On Monday, Cody Hodgson was named the game’s first star after netting a goal and an assist against the Sharks. The rookie has 7 points in his last 8 games and is quietly putting together a very successful rookie campaign. The 21-year-old centre has appeared in all 40 games for the Canucks, putting up 22 points, primarily from the third line. His addition has allowed the Canucks’ to ice three scoring lines, while making the second powerplay unit legitimately dangerous for the first time since Ryan Kesler was promoted to play alongside the Sedins.
The talk about Hodgson, however, hasn’t been his point production; it’s been his ice time. Hodgson is averaging just 12-and-a-half minutes per night, which has a number of Canucks fans upset, thinking that Alain Vigneault is mismanaging the talents of the 10th overall pick in the 2008 NHL Entry Draft.
In fact, the only person who doesn’t seem to have a problem with Hodgson’s ice time is Hodgson himself.
Before the December 29th game against the Anaheim Ducks in which Hodgson scored a goal in just 11-and-a-half minutes of icetime, he was asked about his limited role. He responded:
“Like I have said all along, I am happy to be playing. I’m playing with some good linemates and enjoying playing the game. That hasn’t changed regardless of how much I play or where I play or that kind of stuff. I’m just happy to contribute whatever way I can.”
That sounds like a mature young player who is satisfied with playing a role on one of the top teams in the NHL and understands his situation.
“I am not going to drop Hank’s minutes down. I hope I am not that dumb. And I am not going to drop Ryan’s minutes down. That is the reality of our situation.”
The fact is that in order for Hodgson to get more icetime, Vigneault would either have to reduce the icetime of his Art Ross winner, his Selke winner, or take time away from the checking duo of Maxim Lapierre and Manny Malhotra, who have played the tough minutes in the defensive zone that allow the scoring lines to thrive. None of those options would make the Canucks a better team.
So if Hodgson is satisfied and the Canucks would be worse off if Hodgson saw more icetime, what is the source of the complaints?
One of the loudest advocates for increasing Hodgson’s icetime has been Tony Gallagher, who has made the topic one of his main talking points on the Team 1040, during intermissions on Sportsnet, and on his Twitter account. I do not, however, think that he is the primary source of the complaint, though his advocacy has certainly influenced a wide swath of Canucks fans.
I would suggest instead that the source is Ritch Winter, Hodgson’s agent.
Gallagher’s most incendiary diatribe on the subject came during the December 28th pre-game show on the Team 1040 leading into a date with the San Jose Sharks. With Hodgson centring the just-called-up Mark Mancari and Andrew Ebbett, Gallagher opined that this was a demotion and that he would be unlikely to receive as much icetime as Malhotra and Lapierre. This was certainly the case, as the need for strong defensive play against the Sharks outweighed the possibility of offensive production from the hastily constructed “third line.”
That’s when things got interesting, as Gallagher seemed to step away from just giving his own opinion:
I think the Canucks are really playing with fire. In fact, I know they’re playing with fire with this business of what they’re doing to Hodgson. They may not have to accede to demands to be traded, if in fact they come, but you don’t want to be messing around.
Once a player starts doing that, starts asking, if you’ve gotta say no, then you’re starting to really sour the relationship and I don’t think they want to go there. They are perilously close to that kind of situation. I mean, if I had been Cody’s agent I would have been asking long ago. They have been way more than patient.
Gallagher has been covering the NHL for 40 years and is the vice-president of the Professional Hockey Writers Association; his connections and sources are nearly unparalleled in the hockey world. His comments, particularly his claim that he knows that the Canucks are “playing with fire,” suggest that he has a source. But that source isn’t Hodgson, who claims he’s happy with his icetime, so who is it?
The most likely candidate is Winter, particularly when you consider Gallagher’s comments near the end that Hodgson’s agency group has been “way more than patient.”
It certainly wouldn’t be the first time that an NHL agent has been strategically forthcoming with the media in the hopes of improving a client’s position. Nor would it be the first time an agent has contradicted his client. It wouldn’t even be the first time Ritch Winter specifically has contradicted a client.
Back in the summer of 2006, Radek Dvorak was coming off a 28-point season with the Edmonton Oilers while battling an injury, a step down from his 50 points the previous season. His agent, Ritch Winter, reported to the Edmonton Journal that Dvorak had “No interest in returning. He would like to pursue other opportunities.”
“I hear from [journalist] Peter Adler that my agent Ritch Winter told the Edmonton Journal that I do not want to play for Edmonton. I don’t know why he said it and he’ll have to explain it to me. Obviously, it must be a part of his negotiating strategy. I’ve never said anything like this, I love Edmonton, and I would never say anything bad about a team where I’d worked.”
The key phrase there is “negotiating strategy.” Winter’s first priority to his clients is to negotiate the best possible contract in the best possible situation. Hodgson is a marquee client with massive potential to earn a lot of money in his career.
As a convenient side effect, this would earn Ritch Winter and The Sports Corporation a tidy sum as well.
In the Dvorak situation, Winter played the role of the bad cop, playing hardball in order to get the best possible deal. Meanwhile, Dvorak is innocent of any wrongdoing and he shows his value as a professional: he would “never say anything bad about a team where I’d worked.” Edmonton fans, management, and players can safely blame Winter, while Dvorak can still be liked and respected.
Is this a similar situation?
Two of the players picked before Hodgson in 2008 have already signed massive extensions. Steven Stamkos signed a 5-year, $37.5 million contract with the Lightning, while Drew Doughty held out on the LA Kings this September in order to sign an 8-year, $56 million contract. Those players, however, are playing a starring role on their respective teams. In order for Hodgson to receive a big payday on his next contract, he can’t just be a productive third line centre; he needs to be a star. It’s awfully difficult to be the star of your team with two all-stars ahead of you on the depth chart.
If Winter can put pressure on the Canucks to trade Hodgson to a team where he would be a star, he’ll do it. Alternately, if he can get them to increase Hodgson’s role with the Canucks, he’ll do that. His first priority isn’t for Hodgson’s team to win games, it’s to put Hodgson in a position to succeed individually to improve his negotiating position for the next contract.
There’s nothing wrong with that either; it’s just his job.Tags: Cody Hodgson, controversy, icetime, wild theories