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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Canucks Trade Hodgson and Sulzer To The Sabres For Kassian and Gragnani—Who Got the Best Deal?

Clearly, this trade was a surprise and also the most important trade on deadline day. Let’s examine the two forwards first, Hodgson and Kassian, then talk about Gragnani and Sulzer, and conclude with a final analysis on the trade.   

Forwards

Cody Hodgson was drafted in 2008 (10th pick in the 1st Round) and is having an excellent rookie year despite playing behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. In 63 games for the Canucks he had 16 goals, 17 assists (33 points), and was +8. Hodgson is 6 feet tall and 185 pounds and is a good play-making centerman. He played three years in the OHL with the Brampton Battalion and last year in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose. In the 2008-2009 year with the Battalion he had 43 goals and 49 assists (92 points) in only 53 games, and he was +41. He has already shown that he can play well in the NHL and he should improve once he gets more ice time.       

Zack Kassian was drafted in 2009 (13th pick in the 1st Round) and this year he has seen his first NHL action. In 27 games with the Sabres he registered seven points. He is a huge right-winger at 6' 4'' and 225-230 pounds. He played five seasons in the OHL, three with the Peterborough Petes and the last two with the Windsor Spitfires. After being drafted, Kassian significantly upped his performance and last year with the Spitfires was easily his best year ever, recording 26 goals and 51 assists (77 points) in 56 games and was +10 for the year. This shows us that he is capable of improving and it is very likely that he will do so in the NHL once he is given more ice time.

The Sabres wanted a two-way, play-making centerman and Hodgson should be able to fulfill their desires. At the very least we can expect him to be a second-line center. It will be very interesting to see how he does the rest of this year and onward. The Sabres do not have a lot of big players and this was the downside of the trade for them because Kassian was the heaviest on the team along with Tyler Myers (both being about 230 pounds). I believe that the Sabres now need to bring in a large body to replace Kassian and also a second one so that the team does not get pushed around so much by Boston. I recall when Lucic nailed Ryan Miller and there was nobody there to step in and fight Lucic. There is a place for smaller skilled players and there is a place for larger players of varying skills. Anyone ever heard of Wayne Gretzky? Cody Hodgson is the same size as Gretzky was when he entered the NHL, so it really is not fair to judge a guy solely by size.   

Yet, it is true that the Canucks can definitely use a big forward because they will likely meet some physical teams in the playoffs, and yes, maybe Boston in the Finals again. If Kassian works hard he will be a valuable member of the Canucks and it would not be surprising if he is able to double his point output in the future. His value will depend on what type of player he wants to be and if he can control his temper. If he takes a lot of foolish penalties and plays dirty then he will do more harm than good. If he sticks-up for players on his team when that is necessary and also takes part offensively as much as possible, then, he will be a great asset to the Canucks. Mike Gillis, president and GM of the Canucks, indicated that they wanted a bigger player than Hodgson but he would not admit that it was primarily if they met Boston again. Come on Mike, be honest! Boston intimidated and bullied the Canucks and the refs decided to let the Bruins break the rules and you have to counteract that by getting some big guys to help defend the Sedins and other more talented players. It is a shame that it is necessary but if the NHL is not going to enforce the rules in the post-season what else can you do? Shame on the NHL for favoring some teams due to financial gain! I also feel that Gillis insulted Hodgson a little when discussing the size issue with media. I hope Hodgson does extremely well in Buffalo and out-does everyone’s expectations!

All said, regarding Hodgson and Kassian, it looks like both teams should benefit because they have filled areas that they wanted strengthened, and the rest is on the shoulders of Hodgson and Kassian. By this time next year we will have a better idea which player is going to prove to be more valuable. Hodgson is the favorite of course due to the stats that he has compiled. 

Before continuing, I would like to mention that the Canucks had already acquired centerman Samuel Pahlsson from the Blue Jackets earlier on deadline day before they traded Hodgson to the Sabres. Pahlsson is good friends with fellow Swedes Daniel and Henrik Sedin since they have played together for Sweden and for Swedish hockey team, Modo. Pahlsson is 34 years old but still should have some great hockey left in him. He has a lot of experience in big games, winning Gold in the Olympics in 2006 and the Stanley Cup the following year when he was with the Ducks. He is very proficient in the face-off circle and in killing penalties. Without question, the Canucks are trading to win the Cup this year and Pahlsson can help them do it. By the way, in return the Blue Jackets received defenseman Taylor Ellington and two 4th Round draft picks in 2012. It was a tremendous trade for the Blue Jackets because Pahlsson was going to be an unrestricted free agent this summer and he certainly would not sign again with Columbus.

Defensemen

Alexander Sulzer is 27 years old and was drafted by Nashville in the 3rd Round of the 2003 draft. He is 6' 1'' and 204 pounds. In 2009-2010 he played 20 games with the Predators and had two assists and was +4. Last year with the Predators he played 31 games, had four points, and was -5; and, then was traded to the Panthers and played 9 games. As a free agent he signed a contract with the Canucks but only played in 12 games. He had one point and was +6. In total, Sulzer had only played in 74 NHL games before being traded to the Sabres. He is a pretty solid defensive-minded defenseman and should improve if given the opportunity to play more.

Marc-Andre Gragnani is 24 years old, 6' 2'' and 201 pounds. In the AHL with the Rochester Americans and the Portland Pirates he was extremely successful offensively. Last year with the Pirates was his best to date and he had 12 goals and 48 assists (60 points) in just 63 games and was +22. This year with the Sabres he has 1 goal and 11 assists in 44 games and his plus-minus is an impressive +10 (especially considering the year that the Sabres have had). Once he gets more NHL ice time he should gain confidence and be able to significantly increase his offensive output.

Final Analysis

Some people have been extremely critical of the Canucks in making this trade because they feel that Cody Hodgson has the ability to be a first line centerman. In looking at Kassian I see that he has ability to significantly improve if he works hard enough and could turn out to be a valuable asset to the Canucks. It will depend on what type of player Kassian wants to be, dirty or hard-working. Marc-Andre Gragnani could be the deciding factor in who got the best deal in this trade because he might turn out to be one of the better offensive defensemen in the league—like Kris Letang of the Penguins. If this happens then the Canucks will come out looking pretty good in this trade. My hope is that Cody Hodgson becomes a great player and subsequently leaves Mike Gillis with egg on his face.

TJ Stanley