The NHL’s annual trade deadline came and went on Monday, February 27th, and for the most part, things were pretty quiet. That was until about 12:15 PM PST, 15 minutes past the “official” deadline, when TSN’s Bob McKenzie announced on national television that young power forward Zack Kassian had been told he had been traded to the Vancouver Canucks. This had Canucks fans both excited and anxious; relieved the team had addressed its need for toughness while nervous as to what the return could be. One would assume the odd man out would likely be disgruntled forward Mason Raymond, however, when the TSN panel uttered the words, “this will be an earthquake in Vancouver… Cody Hodgson is a Buffalo Sabre.” Most Canucks fans reacted in a similar manner- in an absolute state of shock. How could the team possibly trade their top prospect, a Calder Trophy candidate, playing at a 42-point pace in his first full year in the NHL? Well, the answer is fairly simple; it’s because of two names; Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler.
Throughout the 2011-12 season, the Canucks have boasted a deadly one-two punch in their Swedish captain and their valiant American workhorse. And then there was the man hidden behind their shadows, playing a meagre 12 minutes per game yet putting up points at a highly consistent level- 10 points in 11 games in January, to be precise. After years of being scrutinized by the Vancouver media and being called a “bust” after several severe injuries, Hodgson had finally captured the hearts of Canucks fans. He was providing some much-needed secondary scoring, especially while the team’s primary offensive guns were slumping. He was scoring the clutch goals that no one else was, unleashing and converting on his lethal shot from impressive areas on the ice. And above all, he was finally showing some promise and proving why he was the 10th overall draft pick in 2008, followed by being named the 2009 CHL player of the year.
But the reality was, Hodgson could not simply be a career third-line center with the amount of talent and skill he possessed. At the age of 22, he was registering 0.04 points per minute while playing with inconsistent scorers Chris Higgins and Jannik Hansen. Had he been playing 18 minutes per game, at his current pace of scoring, Hodgson would’ve finished the season with an impressive 60 points. But again, just like the Michael Grabner situation- it’s quite obvious he would have never scored 30 goals on the Canucks as a third liner- the fit just wasn’t right for him. And while he loved the team and its fans, and they loved him too, the gaping reality was that he deserved a better opportunity in a market where he would be used on a much more regular basis. Hodgson is currently playing on Buffalo’s second line with talented wingers Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, and will surely put up big numbers for the next few years.
In sports, much like any business, it is always hard to make deals like this. In fact, Mike Gillis called the decision to deal Hodgson “gut-wrenching”. Over the last few months, the star rookie captured the hearts of many Canucks fans, proving to have an offensive knack as well as being a strong, positive member of the community. Despite well-documented feuds with management, he was one of the most-loved members in the team’s dressing room. However, sometimes sacrifices must be made in order to benefit both sides. In this case, the Canucks felt they had the luxury of being able to give up a star rookie in order to gain some much-needed sandpaper and grit for what is sure to be another deep playoff run come this spring. As Hodgson’s agent concisely put it, “the team had different goals than Cody.” The Canucks management knew he would be a third-line player all year long, and surely wouldn’t be bumping Sedin or Kesler down the depth chart. Meanwhile, on the other hand, it is evident that Hodgson was looking for a more opportune chance- one in which he would be getting more ice time, playing with more skilled line-mates, and ultimately, being a difference-maker on a team, on a regular basis. Scoring big goals every once in a while and not getting a chance to fully prove himself just wasn’t good enough for the determined rookie- and that only speaks to his character. It takes a special type of player to show that kind of perseverance and work ethic, and sitting around on the third line all year long wouldn’t be good enough for Hodgson- as it should be. He is a talented center with an unbelievable shot- so why not give him a better chance?
Canucks fans will never forget his booming slap shot goal from just inside the blue-line on Tim Thomas against the Boston Bruins in the heated Stanley Cup final rematch in January, nor will the images of clutch goals against big-name teams like Chicago and San Jose ever leave their minds. Cody Hodgson’s legacy in Vancouver will not be his back injuries, his infamous feuds with management, or his complaints about minimal ice time. He will forever be remembered throughout Rogers Arena and beyond as one of the most skillful, clutch, and talented prospects the Canucks have ever had.
And while Hodgson will undoubtedly become a star for the Buffalo Sabres, it will only be because Mike Gillis gave him that opportunity; one that the rookie will be forever grateful for.