relationship with the Canucks would soon start to sour, however. At training camp in 2009, Hodgson was again a late cut. Although Hodgson had been injured – hampering his already plodding skating style – Vigneault insinuated that he was using the injury as an excuse for his poor performance. The injury – a torn muscle that was originally misdiagnosed as a bulging disc in his back – required extensive rehab and forced Hodgson to miss the 2010 world juniors. But the wedge that it drove between the Hodgson camp and the Canucks would prove to be more of a lingering problem than the injury itself.

Hodgson the Canuck

The centre would begin his first professional hockey season with the Manitoba Moose in 2010. After posting a decent 17 goals in 52 games, Hodgson made his regular season debut with the Canucks and scored his first NHL goal. He even saw some action in the Canucks 2011 playoff run, appearing in 12 games and counting one assist.

The following season, however, would mark Hodgson’s true arrival as an NHL player. He would score 16 goals and add 17 assists and win NHL rookie of the month for January. On a Canuck team that was finding it ever more difficult to score goals, Hodgson was seemingly the only player able to buck the trend. In spite of his ability to produce offence, Hodgson was usually limited to 10-12 minutes of ice time a night. This disgruntled a number of people in Canuckland, including scribe Tony Gallagher. Arguing that the young centre should be granted a more prominent role, he had this to write:

“For anyone who saw Henrik then [in his rookie season] and compared him to Hodgson now, the comparison is laughable. Hodgson is by far the superior player at this particular stage of development, even though the chance of him ever developing to the Sedin level is remote.”

It is now known that the Canucks were already working behind the scenes to arrange a Hodgson trade. His agent, Ritch Winter, authored a staggering 6,400 word essay (rant?) about his client and the media in early 2012, and the Canucks were placing Hodgson in situations aimed at maximizing his value in any potential trade. The deep divisions that had opened up from back in 2009 had reached a tipping point. While Canuck fans were salivating at the prospect of having a Henrik-Kesler-Hodgson top three down the middle for the next few years, the relationship between the young player and the club was fractured. Rumours swirled that Hodgson felt entitled to more ice time, and did not like being stuck behind (at the time) two of the top centres in the game. Eventually, the Hodgson camp asked for a trade.

The Trade

Minutes before the 2012 trade deadline, Cody Hodgson was traded alongside Alex Sulzer to Buffalo for forward Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani. Immediate reaction to the trade was one of shock and disappointment. Elliott Pap of the Vancouver Sun even went as far as writing:

“Is this Markus Naslund and Alek Stojanov all over again, only in reverse?”

It certainly had the markings of a similar swap. The Canucks were trading away a young, offensively-gifted player for a big, tough forward (with spare parts also trading places in this case). Rookie Kassian had scored 3 goals and 7 points in 27 games for Buffalo, and the Canucks hoped he could bring a physical element they had lacked the previous spring. Yet for a team that was in something of an offensive decline, trading away a player who was actually producing offence seemed questionable. As a team theoretically loading up at another deep playoff run, trading for a project player made little sense. Iain MacIntyre of the Vancouver Sun certainly shared that sentiment.

“What’s unclear is how the Canucks can be stronger today after trading their rookie-of-the-year candidate and second-unit power-play quarterback to the Sabres for someone less developed and who spent half of this season in the minors … For now, he [Kassian] is a fourth-line upgrade who managed just one assist in his previous 17 games for Buffalo.”

That prediction would prove prescient. Kassian would score only one goal the rest of the season, before being held scoreless (and eventually made a healthy scratch) in four post-season games for Vancouver. The club, for its part, would only score eight goals in its five-game series against the Los Angeles Kings. Would Hodgson have helped? It is impossible to know, of course, but at a time when the Canucks needed offensive depth the most, they decided to double-down on size and grit.

The Aftermath

The trade was ultimately less consequential for the Canucks than originally assumed. Hodgson would record 34 points in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and sign a six-year, $25.5 million dollar extension with the Sabres later that same year. Whatever offensive prowess he possessed, however, was eclipsed by his defensive shortcomings. His 5v5 CF% in the 2013-14 season was an atrocious 41.2% – fully 4.5% less than his Sabres teammates. On a terrible Buffalo club, Hodgson was one of its worst defensive players. He even earned that most damning of hockey player epithets: lazy. His 2014-15 season was an absolute disaster, scoring six goals and 13 points in 78 games. He played a part of one season with the Nashville Predators in 2015-16, and was out of hockey entirely by that summer.

Kassian, by comparison, is at least still playing in the NHL – just not for the Canucks nor the team they traded him to, Montreal. After receiving treatment for substance abuse, Kassian is now a bottom-six forward for the Edmonton Oilers. He had moments where he would tease Vancouver fans with his skill, but his personal battles and overall talent ceiling hindered him from ever reaching his full potential. His 14 goals and 29 points during the 2013-14 season for Vancouver remain his career high.

As a result of how it eventually played out, some have argued that the Canucks ultimately won the trade. Or, at the least, did not lose it to the extent many predicted. But that is a poor barometer for evaluating the trade. There is nothing inherently wrong about trading young players for immediate help in an attempt to win a Stanley Cup. In fact, had the Canucks acquired a player who could have realistically provided offence for the club – even if that player was a veteran – the deliberative process behind the transaction would have been sound. Instead, the Canucks in effect weakened their own chances of taking a run at a Stanley Cup. Acquiring a project player when the team was trying to win a championship was an organizational misstep. The team certainly might still have lost to the Kings in the playoffs, but having more offensive depth might have also served to somewhat offset the loss of Daniel Sedin in the first three games of the series.

For Canuck fans, the pain and frustration invoked by the memory of the trade has since been partially assuaged by its relatively insignificant long-term impact. But the trade remains a prime example of how we can evaluate transactions and the thinking process behind them. Why a franchise makes a trade is sometimes as important as the result, because it also demonstrates organizational philosophy and perceptions. With the Cody Hodgson trade, the Canucks revealed their disdain for entitled players and their obsession with becoming tougher, yet in attempting to address those issues failed to provide the club with what it needed when it mattered most.

With files from the Vancouver Sun and The Province



  • Bud Poile

    This was the trade that began the end for Gillis and what was the great Canucks team and run. The Ballard and Booth trades sealed it.

    Had Gillis and Co. done their homework on Kassian they would have known his substance abuse was the reason he underachieved and was dealt.

    • Burnabybob

      The Hodgson trade happened AFTER the other two that you mentioned.

      In any case, the Hodgson Kassian trade was probably the most overhyped in franchise history. Neither player lived up to expectations.

    • Freud

      Gillis wouldn’t have known about Virtanen’s eating/beer/weight problems either, right?

      Good thing Benning does thorough background checks on players before bringing them into the fold and took Ehlers instead of Virtanen.

      He’s way smrter then Gillis.

      • Dirk22

        At Virtanen’s age, Kassian scored 15G and 26 pts in 30 games in the AHL. Virtanen has 5G and 11 pts in 44 games.

        The sad part is we would all be thrilled if Virtanen could actually put up the numbers Kassian did during his party days in Van: 14G 15A and 124 PIM.

      • Bud Poile

        Virtanen may end up being a steady player. At 20 years of age nobody has written his book.

        Gillis screwed the future of this franchise.Benning is tasked with rebuilding it.

        One of these things is not like the other.Even Einstein could figure that out in a heartbeat and Gillis has been gone almost three years.

        • Freud

          You’re not addressing my point. Instead you’re clumsily trying to justify hypocrisy by avoiding the point.

          If Gillis should have known about Kassian’s personality, why is Benning not held to the same standard with regards to Virtanen’s personality?

          It has nothing to do with who’s rebuilding or who’s at fault.

  • Peachy

    Fantastic trip down memory lane.

    The most glaring question in my mind is: if the Canucks hadn’t been so blinded by a need to acquire “grit”, what could they have gotten instead?

    • Dirty30

      It wasn’t just a question of ‘grit’ — when a team gives up a problem child the chances of getting anything other than another problem child are pretty slim.

      MG might have hoped that Kass would provide more sandpaper than sandbox but you get what you pay for at times.

      Cody had good credentials, leadership, liked by teammates — one going so far as to say they wouldn’t have won without him — and couldn’t translate it to the NHL.

      And just think that it could have been Kyle Beach or Erik Karlson … boggles the mind at times how either could have turned out.

  • TD

    A trade where the players exchanged were a a slow over entitled problem with interfering parents and a substance abuser.

    The limited minutes complaint for the third line centre sounds similar to the complaints about Bo’s ice. The difference being Henrik was a year removed from the Hart and Art Ross and Kessler was the reigning Selke winner. Hodgson proved he could score against the lower competition as a third line centre but flamed out horribly when playing as the first/second centre in Buffalo.

  • Chris the Curmudgeon

    One of the most egregious cases of the team mismanaging player development that I’ve seen. Hodgson was an outstanding prospect, despite his speed, because of his incredible hockey IQ. But, between misdiagnosis of a very serious injury and treating him like spit, they ruined what could have been a good player for us for years to come. Trading him to a CF like Buffalo basically doomed his career. At the very least, wait until the offseason before messing with a contending roster.

  • Heffy

    Good read. I tend to agree with Chris above that the Canucks were complicit in ruining Hodgson’s career, but we will never know for sure.

    Sadly similar to Gilbert Brule’s career.

    On that note, this article reminded me of my days as a Vancouver Giants STH. I really objected to Kyle Beach, and I was sooooo glad the Canucks did not draft that guy. One of my fondest hockey memories is a youtube clip from Spokane nine years ago… BAM!

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gOPWNxOkNro

    Go to the 36 second mark if you are impatient

  • The problem with the conclusion of this piece is that it’s based on the assumption that this was purely a hockey trade – my understanding is that Hodgson had serious personal issues (not of the Kassian variety, but of the entitlement / dedication / being generally difficult variety), and that the trade was made to remove a player who was difficult. That they brought in a player with his own set of issues is a problem, for sure, but not the one identified in this piece.

    A team/player relationship isn’t soured by a few off-hand comments from the coach – if that were the case, there’d be hardly any team/player relationships left in the NHL. If a player can’t get over a couple coach’s comments made two or three years ago, that’s on the player, not the organization.

    Players need to have both skill and heart to make it at the NHL level – Hodgson seems a perfect example of a player who had skill to burn, but just didn’t have the right personality to be an NHL Pro. That’s okay – I think a lot of us would find ourselves in the same boat if we were in that situation – but it is a shame to see a player who was so promising wash out of the league so quickly. At least Kassian’s sorted his issues out and has found a place for himself on an NHL roster.

    • Chris the Curmudgeon

      If a GM can’t handle a 19 year old kid acting like a teenager, then he’s not much of a GM. I will concede that the meddling of the Hodgsons and a bit of a Looney tune of an agent were unforeseen wild cards in the whole situation.

  • Rolland

    There have been plenty of skilled smart young players who washed out of the NHL, if one lacks the determination to succeed at any cost in any situation then he won’t last.

    Hodgson rode his natural skill and smarts until he was challenged to improve upon it and was a dismal failure. Players like Horvat and Burrows for example have that hunger to better themselves and drive themselves to succeed.

    I fear for Virtanen and hope he sees the light, but some never do. Call it lazy or having a sense of entitlement or whatever but they don’t last if they don’t have the fire.

  • wojohowitz

    Part of the story was that at the time Gillis was using his sources in the media to hype Hodgson. From the day Hodgson was drafted he was going to lead the Canucks to the cup and Gillis was a genius for drafting him. When the knives finally came out for Gillis we started to hear about how he – as a player agent – was a prime source of leaks to the media and to this day Gillis has his friends in the media covering for him.

    Karlsson huh? A game changer. Maybe once every ten years a team gets lucky and for Ottawa it was Karlsson and for the Canucks? Maybe Boeser will be that guy. Winner of the Rocket Richard Trophy. First team all star for five years in a row. Shoo in for the HoF. We can always dream.

  • JuiceBox

    Cody Hodgson could not have been put in a better situation to succeed than he had in Vancouver. He was coming into a veteran team that was right in their prime. He had Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler ahead of him, one an Art Ross and Hart winner, the other a Selke winner.

    Ryan Kesler was the perfect example of how hard work trumps talent and both Sedins are perfect examples of how to not rest on skill and always be the hardest workers in the room. Not to mention he had players like Manny Malhorta (who was not playing but still around), Alex Burrows, Kevin Bieska, and Chris Higgins around him – all players who made their way by working harder than everybody else.

    Hodgson was gifted with unimaginable skill and hockey IQ and he was put in the perfect situation to learn from two (three if you count Manny) of the hardest working (and best) centers in the NHL and instead of becoming a student of the game and embracing it, the petulant fool (and his idiot father) squandered it away. Let me tell you, if he were my son in that situation I would have told him to shut-up, work hard, and learn something from the team he had around him.

    It’s a shame really. With a his skill and IQ, who knows how good he really could have become.

  • Killer Marmot

    Hodgson had an attitude problem.

    You would think being a third-line centre on the 2011-2012 Canucks would have been an honour at the age of 21, particularly given the quality of the first two lines. But as I recall he was pushing for more ice time and more respect. He wanted it all now.

    This is contrast to guys like Horvat, who don’t seem to mind coming up through the ranks.

  • LTFan

    I remember the saga of Cody Hodgson quite well. The first sign of a problem was when he injured his back doing some sprints before training camp. The injury was not diagnosed properly. Alain Vigneault who was the Canucks coach at the time, indicated that CH was not hurt and he was not doing the work to make it as an NHL player. This turned out to be incorrect.

    Enter the meddling parent – his Dad – Chris Hodgson (Hodgson Sr.) He had been an MLA in Ontario and a Cabinet Minister. He would appear to be a man who was in charge of a lot of what he did. According to Mike Gillis, more time was spent dealing with Hodgson Sr. on issues with Cody than the rest of the team combined.

    When Cody was traded there were a group of analysts discussing the deal which included Pat Quinn. Quinn coached the Canadian team at the WJC on which Cody played. He was asked about Cody and he said that he never had any problems with him. Quinn only had good things to say about Cody.

    It would seem that MG and his staff were tired of dealing Hodgson Sr. and decided to trade Cody – and they did. Headache removed.

    Kassian never worked out and is gone as well. While never a fan of MG, IMO, this deal was not part of his demise.

  • apr

    Great article. Much appreciated. Its pieces like this that makes this site so good. My feelings are still hurt that we did not draft Karlsson, and I hate to say it but I was all over getting Kyle Beach – thought he was second coming of Bert.

  • Hockey Warrior

    Is there a fanbase in the NHL who enjoys RAKING UP the MUCK of the past as much as this one – NO – there isn’t!

    This piece and the resultant SQUAWKING from the USUAL SUSPECTS here is totally POINTLESS and REDUNDANT – the trade was a WASH and a BUST for both teams… BUT the eventual winners were in fact, the EDMONTON OILERS, who are going to the PLAYOFFS with Zack Kassian in their line up, just like I TOLD YOU they would – how’d ya like them apples!?