Hodgson seems happy with his icetime; who isn’t?

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.

Alain Vigneault later explained that situation in detail:

“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.

Hodgson's season-high in icetime was 16:31 in an embarassing 5-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on November 3rd.

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.

Radek Dvorak signed with the St. Louis Blues during the 2006 offseason.

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.”

Here’s the thing: according to Dvorak, that wasn’t technically true. In an interview with Czech hockey website Hokej.cz, Dvorak said (translated):

“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.

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23 comments

  1. Tengeresz
    January 3, 2012

    Great article, and a clearly well thought out and perfectly reasoned explanation; however, this explanation makes so much sense, that I suspect it is not the whole truth.

    Never underestimate the potential of human stupidity — or give a journalist credit for complete integrity.

    As a Journalist, TG is in the business of selling advert space: controversy gets more readers (or followers, or web hits) and your referencing TG is proof that what he is doing works.

    I think some of the “Controversy” is fuelled by blatantly self-interested journos, and some is fuelled by Vancouver being a hockey-mad town that puts all things Canuck under a microscope — as stupid as the conclusions may be when losing sight of the big picture.

    That said, I think that Silent G (also known as “The Franchise”) is a great long term prospect for a strong team where the top players are entering the mature 30′s. It is in Vancouver’s interest to develop his skills carefully, and keep him as long as possible.

    One of the ways to keep a great player, is to find a way to motivate him to take a Home Town discount, so that the cap hit allows for other good players. CoHo is one of the bargains on the team right now, and that potent scoring threat on the third line makes the team a much better prospect to win the only trophy that really matters.

    Winning the Stanley Cup (or even being a contender) is a lot of motivation to take that discount. I guess a Rookie’s agent is supposed to go for the gold (coins), but I think an athlete like this one will be attracted to the gold medal (equivalent).

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    • Steeeve
      January 3, 2012

      Thanks for the careful paragraphing of your comment. Its the only reason I read the whole thing.

      Oh, and that your points are strong :)

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  2. John Andress
    January 3, 2012

    Cody Hodgson is certainly a very special player. He is second only in this years rookie class to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins in productivity per minute played (RN-H = 1/18.1 Coho 1/22.7 – Thanks Ian Esplen @ Hockeybuzz). In the long run, however, Hodgson’s greatest contribution to his team and the role that the Canucks are grooming him for is to be the playmaker and leader of this team in the post-Sedin era. His hockey smarts are manifestly obvious to any objective hockey watcher and the only thing he lacks at this point in time is experience. By giving him limited but quality minutes and surrounding him with a number of highly proficient mentors the Canucks are allowing him to learn and develop in a slightly less pressurized atmosphere. In my opinion, the organization is handling Hodgson perfectly and Tony Gallagher, whom I enjoy but often strikes me as being the Eeyore of Vancouver sports journalists, is doing exactly what Tengeresz has suggested. He is manufacturing an issue with his circulation figures in mind rather than the good of the Canucks organization. There’s a surprise, eh?

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    • Zach Morris
      January 3, 2012

      I would be insanely happy if Cody Hodgson won the Calder trophy; with the Nuge out for a week or two, Coho could take the lead in rookie scoring.
      If he won, then everybody would have to admit that the Canucks organization did a good job in growing him as a player, and maybe we wouldn’t see stories about the way the Canucks handle their players.
      I’m all for slow and steady growth if it produces results.

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  3. Chris
    January 3, 2012

    I have to say I’m completely fed up with Skeletor and his inane ramblings about Hodgson’s icetime. As PITB has pointed out in the past, his numbers are entirely in line with rookie season numbers from the Sedins and Kesler. Winter should stick to representing clients on lousy teams with nothing to lose by rushing their stars to the big-time if he can’t wait a few years for Cody to work his way up one of the deepest and most talented rosters in the league. Nothing about Cody’s body language, behaviour or demeanor suggests he is anything but happy and thrilled to be growing into his job as an NHL player with an elite team. But after all, writers don’t get paid if there’s nothing to write about, Skeletor is taking the easy route by building up his own little tempest in a teapot.

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  4. Thea Levesque
    January 3, 2012

    Great article. I was surprised by Gallagher’s diatribe on Team 1040 last week about Hodgson’s ice time. I’d heard him rant about it before but he was voicing it very strongly on that show. This makes sense to me.

    You guys write a fantastic column/blog – well thought out, extremely well written, often very, very funny and sometimes just plain weird (in a good way of course). With the melodrama and needless inflammatory (non)issue raising by much of the Vancouver Sports media – it is refreshing to be able to read Pass it to Bulis.

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    • The Bookie
      January 4, 2012

      I come for the linkage and the obscure 80s/90s pop culture references, but I stay for the deep philosophical musings on the nature of men with sticks.

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  5. Tom anon179841054
    January 3, 2012

    Does anyone actually expect one of Alain Vigneault’s players to ever complain about anything including his ice time? If he did he would be sent to the infamous AV doghouse in an instant and probably only get out when he is traded or sent to the minors.

    We’ll see how smart this BRILLIANT idea of playing some players like Kesler and the Sedins excess ice time actually works out after another long season is over and the playoffs begin. If they aren’t injured or overdone potatoes by then it might work out—or not.

    Same idea in goal. The supposedly 2 goalies are actually a 1.9 goalie and a dust laden .01 goalie.
    Perhaps the 1.9 will be too tired in May and the .01 will be too rusty.

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    • John Andress
      January 3, 2012

      This baseless negativity sounds suspiciously like that of Tom1040 who posts in the comments sections of Province articles and whose points are invariably the same – Mike Gillis stinks, Alan Vigneault stinks and Roberto Luongo stinks. Factual or statistical evidence to the contrary is ignored, reality playing no part in the hockey philosophies of this commentator. Anyone who disagrees is a homer and a whiner. I hope hope that we are not dealing with the same individual here as the posts and comments are generally speaking on a far higher level than mere negativity.

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    • Jason
      January 4, 2012

      Yeah, the nerve of the Canucks playing their top two lines top-two-line minutes. Obviously they would be better off keeping the Sedins and Kesler in the press box until the playoffs, so they are fresh.
      Oh, and if I’m going to nitpick here… your suggestions are about as good as your math. Quick, grab a calculator… what does 1.9 + .01 actually add up to? Who’s the other .09 of a goalie?

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  6. J21
    January 3, 2012

    You do have to at least consider the idea that Hodgson is being polite and, in fact, is not happy with his ice time. It wouldn’t be that zany a theory, although I do trust that he’s being relatively honest here.

    Complaints about ice-time are similar to complaints about production (or complaints about less than 100% results/effort), in that the fans don’t really seem to appreciate the zero sum nature of everything in sports. As you note, More Hodgson means less Henrik/Kesler, which doesn’t seem very realistic.

    By analogy, when fans expect every guy who has ever scored 20 goals or 50 points to score 20 goals or 50 points in a given season all at the same time (and labelling them underachievers when they don’t), they are asking for the team to be the best offensive team of the modern era by a country mile, because one guy playing means that almost everyone else isn’t. And ergo, more production from one guy pretty much automatically means less from whoever else he is getting the icetime/PP time/sheltered minutes, etc. from.

    Just as so many fans don’t understand that, many don’t understand the even simpler question of ice time, methinks. It all comes down to one puck and only ten skaters on the ice seriously limiting what can actually happen in a hockey game.

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  7. J21
    January 3, 2012

    Oh also, Cam Charron has an interesting take on this question today, too:

    http://www.nucksmisconduct.com/2012/1/3/2678689/tuesdays-numbers-what-are-codys-minutes

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  8. akidd
    January 3, 2012

    very good points everyone, daniel and commenters. i guess a few less minutes per game is the price you pay for not being left to fend for yourself like rick nash. it seems like the whole town is crazy about ‘g’ . and for good reason. not only does he produce but he seems to turn it up when the game is tight, like last night, which is what special players do. now if he can just get those faceoffs going….

    i hope that cody can see the big picture. if he stays healthy he will be a mutli-millionaire regardless of where he plays. a few million here or there won’t make much difference to him. but if he wants to leave a legacy then he should stick with canucks, win some cups and wear the “C” one day.

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  9. Himongi
    January 3, 2012

    I feel that the Canucks are managing Cody Hodgson very effectively. In the early fledgeling history of the Vancouver Canucks, top draft picks would be thrust into the lineup to make an immediate impact on a losing franchise (see Neely, Linden, etc). While Linden was able to overcome the pressure and become an everyday effective player, Neely sat on the bench and was eventually traded to the Boston Bruins.

    Finally, after 40 seasons, the Canucks are in the position to bring on young talent in a winning, non-pressure environment in a hockey mad market, where a microphones and cameras won’t be the first in his mug after a loss. The cameras instead turn to the veterans like Bieksa, Henrik, Luongo. Hodgson is in a win win situation where if he succeeds, it’s a bonus, and if he doesn’t succeed, there are 2 all stars ahead of him that are paid to produce and take the heat. Hodgson the opportunity to be part of winning team and to learn from two of the best, arguably, centremen in the game.

    Think about the last two teams that have won the Stanley Cup- The Blackhawks and the Bruins. Each of those teams had 3 lines that could score. It was the likes of Bolland and Versteeg that in 2010 Playoffs and the likes of Marchand and Peverly in 2011 Playoffs. Now the Canucks, when healthy, have options that include Hodgson, Booth, and Raymond, which should be an upgrade on Malhotra and Torres.

    Anyway… my 2 cents here…

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  10. matthanlon
    January 3, 2012

    I honestly don’t have a problem with Cody’s ice-time it’s only his rookie season and there’s no need to rush his development and as you said with kesler and the twins ahead of him in depth chart there’s really little to no wiggle room for him to gain any minutes.

    I believe come next season Cody will have a larger role with the team, I’m not sure what but i expect him to have a larger role

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  11. ziffel
    January 3, 2012

    Gallagher has been lobbying so hard for Hodgson that earlier in the year some responder wondered if Hodgson’s Mom was writing the articles. Or is Gallagher getting some serious kickbacks from Rich Winters. At any rate good article. I think Hodgson is going to be a great NHL star in a few years BUT he’s not there yet. His skating really has to improve, he needs to get stronger and he needs to learn the NHL game better. Gillis and Vigneault are doing a great job managing him.

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    • Daniel Wagner
      January 3, 2012

      I just think Gallagher is looking for an interesting story. No conspiracy, nothing like that. Just a writer looking for a story to write.

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      • akidd
        January 4, 2012

        sure, daniel. but if gallagher and rich winters really are ‘scratching each other’s backs’ as speculated upon then perhaps gallagher crossed the line by saying the canucks were in danger of losing the kid. besides being rather unethical it’s also an empty threat. i highly doubt the canucks would do a turris. it’s more likely that hodgson demanding a trade would result in him fending off wild dogs in russian streets for awhile. any hardball would just give him a bad rep. he’s had enough re-starts. he certainly doesn’t need another just yet.

        no, i believe him when he says he’s happy. he’s part of that team, part of the guys. when bieksa tweets about him hovering it’s because he likes him. same goes for manny taking him shopping. he’s fitting in. you can see it on his face that he’s having the time of his life. he won’t be demanding any trade. more likely he’ll be changing agents if need be.

        but if AV wants to give him a few extra shifts on the wing when earned, well…that can’t hurt either.

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      • john in Marpole
        January 4, 2012

        You may be correct that Gallagher is just generating hits on the provice web site, however for him to state he knows something to be a fact should mean, should it not, that he has heard that information from a direct source?

        That being the case, the odds are that the information came from Winters, and Gallagher is allowing himself to be used as a mouthpiece, without attribution as to the source. That would serve Winter’s purposes as he isn’t seen in the press as threatening Canuck management, which would in turn relflect poory – in some folks eyes – on Cody.

        And, as was the case with Dvorak, Hodgeson may have no knowledge of the confrontational position his agent is taking with the Canucks.

        Hodgeson is a first year NHL regular. He has to much better skilled experienced players in front of him in the lineup. He plays an appropriate amount of time considering that situation, and only an idiot/journalist with the need to generate readership with tabloid-style histonics and unsupported claims would take issue with those facts.

        Give Gallagher some credit – he also generates plenty of topics for discussion on PITB, which isn’t a bad thing at all.

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  12. Anonymoose
    January 4, 2012

    I think most fans are angry because Hodgson is a Calder capable rookie on a stacked team, making earning points and +/- that much easier – and yet he’s got near no chance to win it due to limitations on his ice time and teamates compared to other rookies this year like Nuge, Read, Henrique…
    The fact is: Calder trophy means shit – they HAVE to award one every year, even if there weren’t standouts or multiple players were just as good… Past winners do not represent a successful or even long career. The list of amazing players who did not win the award grows every year, and the only thing a Calder guarantees is pretty much an inflated contract… something we’re hoping we can avoid with Cody in ’13-14.

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  13. Starfish
    January 4, 2012

    The best non IWTG read, including comments, for some time. thank you Daniel and others. CoHo is right where he should be.

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  14. Rob
    January 4, 2012

    Did anyone hear Tony last week on 1040 saying that Higgins’ infection problems were mishandled by the team and the doctors, and may be career threatening? I thought this showed great ignorance of the medical issue, as well as his proclivity to go too far with opinions not necessarily based on facts.

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  15. John in Marpole
    January 4, 2012

    The most shocking bit of information in the post? That Gallagher is a VP of the PHWA. That’s like putting Dave Pratt on a committe overseeing journalistic ethics.

    It’s clear that 40+ years of covering hockey is no assurance of gaining knowledge about the game. I’ve watched rockets fly into space even longer than that, and can’t build a space ship myself, so pehaps I’m asking too much for a reporter to actually have insight into the game he covers with that long a history in the role.

    As I recall there was a bit of a flurry of comments and non-denials of Gallagher being consulted by ownership when Gillis was hired as GM. Gallagher has a history of inserting himself between players and team management (see: Bure, Pavel and Bertuzzi, Todd for historical references) and he has always bent over backward to side with agents/the NHLPA, so it is of little surprise that he’d act as a mouthpiece for an agent like Winters with a history of using the media as a bargaining tool.

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