February 27, 2012
Canucks Deal Cody Hodgson

In late breaking and most surprising fashion, the Canucks have dealt Cody Hodgson, the first draft pick of the Mike Gillis era and a player who showed in limited action this season that he can be a legitimate offensive force at the NHL level.  Along with depth defenseman Alexander Sulzer, Hodgson heads to Buffalo for aspiring power forward Zack Kassian and defender Marc-Andre Gragnani.

We are most sorry to see Hodgson go.  He has, on many nights this season, been the Canucks’ most dangerous offensive player and, only in his rookie season, seemingly has a long career ahead of him.  We are also surprised that Mike Gillis would be willing to cut bait on his first ever NHL draft pick.  However, without a move to the wing by Ryan Kesler, it was an impossibility for Hodgson to be a proper fit in Vancouver - his skill set was not really complimentary to a team that needs a third line to deliver physically more than it needs to score.

Kassian has the potential to be the kind of player the Canucks have been sorely lacking - a physically imposing player that can play regularly.  At the NHL level, he is still an unproven commodity however, unlike Hodgson who is in the running for NHL rookie of the year honours.  The 6’ 3” 230 pound Kassian is a former first round pick and has demonstrated a decent scoring touch at the AHL level.  Riding shotgun with the Sedins could make him a scorer at the NHL level.

Gragnani fills the void of the injured Keith Ballard and may be what tips this trade in favour of the Canucks.  He is a young puck moving defender and of reasonable size.  After becoming a point per game player at the AHL level he leads all Buffalo players with a plus 10 rating this year (meanwhile ex-Canuck and $10 million man Christian Ehrhoff is minus 5).  He can play top four minutes if required and along with Chris Tanev, Kevin Connauton and Yann Sauve suddenly leave the Canucks with some longer term depth on defense.

In the end, this move (along with the pick-up of checking centre Sami Pahlsson) addresses the weaknesses that were identified (a lack of toughness and grit up front and a need for a Keith Ballard replacement).

This deal will likely rank as one of the biggest in Canuck history and will be a difficult one to assess in the long run because of the diversity of the players being exchanged.  It is probable that Hodgson could become a top 10 NHL scorer playing 20 minutes per night.  And it is possible that Kassian could become Milan Lucic and that Gragnani becomes the next great Canuck power play quarterback.  Alternatively, they could become Jim Sandlak and J.J. Daigneault, respectively.  Though if Kassian and Gragnani (not to mention Pahlsson) help to complete Mike Gillis’ Stanley Cup puzzle, then it will be the best Canuck trade ever…

November 17, 2010
Separated at Birth

Monday night’s visit to Buffalo featured the only clash of the season between expansion twins; the Sabres also emerging into the NHL world 40 seasons ago.  And in a lot of ways, the game symbolized the fortunes of these clearly fraternal siblings. 

On Monday night, the Sabres, wearing uniforms with their original crest, staked themselves to an early 2-0 lead.  Just like in the early days of the respective franchises, when the Canucks were seemingly the ugly duckling - or at least, the unlucky duckling.

No one can forget the Gilbert Perreault sweepstakes, won by the Sabres in a bizarre wheel-of-fortune like spin that left the Sabres with a hall-of-famer and the Canucks with Dale Tallon (and his ghost, more in a future entry).  In short order, the Sabres built a Stanley Cup contender around the fantastically gifted Perreault by drafting star players like Rick Martin, Craig Ramsay, Jim Schoenfeld and Danny Gare.  Meanwhile, the locals were selecting decent NHL’ers (Tallon, Jocelyn Guevremont, Bobby Lalonde and Don Lever), whom they often ran out of patience with (these players seemingly incapable of replicating the heroics of the early Sabre picks).  Ironically, both Guevremont and Lever wound up with the Sabres at various points in their careers. 

The Sabres, with their early drafting success, advanced to a Cup final by 1975, while the ’Nucks festered at the bottom of the NHL standings for most of that decade and the one after.

In Monday’s game, the Canucks showed plenty of second half jam, tying the game midway through the third period, mirroring their success of the second half of their history.  In the end, both teams, after 40 years, have zero Cup wins, and only two Finals appearances each so a regulation tie seemed a just result. 

After an amazingly entertaning overtime (can you imagine 60 minutes of 4 on 4 action?), the Sabres converted on a Vancouver give-away to take the win.  And with 28 playoff appearances in their 40 years to the Canucks’ 23, a fitting reflection of their respective histories to date.

So what does the future hold for these squads?  Vancouver is clearly the dominant hockey market and with that the Canucks can and will spend every ounce of cap space.  But the Sabres are now a stable franchise, too, and have not been shy about spending (so says Thomas Vanek).  Both teams have placed confidence in their coaching staffs, who have both had long runs at the helm (Lindy Ruff, in particular).  And in a world where you can now seemingly win a Cup with any stiff between the pipes (Antti Niemi, Marc Andre Fleury and Chris Osgood, we’re looking at you) both squads have chosen to build around their world class goaltenders.  Unlike the Canucks, the Sabres’ longer term prospects look good as their line-up features two young potential all-stars in Tyler Ennis and Tyler Myers; though Myers is suffering through a brutal sophomore year.  Still, with the Canucks scoring balance up front and despite the Monday night loss, we prefer their chances on turning the 40th anniversary season into something more meaningful than a celebration of four decades of mediocrity…