Vancouver Canucks: Successful Trade-Deadline Deals Bolster Roster for Playoffs
In a surprising turn of events, the league-leading Vancouver Canucks were the busiest team on the trade deadline. And they also pulled off the biggest upset of the day, dealing potential Calder Trophy candidate Cody Hodgson in a blockbuster with the Buffalo Sabres.
In are Zach Kassian, Marc-Andre Gragnani and Sami Pahlsson.
Out are Cody Hodgson, Alexander Sulzer and a couple of fourth-round picks.
Zack Kassian is the nasty, towering power forward Canucks fans have been clamouring for since the heyday of Todd Bertuzzi.
For younger Canucks fans who don't remember when the Canucks had power forwards like Brad May or Bertuzzi, a good comparable for Kassian would be Raffi Torres from last season's playoff run.
He'll chip in the odd goal, but his immediate impact will be using his speed and size to deliver crushing hits, as well as dropping the gloves.
The 21-year-old, 6'4", 225-pound right winger has the wheels and strength to skate and hit at a high level in the playoffs according to most analysts, including former Vancouver and Buffalo star Brad May.
Kassian's hands haven't quite caught up to his size, at least not at an NHL level, but he has scored at almost a point-a-game pace in the AHL this year, and in 27 NHL games with the Sabres, he put up three goals and four assists.
Those aren't overwhelming NHL numbers, but in Vancouver, he'll be playing with better players in an up-tempo offensive system, which can only help his numbers. Plus this year, at least he won't be counted on to score; his focus will be on being a physical presence, and any scoring will be a bonus.
Expect Kassian to line up somewhere on the third or fourth lines. The bottom six forwards are in a bit of flux right now, as coach Alain Vigneault needs to figure out how he wants to use newcomers Kassian and Sami Pahlsson.
Sami Pahlsson is a player who Canucks fans love to hate, second perhaps only to Dave Bolland as Sedin kryptonite, Pahlsson has shut down the twins in the 2007 playoffs for the Ducks, and in the 2009 playoffs for the Blackhawks.
At 34, the veteran of 81 playoff games still has some gas left in the tank, and is exactly the kind of playoff performer that contenders like to add. It doesn't hurt that he has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2007 Ducks, either.
Expect to see Pahlsson teaming up with fellow shutdown centreman Manny Malhotra to make life miserable for opposing stars. This in turn will free up Ryan Kesler to spend more of his energy on scoring.
As an added bonus, it was reported that fellow Western Conference power Detroit Red Wings were also very interested in Pahlsson, so stealing him away from a potential playoff opponent was nice.
For the 2012 playoffs, are the Canucks...
Marc-Andre Gragnani is a 6'2", 200-pound, fast-skating offensive defenseman. He has put up very good numbers in the AHL (60 points in 63 games), and last season was a point-a-game player (1 goal, 6 assists in 7 games) for Buffalo in their first-round series against the Flyers.
This year, the addition of newcomers like former Canuck Christian Ehrhoff have affected his ice time, but Gragnani still has 12 points in 44 games. Plus-minus is a very subjective statistic, especially on bad teams, but you have to like that Gragnani at plus-10 was the only Buffalo defender on the plus side this year.
Gragnani also has a connection with the Canucks, as he was coached in the Quebec Major Junior Leagues by now-Canucks head coach Alain Vigneault. Canuck Maxim Lapierre was also a member of that P.E.I. Rockets team.
Expect Gragnani to be a spare-part guy if everyone is healthy, rotating in on the third pairing depending on the composition of the opposing team, but he could easily move up the lineup in case of injury.
All in all, the Canucks needed to add defensive depth at the deadline, and they did with the addition of Gragnani. General Manager Mike Gillis also made the Canucks harder to play against by adding another premier shutdown centerman in Pahlsson.
Kassian brings size and a big nasty streak, two things which most analysts felt were sorely lacking in the Canucks.
In the end, Gillis made a huge gamble at the trade deadline, but he addressed the areas the team needed to shore up.
In the short term, that makes this a successful trade deadline.
In the long term, if Hodgson goes on to be a star and Kassian is a bust, then we'll look back at it differently.
Of course, if Hodgson doesn't shine when thrust into a top six role for the much weaker Sabres, or if his back problems come back up again at some point in his career, then its a different story.
But the Canucks are focused on the playoffs, as they should be, not the distant future.
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