Heading into the trade deadline, Mike Gillis was expected to be active. It looked like the Canucks, who are currently first place in the NHL, just needed to make a minor move or two to address issues of depth. Instead, Mike Gillis made arguably the biggest trade of the deadline, sending Calder candidate Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for burgeoning power forward Zack Kassian.
The move was shocking: there had been little indication that Hodgson was the block and Zack Kassian wasn’t on anyone’s radar in Vancouver. But it wasn’t the only trade that the Canucks made and, when taken as a whole, they do make sense. Let’s take a look.
To Vancouver: Sami Pahlsson
To Columbus: Taylor Ellington and Two 4th round draft picks
This trade has to be considered a great deal for the Canucks, even though Pahlsson is an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Ellington wasn’t able to stick in the AHL and was on his third ECHL season with very little indication that he was ever going to play even a single game for the Canucks. As for 4th round draft picks, fewer than 8% of players picked in the 4th round make the NHL.
That’s all they’re giving up. What they’re getting is a very good checking center, who made his name in the Anaheim Ducks’ 2006-07 playoff run, shutting down the top opposition forwards on a line with Rob Niedermayer and Travis Moen. Pahlsson is one of the few players in the league who comes even close to the Canucks’ fourth line in terms of starting in the defensive zone, and manages to put up better possession numbers than either Maxim Lapierre or Manny Malhotra.
Pahlsson is also respectable on faceoffs, giving the Canucks yet another center who is better than 50% in the circle. He leads all Blue Jackets’ forwards in shorthanded ice time (and while the Columbus penalty kill is the worst in the league, much of the blame for that has to go on Steve Mason’s league-worst .794 save percentage shorthanded).
The trade makes the Canucks immediately tougher to play against and better defensively.
Pahlsson also has 81 games of playoff experience under his belt and has played with the Sedins on the Swedish national team, which will hopefully help him feel comfortable in the locker room right away. As a side benefit, they prevented another Western Conference team from acquiring him as he has had success in the past at shutting down the Sedins.
To Vancouver: Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani
To Buffalo: Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer
This was the shocker: Hodgson and Kassian were both highly-regarded prospects not that long ago and Hodgson had graduated to a full-fledged, contributing NHL forward. Hodgson had given the Canucks a different look, as the team had turned their fourth line into a checking line and converted the third line into a scoring line, with Hodgson as the linchpin. We at PITB thought that the Canucks wouldn’t trade Hodgson, thinking that they wanted to have that scoring depth in the playoffs.
We were wrong. Wrong wrong wrong. Instead, they went out and acquired the highly sought-after Zack Kassian and defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani from the Sabres.
What Kassian and Hodgson have in common is that they were both first round draft picks that fell slightly on draft day. The comparison ends right about there. Hodgson is an intelligent and skilled two-way centre still rounding out the defensive side of his game, while Zack Kassian is a prototypical powerforward, a 6’3″, 200+ lb winger with a healthy dose of skill.
Kassian has been compared to Milan Lucic, Cam Neely, and Todd Bertuzzi; if his development follows along those lines and he becomes a top line power forward, this deal will be huge for the Canucks. They simply do not have a player like Kassian in the organization, mainly because players like him are extremely rare. It’s not just the combination of size and skill, it’s his willingness to apply that size. Kassian is known for his devastating hits, some of which have crossed the line in the past.
The question, however, is whether this helps the team now. After all, the Canucks are a contender for the Stanley Cup and sending out Hodgson’s scoring for a player who has played just 27 games in the NHL this season is a tough sell. But there are a couple reasons this trade makes sense for this season.
First, Hodgson’s scoring had dried up recently, as he had just 3 points in his last 13 games after a very productive January. As good as Hodgson has been at times, he has had issues with streakiness, which is expected for a rookie forward. Zack Kassian provides something entirely different, as he can still contribute physically when he is not scoring. Kassian could potentially skate on the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th line and contribute.
Second, the trade includes a talented young defenceman in Marc-Andre Gragnani, who led the Sabres in Relative Corsi and was one of only four Sabres with a positive plus/minus at plus-10 (admittedly against relatively easy competition). Defensive depth ended up being an issue during the Stanley Cup Final, as rookie Chris Tanev needed to step in with Dan Hamhuis injured and Aaron Rome suspended. Considering that Keith Ballard is out indefinitely, the inclusion of Gragnani in the deal should not be underestimated.
As Harrison said at Puck Daddy, “[Gragnani] may flourish in a system that can make Christian Ehrhoff look like he’s worth $40 million.”
Third, the addition of Sami Pahlsson means that the Canucks have a wealth of centres, all of whom are more defensively responsible than Hodgson. It is likely that Pahlsson will center either Hansen and Higgins or Hansen and Raymond, turning the third line once more into a checking line, but one that can quickly transition the puck up ice to create offence. We have seen that Alain Vigneault is hesitant to use Hodgson in the defensive zone, which could potentially have been a liability in the playoffs. The acquisition of Pahlsson and Gragnani is realy what makes this trade work in the short-term.
Hodgson is absolutely a big loss for the Canucks, but in order to get Zack Kassian out of Buffalo, it was necessary to pay a high price. The addition of Gragnani to the deal lessens the short-term blow and the addition of Pahlsson without losing any roster players fills the position of third-line centre. The Canucks took a risk and it may cost them, but it’s entirely possible that this might be one of those rare trades where both teams benefit equally. Or heck, maybe Hodgson struggles under a coach that doesn’t shelter him.
To Vancouver: Andrew Gordon
To Anaheim: Sebastian Erixon
After the gut-punch of the Hodgson trade, this trade was entirely anti-climactic and may have flown under the radar. More was expected from Erixon in his first year in North America, but he struggled to adapt to the North American game, partly due to his smaller stature. He had 8 points in 30 games in the AHL and was a minus-6.
Andrew Gordon is 26 and is a point-per-game player in the AHL. He has played 37 games with the Ducks this season and 49 games in his NHL career. He has 5 points this season and is minus-5. The advanced stats aren’t too friendly to him either, as he has started mainly in the offensive zone against weak opposition, but has poor puck possession statistics. It’s possible that he will be a Jason Krog-type of player — dominant at the AHL level, but unable to stick in the NHL. At 26, his opportunities may be running out.
This looks like a change-of-scenery type of trade. It seems like neither team was satisfied with their prospect and swapped them to see what a new city might do.
It’s also important to note that the Wolves have had many injuries recently and could use some help at forward. With Byron Bitz on his way back down to the Wolves, Chicago will likely welcome both reinforcements with open arms.Tags: Alexander Sulzer, Andrew Gordon, Blue Jackets, Canucks, Cody Hodgson, Ducks, Marc-Andre Gragnani, Sabres, Sami Pahlsson, Sebastian Erixon, Zack Kassian