As the 2012 NHL trade deadline inched closer, fans and media members waited for the big deal to make all the hours invested by those watching and covering the days events worthwhile. Shortly after the deadline had passed, that deal was finally announced, although it had nothing to do with Rick Nash.
Instead, it involved two young prospects, one of which is having a great rookie season for the Vancouver Canucks.
The Canucks dealt Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres for a tough, but less proven prospect in Zack Kassian, along with Marc-Andre Gragnani.
On the surface, this trade came as an absolute shocker to just about every single Canucks fan, many of which had become emotionally invested in the arduous, but ultimately successful, development of Hodgson.
After all, the 22-year-old had finally cracked the Canucks’ lineup on a full-time basis and was making a fairly significant impact at the NHL level. So why would general manager Mike Gillis trade him for a younger and less proven rookie in Kassian, especially when the Canucks are trying to win now and not later?
You certainly won’t find the answers by simply comparing the two players, although there are some similarities between them.
Hodgson was the 10th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft, while Kassian was the 13th overall pick in 2009. Both players have also donned the red and white colours of Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championships, so clearly their junior careers drew rave reviews from many scouts. However, that’s where the similarities end.
Hodgson is a play-making center with a subtle, but well-rounded offensive skill set. He doesn’t have breakaway speed and he isn’t going to plough anyone through the boards with a huge body check, but he appears to be on his way to becoming a great NHL playmaker with good vision, a solid build and a great shot.
Kassian, on the other hand, is a pure power forward. He’s more than capable of delivering the huge body check and even dropping the gloves if it’s needed, which is exactly what the Canucks need. He’s also shown signs of having the hands of a goal scorer at the NHL level, although that’s still up for debate. Unlike Hodgson, Kassian is only in his first year as a professional and has played only 27 games in the NHL thus far.
Comparing the stats of these two junior standouts might not be fair to Kassian, as Hodgson is a year older and has a full season of pro hockey under his belt. However, it’s impossible to ignore when analyzing the Canucks’ team heading into the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs.
Certainly the Canucks got tougher with this trade, and perhaps Kassian will help them in a potential Stanley Cup finals rematch with the Boston Bruins, but was it worth sacrificing Hodgson?
Then again, perhaps Hodgson’s role was somewhat redundant on a Canucks team that already boasts Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler as their first and second-line centers. But was it worth it for a team that needs to win now to trade away his point production for a younger player that might not provide the same type of offense for at least another year?
These questions won’t be answered for at least three or four months, if not longer. In the meantime, the other two players in the trade are much easier to analyze.
Vancouver addressed their need to add depth on defense by acquiring Marc-Andre Gragnani as part of this deal, without sending much of anything the other way—as Alexander Sulzer had been spending just about every game in the Canucks’ press box.
The 24-year-old Gragnani played great for the Sabres after being called up from the minors late last year for their playoff run. He was particularly stellar in Buffalo’s one and only playoff series in 2011, as he produced seven points in seven games, most of which came on the power play.
If he can be anywhere near that effective on the Canucks’ power play, it would be a huge bonus for them, as they could afford to manage the minutes of Dan Hamhuis much more efficiently, who currently sees time on the power play.
Clearly this trade was a matter of the Canucks addressing their needs and getting rid of their redundancies. They needed a physical, power forward and another impact defenseman—and that’s exactly what they received.
But did they give up too much by trading away a potential All-Star center that’s on pace for a 20-goal season in the process?
Maybe, but we’ll never be sure until both Kassian and Gragnani show us how they’ll fit into the Canucks lineup.