Monday, February 27, 2012

Canucks Trade Cody Hodgson for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnoni

After the 2012 Trade Deadline the Vancouver Canucks are a different team, whether they are a better team is a question of some debate.

The look and flexibility of this team has been significantly altered. Gone is Cody Hodgson's offensive production from the 3rd line and 2nd unit power play, in it's place is a more a more traditional checking line, a young power forward and a defenseman who can help the power play and transition game, but has some question marks in his own end.

Most, if not all Canuck fans were stunned when Bob MacKenzie said Cody Hodgson was no longer a Canuck. Arguably the team's top prospect, Hodgson had come into his own this season and had produced several clutch goals. Hodgson's future is very bright and no one was really expecting to see Hodgson dealt at the deadline. There were always questions about how he fit in the Canucks long term plans, but in the short term the Canucks had to be happy with the secondary scoring he was providing.

So what led the Canucks to deal Hodgson?

It's obvious that the Gillis wanted to get tougher and when the price for Steve Ott became too much - Dallas rightly asked a lot - Gillis had to look at other avenues. The first domino was the acquisition of Sami Pahlsson. Immediately there became a log jam up front, my initial reactions on twitter...

11:14am Pahlsson acquisition gives #Canucks upgrade on Malhotra at centre. Lots of interchangeable parts from the 2nd line down.

11:18am Hodgson likely to see games up on 2nd line and down on 4th line, depending on the type of checking line AV wants. #Canucks

11:22am and of course Hodgson will continue to centre the 3rd line. Point is #Canucks have lots of flexibility up front.

I'll be honest at this point the thought of trading Hodgson hadn't popped into my mind at all. I figured the Canucks would give him a shot on the 2nd line wing, but I assumed that by the time push comes to shove in the playoffs Hodgson would likely be seeing 4th line ice time and 2nd unit PP duty while Lapierre and/or Pahlsson took over 3rd line ice time on a defensively reliable unit.

Obviously Mike Gillis and Alain Vigneault were well aware of this scenario. People have bitched and complained about Hodgson's ice time all season, but the bottom line is Alain Vigneault expects players to be strong in their own end. If you are any kind of a liability defensively, you're going to have a hard time finding the ice. Can you really argue with that philosophy? Clearly Vigneault is a very successful coach. People are free to nitpick with who "his guys" are or should be, but you can't argue with the end result.

So, getting back to Hodgson, he was never going to play ahead of Kesler or Henrik at centre ice. That leaves third line ice and power play time. While Hodgson produced very well for his ice-time, his defensive game is no where near as mature. You saw that on display in the Detroit game where, after scoring a big goal, Hodgson could not handle Abdelkader in his own end and Detroit immediately responded with a goal of their own. Those are things you're going to get with a young centre iceman. The question is can you afford that when you are trying to win the Stanley Cup?

Today the Canucks answered that question.

Canucks Get Tougher

A lot has been made of the Canucks toughness, probably too much, but you can't deny the Canucks need for more size and grit was significant. When the game gets tight and it's hard to get the puck to the middle, it becomes really hard to score goals when your power play goes into a funk or run of bad luck. We saw that against Boston. And it's not just Boston the Canucks need to worry about. First they need to get out of their own conference against some big physical teams like St. Louis, San Jose and Nashville. Then in the East you have the team's trying to emulate the Cup Champions. Remember the past few meetings vs the Rangers? Shutout because the Canucks struggled to get pucks to the middle of the ice (also known as playing on the perimeter).

So how much is Zack Kassian going to help in this department?

That really depends on how the Canucks plan on using Kassian, so far we haven't heard much on this other than they think he is ready to contribute now. So does that mean he starts on the 4th line, or is he going to get a legitimate shot on Kesler's wing and the opportunity to park himself in front of the net on the power play?

Most out west don't know all that much about Kassian so we're left to rely on statistics, media and other fan opinions. The most important thing to keep in mind with Kassian is that this is his first professional season. At just 21 Kassian is nearly a point a game in the AHL where it's not exactly easy to score. He obviously hasn't lit it up in the NHL, but he's managed to hold his own. On a better team with stronger linemates, Kassian may be able to produce more offensively. The future is bright for Kassian, but is it now?

The Forgotten Piece

Marc-Andre Gragnani seems to be the forgotten piece of this trade. He's not just a throw in. Gragnani has struggled defensively in Buffalo, but he was very good in the playoffs last year. At 24, he's just entering the age of when defensemen start to really come in to their own. Gragnani has outstanding AHL numbers which obviously show he has offensive skill. Playing on the 3rd pairing he has the potential to improve his NHL numbers, especially when you consider that AV likes to "hide" his weakest pairing by throwing them out with the Sedin twins. He will also get a chance on the power play where the second unit will need to find a way to replace Hodgson's production.

He's not the top 4-5 guy the Canucks could have really used, but I wouldn't be surprised if he finds himself as a regular in the lineup.

Final Thoughts for Today

The weirdest thing about this trade is that it doesn't really hinge on Zack Kassian. It's really about the new identity and style of the third and fourth lines and whether the Canucks ultimately win the Stanley Cup this year. Oddly, the performances of Sami Pahlsson and even Gragnani may be more important than what the Canucks get out of Kassian this year.

So is this a good trade or a bad trade? It's definitely a ballsy trade. Ultimately the Canucks are deeper and more balanced then they were Monday morning and they're likely a stronger playoff team. Will they miss the odd Hodgson goal, maybe, but there will be opportunities for others to step up and perhaps a free'd up Kesler will negate Hodgson's lost production.

Bottom line, overall I think the Canucks are a stronger team after the trades. It's tough to see a player like Hodgson leave, but ultimately it's about giving yourself the best chance to win the Stanley Cup. Mike Gillis went out and made his bold move, hopefully it will be remembered as the one that led to the Stanley Cup.