Considering when news of Cody Hodgson’s trade to Buffalo broke — at around 12:30 PST, well after the trade deadline had passed — you could be forgiven for thinking it was a last-minute deal, like the one that brought Chris Higgins to the team at the 2011 cutoff. And, after Hodgson’s agent Ritch Winter claimed in the aftermath that he and Hodgson had met with the Canucks the weekend prior about icetime, you might even think it was a kneejerk move.
But on Tuesday morning at Mike Gillis’s season wrap-up presser, the Canucks’ GM had some interesting things to say about the circumstances surrounding Hodgson’s departure. Most notably, while he never quite said it, it’s apparent that even if Buffalo didn’t get onboard until later, the team had been working on a Hodgson deal since December at least.
Remember how Hodgson’s teammates gave him an off-ice makeover? Turns out the coaching staff gave him one too.
In case it’s not yet clear, Hodgson’s camp was difficult to please. For years, we heard that there were problems with the way the Canucks were handling the young centre, and even if there weren’t, Hodgson’s camp strongly felt otherwise. After remaining mum about the subject at the deadline, Gillis finally elaborated on that Tuesday:
There’s a lot that goes into that. At the end of the day, I chose not to speak about what happened behind the scenes because I expect our players to come in and have the opportunity to speak to me without it being made public. There clearly were issues that were ongoing. I spent more time with Cody’s issues than every other player combined for the last 3 years. We made a determination that he didn’t want to be here.
But just when did the Canucks make this determination? I’d argue that it was sometime in December.
You may recall Hodgson’s monster January, a streak during which he put up 6 goals and 4 assists, picked up an “NHL Rookie of the Month” Award, briefly waded into the Calder trophy discussion, and won the hearts of nearly the entire Vancouver fanbase in the process. It was his coming-out party, the month Canuck nation decided that, not only was this Hodgson kid was going to work out after all, but he was going to be an absolute stud.
You may also recall that Thomas Drance took a very close look at Hodgson’s numbers and determined that they were inflated based on some curious changes to his usage. Quietly, his icetime spiked by 2 minutes and his offensive zone start percentage went from 33% in December to 83% in January — a higher rate than even the Sedins, the league leaders in offensive zone deployment.
As it turns out, this deployment wasn’t just done to capitalize on Hodgson’s offensive abilities and get him away from his defensive weaknesses. It done to make him look attractive to potential buyers, the hockey equivalent of staging a home. Gillis again:
We built him into something we could move. We put Cody on the ice in every offensive situation we could, I don’t think he took more than 5 or 6 defensive zone faceoffs. That was by design. I don’t regret that move and I’d do it again.
Sure enough, Hodgson’s value skyrocketed, to the point where the Canucks were able to get one of the 6 players they had determined some time ago they would swap for Hodgson if he ever became available. That was Zack Kassian.
We know the Canucks use advanced statistics, but this adds a very intriguing dimension to how they use them and what they use them for. From Canucks Army:
So now we know something else, and it’s something very interesting. Not only do the Canucks use advanced stats when thinking about what personnel to add, but they consider how they can use their “edge” in understanding, to inflate player value on the trade market.
Considering what Kassian contributed to the Canucks this year (to wit: nothing, apart from this badass photo), all of this is likely to make many roll their eyes. The Canucks inflated Hodgson’s value so they could get Zack Kassian? That’s a lark. But keep in mind that your high opinion of Hodgson is informed largely by his illusory January. Tasked with playing at both ends of the ice in Buffalo, Hodgson struggled mightily down the stretch.
And let’s not give up on Kassian just yet. Power forwards take longer to develop, and Kassian’s 2011-12 season was his first taste of hockey at the NHL level. Consider Hodgson’s mediocre showings in 2010-11, after which many Canuck fans called the centre a bust. Now many of those same fans are leading the uproar over his trade. Kassian has plenty of time to grow into a contributor, especially with his first full season as a Canuck lying ahead.
If he can, fans may stop bemoaning what the Canucks did in February and start appreciating what they did in January.Tags: Gillis, gillis says more than he needs to, Hodgson, ritch winter, using tables to prove things, zone starts