Stop worrying: Cody Hodgson gets enough ice time

10 minutes into the first period of Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Canucks fans got a chance to see a delightfully old-school moment: a slap-shot off the rush that rang off the post and in. That type of goal used to be a lot more common: the highlight reels from the 70′s and 80′s are full of players flying down the wing and unleashing a slapper from the top of the faceoff circle past a helpless goaltender. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

What was even more electrifying was who scored the goal: it was Cody Hodgson, the rookie, giving the fans a flashback to the golden years.

It was a surprise not just because of how rare the slap-shot goal off the rush has become, but also because we haven’t seen that side of Hodgson’s game yet. The majority of Hodgson’s shots this season seem to have been wristshots, with most of them being — to put it as nicely as possible — unimpressive.

Hodgson’s goal on Jimmy Howard Wednesday night should serve to remind everyone that he was considered to have one of the hardest shots in the junior leagues: he was voted as having the second hardest shot in 2009 by OHL coaches and the third hardest in 2010, the year he only played 13 regular season games. Clearly, OHL coaches respected his shot.

Suffice it to say, after the game, a lot of people began talking about Hodgson on Twitter, the radio, and the Canucks.com forums. Oddly enough, though, most of them weren’t talking about his gorgeous goal and his hellacious slap-shot. Instead, they were talking about his icetime.

Despite scoring an important goal, Hodgson had just over 9 minutes in icetime, 9:02 to be exact. That was more than fourth liners Dale Weise (8:01) and Andrew Ebbett (8:49), but less than Maxim Lapierre (9:46).

There are a fair number of Canucks fans and even members of the media who are baffled by this. It isn’t an isolated incident either: Hodgson is averaging just 12:40 in ice time per game. He’s currently 7th in rookie scoring in the league while playing fewer minutes than any other player in the top-14 in the category.

Sure, there are legitimate reasons why Hodgson did not get more ice time in that particular game — AV’s desire to use more experienced veterans as the Red Wings battled back, the lack of powerplays, which is where Hodgson picks up some of his extra minutes — but there’s no getting around the fact that Hodgson’s ice time is being limited. There’s just no denying it.

The question is why does anyone have a problem with that fact?

People seem to need a reminder that Hodgson is a rookie on a team with fantastic depth at forward, particularly at his centre position. While Vigneault has experimented with him on the wing at times, the team has a plethora of wingers, particularly top-six wingers. Even with David Booth out, Chris Higgins and Mason Raymond have been quick to entrench themselves as the best options on Kesler’s wings. Instead, Malhotra has been bumped to the wing on Hodgson’s line to help him grow into the role.

The team is also packed full of players who excel at special teams, leaving little room for an inexperienced rookie. Kesler, Malhotra, and Lapierre are all excellent penalty killing centres, while Burrows, Hansen, and Raymond are the go-to wingers, with Higgins a viable option as well. Hodgson has played an important role in making the second unit on the powerplay far more dangerous, but the powerplay opportunities have been drying up recently for the Canucks.

The issue is that Hodgson was a top-10 draft pick, was named the CHL Player of the Year in 2009, and led the 2009 World Junior Championship in scoring, ahead of number one pick John Tavares. Fans have expected him to immediately step into a top-six forward role; anything less is considered to be a failure of either Hodgson or coaching.

There’s an odd assumption that playing Hodgson in a non-top-six role will somehow ruin his development, that he would be better served playing 20 minutes a night on the top line for the Chicago Wolves than 12 minutes a night in the NHL learning from some of the best players in the game. It’s an assumption that doesn’t make any sense to me. So I decided to look at some of the recent top-six players for the Canucks and how many minutes they played in their rookie seasons. I wanted to see if they were “ruined” by playing few minutes or if they were somehow groomed for success by being immediately placed in offensive situations.

Let’s start with the biggest stars for the Canucks and, in my opinion, the greatest two Canucks of all time, Daniel and Henrik Sedin. In their rookie season in 2000-01, Daniel averaged 12:59 in ice time per game, just 19 seconds more than Hodgson is currently averaging. Henrik, on the other hand, was clearly favoured by the coaching staff, averaging 13:33 per game.

Alex Burrows is an interesting case: while he’s a member of the NHL’s best line now, he started as a bottom-six agitator, averaging just 10:24 per game back in 2005-06.

Mason Raymond, who has 7 points in 9 games since coming back from his devastating injury, averaged 12:31 in ice time per game in his rookie season of 2007-08.

What about Ryan Kesler, who is coming off a 41-goal season? He averaged just 10:42 in ice time per game in his rookie season back in 2003-04.

What about top-six forwards for the Canucks that started elsewhere? Well, Chris Higgins averaged a whopping 14:24 per game in his rookie season with the Canadiens in 2005-06, but he’s the outlier. Mikael Samuelsson averaged 11:51 with the Rangers back in 2001-02, while David Booth averaged just 9:33 in ice time for the Panthers in his 2006-07 rookie season.

This may come as a surprise, but all of these players are currently in the midst of some very successful careers as top-six forwards. Their ice time in their rookie seasons didn’t seem to affect them negatively at all in the long run.

Heck, let’s look at Markus Naslund, who still holds the franchise records for goals and points. While we don’t actually have the numbers for his ice time in his rookie season in 1993-94 as the NHL didn’t start keeping track of it (or at least making it public knowledge) until 1997-98. That was his second full season with the Canucks and fifth of his NHL career and he was coming off a 21-goal, 41-point season in 1996-97.

Naslund averaged just 12:35 per game in 1997-98. Hodgson is currently averaging 12:40 per game. Once again, Naslund is the franchise leader in goals and points; playing limited minutes early in his career did not prevent him from being a star in the NHL.

What’s most striking about this is that the players I’ve mentioned here have all succeeded for the Canucks. Some fans have suggested that trading Hodgson would be mutually beneficial, as the Canucks would gain a player or two for a playoff run while Hodgson would get more playing time on another team, but the Sedins, Burrows, Kesler, and Raymond all played limited minutes in their rookie seasons and grew into larger roles over time.

Hodgson is just 21 years old. He has a long NHL career ahead of him and all signs point to it being a very successful one. Limiting his ice time right now will not prevent him from being successful or contributing to the Canucks.

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23 comments

  1. Zach Morris
    December 23, 2011

    Huh.
    I think fans (including me) have an idea that if a player scores X amount of goals with an amount of ice time, increasing their ice time will increase the amount of goals they score.
    It doesn’t seem to be as direct a correlation as that, though…

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 23, 2011

      Yeah, it’s not as simple as “More minutes = more points”. Truth is that Hodgson’s limited icetime can only help him. Not only will he be able to learn from the best (and he can learn some huge stuff from all four Canuck centres), but he won’t burn out as quickly.

      Due to injuries and whatnot, he hasn’t played as much hockey as he’s used to, and now the Canucks are hoping that he’ll be in the lineup for 100+ NHL games? First-year pros tend to burn out at the end of their rookie seasons because of the grind of the AHL schedule, let alone the NHL, and if the Canucks are hoping for another Stanley Cup run and they want Hodgson to be a part of it, managing his rookie fatigue is going to matter.

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      • Frank Nelissen
        December 23, 2011

        That is exactly my thought on the matter. Let him gain valuable experience but don’t burn him out by overplaying him now. He’ll be much more valuable to the Canucks during the playoffs and in years to come.
        And boy, was that a beautiful goal or what!?

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      • Rob
        December 23, 2011

        There absolutely is a direct correlation between more minutes and more points. It won’t necessarily be proportionate though. But if you start giving Hodgson more minutes, he’ll get more points.

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        • Harrison Mooney
          December 23, 2011

          True. But it might not be good for him a little longer term.

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          • Rob
            December 23, 2011

            How does playing him hurt him? You get better by playing, not by sitting. I’m not talking about giving him 25 minutes a night, but what about 13-14 minutes a night?

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            • Harrison Mooney
              December 23, 2011

              I won’t rehash it, but I left a comment explaining it a little further up.

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      • Rob
        December 23, 2011

        I agree there’s no reason to freak out about his ice time, I do think he deserves more. I think the Canucks and Hodgson would be better off giving him more ice time.

        The point of giving him more ice time is not so that he can be a better player in 2-3 years. It’s so that he can be better come April. Players improve by playing, not by sitting on the bench. He has shown that he can keep up, so why not play him?

        I also think a lot of the comparisons to other players’ ice time in their rookie years are pretty misleading. First off, remember that Hodgson played in 20 games last year (8 regular season and 12 playoffs) so he’s not a raw rookie. In many ways, you can consider him a second year player.

        Kesler in 2003-04 was more comparable to Hodgson last year, not this year.

        Hodgson made the team out of training camp, with the intention of keeping him with the big club all year. That’s not the same as being a midseason call-up like a lot of the guys you listed (Burrows, Kesler, Raymond, Booth).

        Can Hodgson still be good in 2-3 years if he plays 10 minutes a night this year? Of course. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right thing to do for him or the Canucks.

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  2. john in Marpole
    December 23, 2011

    I’m so tired of the 1040/Tony Gallagher fed hysteria about Hodgeson’s icetime. Thanks for providing the numbers to put the kibosh to that insane lunacy.

    Every time I hear that Hodgeson is being treated poorly whine start up I remember this guy from way, way back who set a then record of 121 goals in 1 season in the Quebec Junior league. I saw him play a game in 1971 against the Detroit Junior Red Wings, he scored 3 goals, had an assist and a fight. The fans in the Colisee adored him, as did everyone in Quebec City. The next year, and the year after that, and much of the year following that he languished on the end of the Montreal Canadiens bench. Because, in spite of his incredible skills, he was a rookie on a very good NHL team and had to learn the pro game/wait for his opportunity.

    Guy Lafleur turned out to have a fairly decent career, in spite of treatment that would elicit silly claims from certain quarters hereabouts of the coach disliking him.

    Can someone share a link to Daniel’s post with Gallagher?

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  3. John
    December 23, 2011

    That goal reminded me of the previous goal he scored against the Red Wings in October, another blistering slapshot, also on Jimmy Howard, but about .5 seconds after the period ended.

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  4. warren
    December 23, 2011

    Good work – again. TY

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  5. REM
    December 23, 2011

    Good article. They’re bringing him along gradually because he’s playing on one of the best teams in the NHL. Were the Canucks a lesser team he’d likely get a lot more minutes, but he woudln’t have the playoff opportunity he’ll get in Vanciouver.

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  6. D to the W
    December 23, 2011

    I’ve often wondered if one of the things lowering his ice time is that he always comes on for Kesler, and Kesler extends a lot of his shifts. I remember seeing a while back that Hodgson had almost as many shifts as Kesler. I’m too lazy to check the numbers on this one, but maybe you good folks at PITB can confirm or disconfirm?

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 23, 2011

      There was a game where I noted that. He was keeping his shifts to about 30 seconds. I argued that it indicated Hodgson was complicit in keeping his icetime low. It’s mutually beneficial.

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  7. tj
    December 23, 2011

    Man, I love your posts that aim to inject reason in an oft-unreasonable fan base (lazy mixed metaphor be damned). You know, though, that many of the so-called fans whinging for Hodgson’s increased ice time will only take away that outlier stat of Higgins’? That trading of Hodgson mantra is just about the most ridiculous example of blind fandumb going.

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  8. iLovePITB
    December 23, 2011

    Wow, great post. This actually changed my mind. I was wondering and somewhat complaining about Hodgson’s ice time. Thanks for writing this! :)

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  9. Rituro
    December 23, 2011

    Another calm, collected, well-reasoned article. Well done, PITB. That said…

    “Let’s star [sic] with the biggest stars for the Canucks and, in my opinion, the greatest two Canucks of all time, Daniel and Henrik Sedin.”

    Close one can of worms, open up another. I wish you luck in defending that claim, sir.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      December 23, 2011

      I’m with Daniel on that claim. Is there anything the Sedins haven’t done that anyone else in the argument has? They’ve won scoring titles, league MVPs, led the Canucks to within a game of the Stanley Cup, been captain, contributed to the community. Plus they’re players unlike anything we’ve ever seen or likely will see again. To me, it’s hardly a debate.

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  10. Ablefish
    December 23, 2011

    Y’know, it’s funny – but I remember a lot of the early years with the Sedins where the complaints were that they were getting TOO MUCH, ice-time. And in this market, people get pretty owly if they feel that anyone is not earning what they’re getting (see LOUNGO Re: Salary). I think the ‘Sisters’ vitriol started when Crawford was playing the crap out of them early on and they were producing little more than shifts of dizzying cycles.

    While I completely agree with the article and think Hodgson’s minutes are exactly where they should be – I think one positive side-effect of it all, is that its building a lot of fan/media support for him, which is a lot more constructive than media trolls who always feel they know best how to develop NHL players.

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  11. Jayou
    December 23, 2011

    If Hodgson were to receive more top-six minutes, other top-six forwards would have to have minutes taken away. As the article points out, Hodgson is a rookie on a vet-laden team. Who exactly do the more-minutes-for-Hodgson crowd want to see minutes taken from?

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  12. Sarah
    December 23, 2011

    I watched Hodgson last year play on the Moose….I don’t why everyone assumes that playing in the AHL will give him 20mins+game time… last year he averaged the same minutes in the AHL as he currently is logging in the NHL. At least this year he gets NHL experience. This organization should trade him to a team that would appreciate his talents, and stop fucking him around!

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  13. Locky
    December 23, 2011

    The trading Hodgson argument is ridiculous I think, and I am thankful it seems to have died down. Do you think Cody might prefer to play 12 minutes on the reigning presidents trophy winner and SC finalist or 18 minutes on a disintegrating Anaheim (insert other team here)?

    Furthermore the “Detroit model” is often bandied about as a strategy for us to follow. With Hodgson we have a clear succession plan at centre for the next 6-8 years. Without him we might very well crash and burn when the two greatest Canucks of all time (:P) retire. Cody’s play over the last 20 games gives me a great deal of confidence for the future.

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  14. Anonymous
    December 23, 2011

    That’s exaqctly it, the thing is that most people are so excited about having a first round, top 10 blue chip prospect and want to see him succeed in the way many rookies are succeeding in today’s NHL. They want to see him tearing it up and showing how incredibly talented he is. They basically want him to play like he did in junior for us; they want CoHo to be in the running with people like RNH for the Calder. It’s only natural that they want him to succeed and have someone to be proud of, right? It’s just not realistic with the team we have though.

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