Cody Hodgson: Back Problems, Attitude Problems or Just a Bunch of Hot Air?

Joel Prosser@@JoelProsserCorrespondent ISeptember 8, 2010

OTTAWA, ON - JUNE 20:  Tenth overall pick, Cody Hodgson of the Vancouver Canucks talks with the media during the 2008 NHL Entry Draft at Scotiabank Place on June 20, 2008 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada.  (Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images)
Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

On Tuesday September 7th, as reported by The Province newspaper, Canucks Assistant GM Lawrence Gilman stated that Hodgson may not play in the rookie tournament later this week.

“For any player, we want to make sure he’s fit to play. We haven’t had a chance to conduct a recent medical evaluation on Hodgson.”

This simple statement caused the eternal debate (at least over the last 12 months) over top prospect Cody Hodgson to erupt again. There are two key questions in this debate:

  1. Is Hodgson’s back 100% healthy?
  2. Does Hodgson have an attitude problem?

So does Hodgson have back problems or not?

What we do know is that after an extremely eventful 12 month period (U18 Championships, OHL season, World Juniors, OHL Playoffs, AHL Playoffs) Hodgson  threw his back out training in the summer of 2009.

Everything after that point is subject to interpretation.

Hodgson missed the rookie portion of the Canucks 2009 camp, but did play in some preseason games. At the time, he claimed to be able to play, and was cleared by team doctors. Hodgson struggled, and was eventually sent back to the OHL, only to watch Brampton teammate Matt Duchene crack the Avalanche lineup as an 18 year old and post an impressive 55 point rookie season.

Upon arriving back in Brampton, Hodgson promptly sought multiple medical opinions on his bad back, and sat out most of the OHL season rehabbing it. He returned to the Brampton Battalion only to suffer a broken foot while blocking a shot. In the end, Hodgson posted a still respectable 11 goals and 19 assists over 13 regular season and 11 playoff games.

So at that point, it appeared his back was healed, right?

Well, upon the Battalion being eliminated from the OHL playoffs, Hodgson was invited to join the Manitoba Moose, the Canucks’s AHL affiliate, for their playoff run.  At that point, it seemed everything was back on track.

Then word breaks in Winnipeg that Hodgson was complaining of back pains and subsequently wasn’t cleared to join the Moose by the Canucks medical staff. 

And now we have this latest word from Gilman regarding Hodgson’s status. I’m not sure if Gilman was trying to be evasive or not, but there is a lot of room for interpretation there.

What exactly is “recent” in this case? Last week? July? Back in April when he wasn’t cleared to join the Moose?

Unfortunately, like Schrodinger’s cat, we’ll actually need to observe Hodgson playing at an NHL tempo to know if his back is healthy or not. Until that time, it is in a state of flux seemingly designed to provoke debate amongst Canucks fans.

My take is that his back was healed up enough to play for Brampton, but after almost half a year of inactivity, he tweaked it and then decided to sit out the AHL playoffs rather than risk worsening it. He should be fine to start camp after 4 months since his last competitive game. Hodgson has also been working out this summer in Toronto with Gary Roberts, who knows a few things about back injuries himself. I'm confident he should be ready to play come training camp. Now whether he cracks the opening night lineup is another question.

Does Hodgson have an attitude problem?

Does he have a problem with Alain Vigneault? Does he have a beef with the Canucks as an organization? Is Hodgson becoming a prima donna? Do the Canucks have a mini-Lindros on their hands?

Well, I have to say this doesn’t really matter nearly as much as the state of his back.

Does he have a problem with Vigneault after some blunt and undiplomatic comments by the coach?  Maybe, but who cares? Willie Mitchell had a problem with Vigneault too after comments like that were directed his way. You could tell Markus Naslund wasn’t exactly a fan of Coach V either. But you don’t have to like your boss to do your job, and a player not liking his coach isn’t exactly a rare occurrence.

Does Hodgson have a problem with the Canucks organization as a whole after how this situation was handled? Maybe, and he’d have good reason to if (and it’s a big if) they misdiagnosed his back injury last year. But how much of that was Hodgson trying to gut out the pain and play so he could realize his childhood dream and make the NHL?

Could he be mad that GM Mike Gillis didn’t cut down Vigneault  in public over his undiplomatic comments? As a former agent, I’m sure Gillis knows exactly what a player wants to hear. So I’m sure there was communication in private between all three parties. But I’m also sure that Hodgson is mature enough, at least in retrospect and perhaps with the perspective of his own agent, to realize that Gillis couldn’t rip Vigneault in public without firing him, regardless if he agreed with the original comments or not. 

Besides, one incident does not usually flavor an entire working relationship. Hodgson was happy with the Canucks before when they drafted him, and again when they signed him to his entry level deal earlier than they needed to in order to reward him with a signing bonus. He could be mad at Gillis or the organization now, but feel differently later.

Look no further than the infamous Sedin comments made by Gillis during his first press conference as GM.

I’m sure Henrik and Daniel were not pleased, but that didn’t stop them from playing for the team. A few years later the working relationship was repaired to the point that the twins signed contract extensions on the eve of free agency when Burke and Nonis in Toronto were (reportedly) offering more cash.

Is Hodgson becoming a prima donna? Could the Canucks have a mini-Lindros situation brewing?

This talk is common on the internet and talk radio, but to me it boils down to this. When Gillis drafted him at the 2008 draft, Hodgson was praised almost as much for his character as his on ice abilities. Pat Quinn coached him at the U18 Championships, and praised his leadership and character, going as far as to compare him to a young Trevor Linden.

Could all that vaunted leadership and character slip away in less than a year?  Could Mike Gillis, Pat Quinn, his junior coaches and all those NHL analysts have been so wrong? Unlikely.

I think Vancouver fans are talking about this aspect of the Hodgson debate because it is hard to believe we might have actually drafted someone good. (Quick, name a first rounder who lived up to expectations recently)

Like someone who subconsciously screws up a good relationship because they can’t believe they really deserve it, Canucks fans are looking for the negatives which may or may not be actually there.

My take on it?

Hodgson tried to play through the pain, and was upset that he got cut, especially given the Duchene angle. He had to sit there for months and basically not do anything hockey related while his back healed up. Then when he finally was able to come back and play, he suffered the broken foot.

Isn’t that a recipe for someone to be a little depressed? Perhaps say something in anger? Ever known a teenager who was moody or prone to impulsive, emotional actions?

I think he’ll come back fired up to play this year.

After all, attitude problems or not, what else can Hodgson do? He is signed to a contract with the Canucks, and will be their property for years. He can’t play anywhere else except for maybe the KHL, and do you really think an Ontario kid is going to give up on his NHL dreams? 

There is little chance he would sit out and try to force a trade, since he has no trade value until his back is proven healthy. If he wants out of the Canucks organization, he has no real choice but to work hard and try to earn some trade interest or an RFA offer sheet.

So Canucks fans can take heart. It is in Hodgson’s best interests to play hard for the Canucks, and in the worst case scenario for his supposed attitude problems, he signs an RFA offer sheet and Gillis either matches or pockets the draft picks.

Bottom line, the more serious question is the state of Hodgson’s back, and anything else written about him between now and when he steps on the ice for a game is just speculation as we wait for the season to start.

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