In an old Legion of Super-Heroes comic, a group of super-villains known as the Fatal Five sets a trap for the 31st-century teenage heroes that teleports each of them to a prison specifically designed to counteract their specific powers. Val Armorr, the master of martial arts known as Karate Kid, is teleported inside a giant, hollow diamond, which is too hard for him to break with his precise blows.
Knowing that even the most beautiful and finely cut diamond will have a flaw, and reasoning that a giant diamond will have a flaw large enough to be seen with the naked eye, he searches the inside of his prison and locates it. As his oxygen is running out, he uses the discipline of his martial arts training to focus and draw upon all of his strength for one final blow, striking the natural weak point of the diamond, shattering it and escaping.
It’s a metaphor, you see.
The Vancouver Canucks, sparkling on top of the NHL standings, are the diamond. The Canucks’ playoff opponents, who will be analysing the Canucks in great detail, looking for one fatal flaw to attack, are Karate Kid.
Prior to the trade deadline, the Canucks looked like a very good team. Many Canucks fans were under the impression that they were a flawless diamond or that if they had any flaws, they were minor and could be easily fixed with a simple trade or two. Mike Gillis and his staff, however, looked at the diamond and, like Val Armorr, apparently found a big, visible flaw. A flaw that he knew other teams would attack, potentially shattering the diamond that he spent so much time cutting, crafting, and polishing.
And Gillis knew that flaw was large enough to view with the naked eye. It’s a simple flaw: Cody Hodgson’s line was not capable of going up against tough competition. In the playoffs, the Canucks’ opponents would work to send their best players out again and again against Hodgson, attacking the Canucks’ third line with their offensive stars.
It seems to me that the Canucks were hoping that Hodgson would develop quickly into the type of player who could handle tough competition and anchor a scoring line that could also be responsible defensively. They didn’t need Hodgson to be a true checking center, but they needed him to be able to handle himself when he ended up head-to-head with the best the NHL has to offer. That situation would inevitably come up.
Unfortunately, despite facing some of the weakest competition on the team and rarely starting in the defensive zone, Hodgson was barely keeping his head above water when it came to possession. As good as Hodgson was performing for the Canucks offensively at times, and as much as the potential was there, he simply wasn’t good enough this season defensively.
This is what necessitated the acquisition of Sami Pahlsson, who is the polar opposite of Cody Hodgson. Pahlsson is a veteran, defensively-minded, checking-line centre, while Hodgson is a rookie, offensively minded, scoring centre. Combined with defensively responsible forwards like Jannik Hansen, Chris Higgins, and/or Mason Raymond, Pahlsson converts the third line back into the checking line it was last season when it was centred by one of Manny Malhotra or Maxim Lapierre.
The best part is, the Canucks still have Manny Malhotra and Maxim Lapierre, only they are now playing on the fourth line. Post-trade deadline, half of the Canucks’ bottom-six is composed of some of the best defensive centres in the NHL.
Now where is the flaw in the diamond? What line do the Canucks’ opponents attack? Last season, that flaw was the fourth line, to the point that Alain Vigneault simply could not put them on the ice with any regularity and wound up stapling them to the bench during the Stanley Cup Final despite desperately needing fresh bodies. Now opponents can’t send the top line out against the Sedins, because the Sedins will be starting in the offensive zone and cycling it for the entire shift. The second line is centred by last year’s Selke trophy winner. The third line is the checking line, the one that Vigneault wants to play against the opponents’ top line. And the fourth line provides no relief.
The question still remains, then: why did Mike Gillis trade away Cody Hodgson? Hodgson could still have played a smaller role with the team or been kept as insurance in case of injuries to the top lines. People have claimed the Hodgson trade was about the future, not the present, but I don’t think that’s true. I think Hodgson was traded primarily to improve the team in the short-term.
Hodgson wasn’t able to perform as a winger, which meant he wasn’t going to be able to fill an offensive role with the team. He wasn’t going to be the third-line centre, as Pahlsson made that line much tougher to play against. The problem then is that Hodgson isn’t suited for any other roles.
The Hodgson trade was immediately criticized by Canucks fans as it was seen as a step backward this season, when the Canucks are in contention for the Stanley Cup. Trading for a younger, unproven prospect and a defenceman who doesn’t seem to fill an immediate need (ie. a right-handed top-four defenceman) didn’t seem like the type of move that a team like the Canucks should make.
But if Hodgson wasn’t going to fill a major role with the team in the playoffs, then trading him at the height of his value makes sense. In the short-term, Zack Kassian can play on the fourth line, and Marc-Andre Gragnani provides the kind of puck-moving depth that the Canucks didn’t have prior to the deadline. For this season, the Canucks appear to be an improved team.
All of the risk is long-term risk. Where the Hodgson trade initially seems like selling the present in favour of the future, it is actually the opposite. Hodgson does seem to be the more sure thing as a prospect in the future, though Kassian has a high ceiling as a prospect and Gragnani has potential as well. Short-term, the trade actually benefits the Canucks.
Long-term, time will only tell.Tags: Cody Hodgson, Super obscure comic book references