The real winner in the Cody Hodgson trade was Alexander Sulzer

A quick perusal of the comments section on our recent Cody Hodgson trade post shows that it wasn’t quite well-received. There were two predominant criticisms: 1) Cody Hodgson is God, and 2) Alex Sulzer is twice as God. I suspect there’s no convincing those of you who espouse the former, so let’s jump straight to the latter.

Several people objected to my (conscious) choice to ignore the back half of the deal, the D-for-D swap of Alexander Sulzer for Marc-Andre Gragnani. After all, this part looks like a massive win for Buffalo as well. Sulzer has been the most prolific scorer of the four men moved, with 9 points in 15 games and 5 points in his last 3. Who in the Sam Hill saw that coming?

Canuck fans are up in arms. You’d think Sulzer was dipped in the River Styx on his way to Buffalo. But if he was, someone was holding him by his defence.

Consider the Sabres’ recent, 6-5 overtime victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs, a game they were lucky to win. (For example, they were down by two twice, but they were playing the Leafs. That’s lucky.)

Now, Sulzer had 2 goals and 1 assist in this game, but he was actually on the ice for 7 goals — 4 for Buffalo and 3 for Toronto. And of those 3 goals against, he was directly responsible for 2.

Here’s Joey Crabb’s tally, which made it 4-2 for Toronto. Just as he was in Vancouver, Sulzer is no. 52.

Why yes, that is Sulzer being ever-so-gently nudged out of the way so Clarke MacArthur can score. You can’t hear it, but MacArthur says “excuse me, sir” when he arrives at the crease. Seriously, there are hoarders that think Sulzer was easy to move.

Fortunately, the Sabres were able to get that one back pretty quickly. And then this happened: Again, keep your eyes on no. 52.

Yes, you did indeed just see Sulzer get absolutely embarrassed by rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner.

Now, I could probably find video of pretty much anybody making a bad defensive play, because it happens. And, again, Sulzer gave the Sabres’ 3 points and even got the Gardiner goal back only 4 minutes later.

But these aren’t just defensive gaffes — they’re high-level defensive cluster[swears] that led to the Sabres going down by 2 goals twice in the 3rd period of a game they had to win.

And yet, Canuck fans are wondering why Alain Vigneault didn’t want to play Sulzer, and why the team was okay letting him go before the games really start to mean something.

One more thing: let’s not react as though Sulzer’s 9 points in Buffalo were 9 points he would have gotten in Vancouver. Sulzer left a depth chart on which he was the 8th defenceman and landed on a depth chart on which he was a borderline top-4. Potentially season-ending injuries to Tyler Myers and Christian Ehrhoff thrust him even further up the ranks. He’s currently playing on the top pair with Jordan Leopold.

Now, it’s entirely possible that this really is Sulzer’s coming-out party. But it’s also quite possible that Sulzer is experiencing what we might call “The Baumgartner effect”, which occurs when a borderline NHLer suddenly looks like a stud because injuries to the studs lower the curve. Recall that Nolan Baumgartner, now the captain of the Chicago Wolves and an emergency option at best in the NHL, put up 34 points in 2005-06 after injuries to Ed Jovanovski and Sami Salo earned him a promotion to the top four and the powerplay. (Subsequently, these injuries also brought Kevin Bieksa up to the bigs, there to stay.)

In case it wasn’t clear that injuries and a small sample size can make a guy look better than he is, this was the same season that Ottawa Senators’ third-string goalie Alex Auld won the Canucks’ team MVP award.

All of this said, I think it’s safe to say the real winner in the Cody Hodgson trade was Alex Sulzer, who closes out a contract year with a plethora of points in a perfect situation, and will likely earn a better contract than he deserves as a result. Hooray for Sulzer!

One final note: please don’t misunderstand our three most recent posts. We’re not claiming the Canucks won the Cody Hodgson trade at all. We’re just pointing out that looking only at offensive production yields a skewed perception of it. From a defensive standpoint, the Canucks aren’t regretting the deal in the slightest.

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28 comments

  1. Brent
    April 5, 2012

    And to think that when the trade happened I thought that they didn’t have a bag of pucks to throw in the trade, so they gave them Sulzer.

    Seriously though, glad to see him getting more ice time and getting some points.

    So what body part houses the “defence” in regards to being dipped in the Styx? Although I am not entirely sure I want to know.

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  2. Warpstone
    April 5, 2012

    The backhalf of the trade is really interesting, because Sulzer and Gragnani are examples of how different players need different fits in which to thrive.

    Gragnani is not a top-4 guy but has offensive skills that are useful on a team with deep blueline. Sulzer is not careful enough to pass AV’s reliability test, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have serviceable skills.

    Hockey players aren’t video game characters with defined skill numbers. They have situations in which they are more or less likely to excel in than others.

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    • RG
      April 5, 2012

      Please don’t judge MAG just yet. After all, he’s got less than a full NHL season under his belt. He might evolve into a top 4 guy with his offensive skillset. He’s good to have in the organization for the near future (look 2-3 years ahead?). Look at the likes of Brian Campbell, Mike Green and Erik Karlsson. It took them awhile to come into their own, and they still can’t play defense.

      ;)

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      • Mitsu
        April 6, 2012

        Karlsson is solid in his own end. Not fantastic, but definitely not a liability.

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  3. Cam Charron
    April 5, 2012

    According to mine and Thom’s data, Sulzer had an awful scoring chance differential. These things aren’t coincidences. Like Hodgson, the offence is there, but the defence isn’t NHL-level.

    I know we rag on Gragnani a lot, but he’s actually come out ahead in scoring chances since coming over from Buffalo.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 5, 2012

      So you’re saying, according to regular stats, Buffalo is coming out ahead, and according to advanced stats, the Canucks are? This is going to get very, very heated.

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      • Cam Charron
        April 5, 2012

        It will come down to Kassian’s development. The funny thing is that none of the players involved in the trade are really “good” by advanced measures but it generated a lot of buzz because ‘why not’.

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  4. J21
    April 5, 2012

    There were two predominant criticisms: 1) Cody Hodgson is God, and 2) Alex Sulzer is twice as God.

    I know you’re kidding, but that wasn’t really the theme of the critical comments so much as (1) just as it’s too early to comment on Kassian’s offense, it’s too early to comment on Hodgson’s defense, and (2) couldn’t the Canucks have gotten more?

    I don’t think anyone is all that choked up about Sulzer, so much as finding it curious that he is outscoring everyone else involved. If it were Gragnani putting up loads of unexpected points, even if being an adventure defensively, you can be sure it would get a lot of attention too.

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    • Harrison Mooney
      April 5, 2012

      No argument here. And yes, I was most assuredly kidding. More than anything, I just wanted to establish that playing crap defence gets you run out of Alain Vigneault’s town.

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      • Brent
        April 5, 2012

        What’s his towns’ name? Defenceville?

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        • Harrison Mooney
          April 5, 2012

          Vigneaultopia.

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          • Britt
            April 5, 2012

            Where it rains lozenges.

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      • J21
        April 5, 2012

        As someone sitting in Gatineau this very moment, it’s not always the worst thing in the world to get run out of here and go to Ottawa.

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        • RG
          April 5, 2012

          It’s a long weekend. My thoughts are on beer.

          Depanneurs +SAQ beat Beer Store + LCBO any day, so Gatineau 1, Ottawa 0.

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          • J21
            April 5, 2012

            For wine it’s probably a wash. For beer, LCBO has waaaay more selection. And BC puts both way to shame.

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            • RG
              April 5, 2012

              Wine, tie game. Beer, LCBO has selection but Quebec takes it solely by selling Dieu du Ciel.

              But you are correct – BC shows these eastern suckers how beer is made.

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  5. akidd
    April 5, 2012

    “Seriously, there are hoarders that think Sulzer was easy to move. ”

    funny.

    and personally, i haven’t heard any crying over the loss of sulzer. it’s a small sample size again but i’ve liked grags potential. sulzer never really ‘moved me’ . sulzer remained way down the depth chart imo, behind alberts. grags seems to make more things happen. plus he’s totally stoked to be here.

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  6. the real bob
    April 5, 2012

    both are winners, because they both got more ice time

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  7. juandesooka
    April 5, 2012

    As far as Vignault goes, I’m not strongly in the for or against camp. Though I lean towards for, hard to argue with the most successful canucks team ever, whether he’s directly or indirectly responsible, he certainly contributes.

    But you know, reading this post and thinking about it … it is pretty cool to realize we finally have a team where “good enough” won’t cut it. Players either buy in fully to the system and commit to it, or they are gone. And at the top of the list is defensive responsiblity: back-checking, good positional play, and don’t make stupid decisions. Or you ride the pine.

    It occurs to me that this is one of those features that separates ok/adequate teams from great/elite teams … thinking of the Detroit dynasty as an example. Unwavering attention to detail and complete commitment to the plan. That commitment is seen organization-wide, from the coach to the GM to the PR dept, and down to what players say in their interviews. Thinking about it … this is the most on-task focused Canucks team I can recall in the 40 years or so of watching.

    You aren’t going to win them all, no matter what, and I’ll try to be happy no matter what happens in this year’s playoffs … but this is the closest we’ve ever had to a team that is built to win. Wow.

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    • CthulhuBob
      April 5, 2012

      I agree wholeheartedly with your assessment of our team. But my question is…how do we convince the fans of this? (I’m looking at you booing grumpy fans from last game *glare*)

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    • Nee
      April 5, 2012

      Great post. It’s pretty cool to see what this organization has become. They are committed to excellence, from the locker room to the front office.

      It helps that we have one hell of a talented team and a strong leadership core. But yeah, it’s nice that there has been a buy-in at every level. I have absolute faith that those guys in the locker room, our coach, and GM are committed to winning.

      And that hasn’t always been the case.

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  8. sarah
    April 5, 2012

    You’re allowed to say bad words. We know what they are.

    I’m really only sad to see Sulzer go because I think the team could always use more ging- ah, red heads.

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  9. Micheal
    April 6, 2012

    I will always appreciate what Baumer does, and has done for this organization though. He does such a great job of mentoring our young players.

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  10. shoes
    April 6, 2012

    Some good posts here. And it is useful to remember that we the fans……don’t know everything and in some cases anything about the behind the scenes of any given trade, whether it be off-ice or on-ice quirks or issues. We get to see the obvious and even then objectivity blinds the faithful.

    One thing is certain…..Kassian and MAG will get more playoff experience than Hodgson or Sulzer even if from the end of the bench. AND it is also certain that Buffalo was knocking at playoffs door when they made the trade AND as of last night they realized the Inn was full and are left standing at the door. So in spite of the fact Sulzer became one of the premiere D-men in their lineup they went nowhere different than they would have without him….or so it appears. Fact is……this game of hockey is much more difficult than it looks.

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  11. Earl MArtin
    April 6, 2012

    From a Canucks perspective I think the encouraging thing about Gragnanj is that his mistakes are mental, not physical. He can learn the defensive end, but if he didn’t have the physical capabilities there’d be no reason for optimism. I think with Sulzer what you see is what you’ll get, but there’s upside with Gragnani. And with the Zack/Cody part of the trade think about where Cody was a year ago.

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    • Tomas
      April 6, 2012

      It’s hard to say much with certainty about Sulzer’s potential I think, due to the fact that he has never really played that much on an NHL level anywhere – though one could argue that that in itself says something.

      But one thing you can say with quite a level of confidence is that he was never going to really be in play in Vancouver barring a domino like string of injuries, so he was basically just occupying an emergency roster spot.

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  12. obituary mambo
    April 7, 2012

    Is it just me or does Miller turn and glare death daggers at where he expects Sulzer to be after the goal has been scored, knowing how epically he just screwed up?

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  13. SteveB
    April 8, 2012

    Alex Sulzer was my favourite Canuck.
    /true fakt

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