Mike Gillis surprised everyone on February 27, 2012. That was the day of the trade deadline. That was the day that he traded his first draft pick, the golden boy, Cody Hodgson.
Few draft picks in Canucks history carried as much hype as Cody Hodgson. He was the 10th pick overall in the 2008 draft, Mike Gillis’ first with Vancouver.
Many fans and media were clamoring for the Canucks to take power forward and BC boy, Kyle Beach, with the pick.
The Canucks scouting staff wanted Beach too, who Gillis smartly passed on. Beach was picked one pick later, by the Chicago Blackhawks. He is currently playing in Austria and has yet to play an NHL game. Bullet dodged.
Here is how Gillis explained the choice back in 2008:
GM Mike Gillis said Hodgson is a natural leader who impressed the Canucks’ sport psychologist.
“His ability, leadership and character were all over the top as far as I was concerned,” Gillis said. “[The psychologist] had him ranked at the very top in terms of leadership, integrity and character.”
And here’s what other scouts around the league were talking about him:
Scouts at the draft said Hodgson projects to be a second-line centre or winger in the NHL. Some scouts said Hodgson does compare favourably to Steve Stamkos, dubbing Hodgson “Stamkos light.”
“Stamkos light”. In hindsight, this is hilarious.
But we had reason to believe in Hodgson (and consequently, Gillis) in the years that followed that pick.
After being drafted by Vancouver, Hodgson had a monster year. He was named the OHL Player of the Year, beating out John Tavares. He was arguably the best player on the gold medal winning Canadian team at the World Junior Championship and led the tournament in scoring.
It was a question of when, not if, he would become an impact player in the NHL.
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Then came the summer of 2009. Hodgson injured his back while dryland training under the supervision of Canucks director of player development, Dave Gagner. Gagner was thought to be one of Gillis’ key hires to help improve the development of the team’s prospects.
To make matters worse, the injury was then misdiagnosed by the Canucks. Hodgson came to training camp but wasn’t close to earning a spot on the team.
Hodgson admitted that he had a back injury and shooting pain down his leg. For whatever reason, Canucks management thought otherwise, as evidenced by this article from Matt Sekeres in February, 2010:
Privately, the Canucks wondered if Hodgson was simply spooked by the talent at camp and used the back injury to explain his underwhelming performance.
After being cut by the Canucks in training camp, Hodgson was unable to play hockey for four months. Hodgson refused to train with Dave Gagner the following summer, instead choosing his own guy, Gary Roberts.
There was a rift between Mike Gillis and Cody Hodgson.
The 2010-11 season went a lot more normally for Hodgson. He started the season with the Manitoba Moose of the AHL, scoring 30 points in 52 games. When Manny Malhotra suffered a career threatening eye injury, it opened up a spot for Hodgson with the Canucks and Coho got the call-up. Playing for a contender, Hodgson saw limited ice time on the Canucks fourth line.
Hodgson’s coming out party was the 2011-12 season. With Manny Malhotra clearly not right in the season following his eye injury, there was a spot open at third line centre and Hodgson jumped on it. Hodgson had 16 goals and 17 assists in 63 games. He also anchored the Canucks’ impressive second power play unit.
Among Canucks forwards, Hodgson ranked 9th in even strength ice time and 6th in power play ice time. Those are numbers befit of a young player trying to prove himself in his first full NHL season on a contender.
The Canucks were a good team and Hodgson was performing well. But behind the scenes, things were not well. With Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler in front of him on the depth chart at centre, opportunities for Hodgson were limited and wasn’t terribly happy about it.
On February 27, 2012 Mike Gillis shocked the hockey world. He traded the 22-year-old Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for 21-year-old Zack Kassian (Alex Sulzer and Marc-Andre Gragnani were also involved in the deal).
I also wonder if other teams were made aware that Hodgson was available. I find it hard to believe there wasn't a better return than Kassian
— Shane🌈 (@SocialAssassin2) February 28, 2012
Will Kassian score big goals like Hodgson has come to do? It was nice having that skill on the third line… #Canucks
— Omar A (@omarcanuck) February 27, 2012
Thing to look forward to: after trading away Grabner and Hodgson, there will be no end to the MG bashing if Kassian doesn't pan out.
— Daniel Wagner (@passittobulis) February 28, 2012
Depending on who you believe, it appears that on some level Hodgson asked for a trade.
“There clearly were issues that were ongoing,” Gillis said of Hodgson. “I spent more time on Cody’s issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years.”
That’s not exactly the player that oozed of character and leadership they thought they were getting.
#canucks GM Mike Gillis says Hodgson/Kassian deal all about balance. Needed more size and toughness for playoff grind.
— Dan Murphy (@sportsnetmurph) February 27, 2012
In many ways, the trade was a franchise altering trade. It was an admission by Gillis that he needed to adjust to the way the game was being called. The NHL may not have formally made any rule changes, but they had clearly altered the way that games were being refereed.
Gillis summized that Canucks were going to need to get bigger and better defensively. They traded for Sami Pahlsson the same day as the Hodgson trade to replace his spot in the lineup.
So who won the trade? In the short term it looked like a clear win for the Sabres. Hodgson was a legitimate second line scoring centre. He scored 34 points in the lockout shortened 48-game season. Playing for the tire fire that was the Buffalo Sabres last year, Hodgson scored 20 goals.
Meanwhile, Zack Kassian has asserted himself as a physical third line winger. He had 11 points in the lockout shortened season. Last year, he scored 14 goals.
With Cody Hodgson in the midst of a dreadful season this year with the Sabres, one can make an argument that the Canucks actually won the trade. Hodgson has clearly fallen out of favour with head coach Ted Nolan and has seen time in the press box and on the fourth line.
Hodgson’s critics will point to his poor defensive play and perceived bad attitude. Kassian’s critics will point to his equally poor defensive play and perceived lack of maturity.
When the dust settles 10 years from now, I believe history will show that Cody Hodgson had a better career than Zack Kassian, but that’s very much an arguable point.
In so many ways, it doesn’t matter if the Canucks win or lose this trade in the long term. What mattered most at the 2012 trade deadline was the 2012 Stanley Cup and the Hodgson trade put them further away from that goal.
Hodgson was fifth in scoring among Canucks forwards at the time of the trade. Kassian was a young player who was unlikely to help the team in the short-term. Kassian was still very raw in his development and was a fourth line player. Hodgson’s replacement, Pahlsson, was in the twilight of his career and played his final NHL game that season.
The Canucks had trouble scoring down the stretch and could have used Hodgson, particularly on their fledgling power play. The Canucks went 0-14 on the power play in their first three losses to the Kings in their first round playoff series. Vancouver scored just 8 goals of any kind in 5 playoff games.
The team couldn’t have anticipated Daniel Sedin’s concussion, which caused him to miss three playoff games; but they certainly could have anticipated a drop in production from Ryan Kesler, who was playing with an injury at the time of the trade.
Perhaps the Canucks were doomed to fail regardless, given the fact they were about to be ambushed by perhaps the best 8th place team in NHL history. But if Vancouver could have beaten the Kings, the path to the Stanley Cup was relatively easy (if the path to the Stanley Cup can ever be considered “easy”).
— Mike Greveling (@Golfing_Guy71) May 1, 2012
The Canucks would have played Nashville in the second round and either Phoenix or St Louis in the third round. Certainly those are all strong defensive teams, but not unbeatable powerhouses. The Stanley Cup finalist was an underwhelming New Jersey Devils.
If the Canucks felt that the Hodgson-Kassian deal was good for the future of the team, then the trade could have been made in the offseason.
If Hodgson had to be moved immediately, then he should have been moved for more immediate help. Would Cody Hodgson have peaked the interest of the Columbus Blue Jackets, who traded 27-year-old Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson and a 1st round draft pick four days earlier? Perhaps not, but that’s the type of deal the Canucks should have been in the market for.
Instead, Mike Gillis traded for a future asset. An asset that wouldn’t significantly help the team until after their championship window had closed.
Feature Image: nationalpost.com