Shocking revelation: Zack Kassian does not exist

It’s been a trying season for Vancouver fans. After years of the Canucks hanging with the elite of the NHL’s Western Conference like Raven Symone with Mr. Cooper, the team has taken a step back. They’re still a likely playoff team, but only just barely, and there is literally nothing worse for a fan to endure than only just barely making the playoffs. No one understands our pain.

Fans have been forced this season to cheer for moral victories and just one Sedin (and as it turns out, not the good one). They’ve had to grit their teeth through a historic suspension to first-year coach John Tortorella and a brief, unrequited romance with Vinny “I’m a flirt” Prospal. Chris Tanev has a thumb injury. Jannik Hansen’s fallen off a cliff. The powerplay looks like it’s directed by Tommy Wiseau. It’s been tough sledding out here in Vancouver.

All that in mind, I hesitate to further compound the mental anguish through which the 2013-14 season is currently putting us, but, my friends, I have uncovered a lie so shocking it absolutely has to be shared. Please forgive me my dedication to the truth, but the people need to know:

Zack Kassian does not exist.

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Five years later: evaluating the Canucks’ 2008 draft

The 2013 NHL entry draft is less than three weeks away, which means that Mike Gillis and his crew will be doubly busy as they continue their search for a new head coach and prepare for the drafting table — the drafting table being where they will draft their list of potential draft picks prior to the draft. It’s a lot easier on the back than a desk.

Gillis has been criticized — quite fairly — for his struggles at the draft. Not a single Gillis pick played the full season with the Canucks in 2013. While Jordan Schroeder reached 31 games as a rookie, he was back in the AHL by the end of the season and didn’t play for the Canucks in the playoffs.

It’s worth noting, however, that Frank Corrado, drafted in the fifth round in 2011, played all four playoff games for the Canucks and looks set to make the team as a 20-year-old next season. Corrado’s success would seem to indicate that Gillis has improved at drafting in recent years, with prospects like Nicklas Jensen, Brendan Gaunce, and Patrick McNally bolstering that claim.

Meanwhile, he’s been able to add free agent prospects like Chris Tanev, Eddie Lack, and Kellan Lain. With that said, Gillis’s first couple years of drafting look rough in retrospect and the Canucks’ prospect pool is painfully shallow.

It’s been five years since Gillis’s first draft as Canucks’ GM in 2008, which gives us a fair span of time to judge a player’s development. Prospects drafted in 2008 are now 23 or so; at this point, if they haven’t already cracked an NHL lineup, they’re starting to reach their sell-by date. For the ones that have, after five years is when we can start to judge what kind of NHL player they have become.

So, just how bad was the 2008 draft for the Canucks? Was it as lacklustre as people think or has it been exaggerated?

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If it makes you feel any better, Cody Hodgson is still bad at defence

With the exception of the Vancouver PD, who will be saving several million dollars on beefed-up police presence thanks to the Canucks’ early playoff exit, most of Vancouver is pretty sour on the hockey team since their sweep at the hands of the San Jose Sharks. But if you need some cheering up, here’s a little tidbit about former Canuck Cody Hodgson that should make you feel a little better about that trade.

Hodgson finished the year with 15 goals and 34 points, second on the Sabres to Thomas Vanek in both categories. THAT’S NOT THE PART THAT’S SUPPOSED TO CHEER YOU UP. Offensively, he was very, very effective. His 2.91 goals per 60 minutes put him ahead of guys like Claude Giroux, Nicklas Backstrom, and Brad Richards.

But the Canucks’ concerns regarding Hodgson were always on the defensive end, and there, according to John Vogl, Hodgson still had a lot of work to do. The guy’s about as one-way as downtown Cordova Street.

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The Dreaded Two-Goal Lead: Cox on Luongo, mask on Schneider, and Jensen on the way

Canucks news comes fast and furious, and sometimes we find ourselves playing catchup. Thankfully, the Dreaded Two Goal Lead – often called “the worst lead in hockey” – is super easy to come back from. Everybody knows it’s a guaranteed death sentence for those that hold it. Well, much like an ice hockey team coming from two goals down, PITB will now effortlessly catch up.

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Jordan Schroeder in: how to win faceoffs and influence zone starts

When David Booth got hurt at the Canucks’ abbreviated, two-scrimmage preseason, I opined that this spelled the end of Jordan Schroeder’s chances to be the Canucks’ second-line centre on opening night. My theory: Schroeder might have had a shot when he would be skating between two veterans in Booth and Mason Raymond — much like Cody Hodgson did the year before, beating out Ebbett in training camp and lining up between Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm on day one — but with the young’un Zack Kassian stepping up to fill in for Booth, I suspected Vigneault would uncomfortable doubling down on inexperience on that line by making Schroeder its centre. Hence, safe, forgettable Andrew Ebbett had the edge.

I got that one right.

Since then, however, it’s become clear that Alain Vigneault didn’t. Ebbett was quiet through the first two games of the season — quiet enough that the Canucks eventually called Schroeder back. In the Canucks’ third game, Schroeder drew in and Ebbett drew out.

But then Manny Malhotra’s wife gave birth to a baby boy, and Malhotra stepped away from the team for two games, leaving Vigneault with no choice but to dress both Ebbett and Schroeder. What followed was yet another two-game showdown between Ebbett and Schroeder for a middle-six centre job. This time, Booth or no Booth, Schroeder won it clean.

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Who were Ryan Kesler’s best linemates last season?

Sometimes when I get curious enough about something to investigate it, digging up statistics and putting together charts, the answer turns out to be the obvious one. Fortunately, it can also turn up some other interesting information along the way.

Here’s the question I had: which wingers were most effective with Ryan Kesler last season? One of the big questions coming into this season is who should play on the second line with Kesler, once he returns too early? David Booth seems to have his spot all sewn up, but there are many competitors for the opposite wing, including Chris Higgins, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Zack Kassian, and Nicklas Jensen. Heck, if Shane Doan signs with the Canucks, you can add him and Alex Burrows to that list.

David Booth and Chris Higgins were Kesler’s most common linemates last season, but were they his most effective linemates? To get the answer, I did some WOWY (With Or Without You) analysis to see how Kesler performed with and without various linemates. In this case, the answer appears to be pretty definitively “yes.”

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Every Goal, 2011-12: Cody Hodgson, part two

Through the first three months of the season, Cody Hodgson had done some good work unmaking his unfair reputation among fans as a draft bust. But it wasn’t until January that he earned a new, sexier, unfair reputation. In the first month of 2012, Hodgson capitalized on some advantageous adjustments made in his usage with 6 goals, 4 assists, and a rookie of the month award.

Later we would learn that the Canucks had made some adjustments to his deployment in an effort to pump up his trade value, a move that clearly worked. In fact, it worked too well, as his performance in January turned his fans into full-blown cultists. His trade in February shocked and confused everyone — I mean, how can you trade the one true god?

But even those of us who weren’t building a spaceship to Blisstonia were baffled. We tried our best to make sense of the reasoning behind the trade and eventually came to accept it with a few reservations, but at the time, it was hard to imagine anyone ever considering moving this guy out of town. Watching the back half of Hodgson’s 16 goals will take you back to that time.

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Every Goal, 2011-12: Cody Hodgson, part one

Cody Hodgson may not have had many friends in the Canucks’ organization by the time he left, but he certainly had a lot of fans. His knack for timely, pretty goals saw to that. He was the Canucks’ best offensive prospect in years, which won him more than his fair share of hearts.

As for me, I’m going to be honest: I’m glad he’s gone. Not so much because I didn’t like the way he played — I did — but because he was Vancouver’s version of the cube from Transformers or The Avengers: an unstable, much-ballyhooed cosmic item that just makes everyone fight. The man was a lightning rod for controversy, and he left the Vancouver fanbase in a state of Civil War.

After this post, you’ll understand why people felt so passionately about Hodgson, because reading this post is like only eating the frosting in a pack of Dunkaroos. Since they’re goals, each video takes place in the offensive zone, which is where Hodgson did his best work and where his shortcomings — poor skating and backchecking — were at their least noticeable. Since most people don’t watch players when they don’t have the puck, Hodgson likely looked perfect.

If you don’t keep that in mind as we review his goals, you’re going to get really, really mad. Heck, you might still get mad. Maybe you’re already mad. I don’t know your story. Friendly tip: if you want to sound off, the comments section is below. Friendly warning: if you want to avoid conflict, the comments section is below.

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Mikael Samuelsson, on Canucks: ‘I didn’t think very highly of management”

Earlier this month, we celebrated when Mikael Samuelsson signed a contract to re-assimilate into the Borg in Detroit. The Red Wings are, after all, going to be featured on HBO’s 24/7, and something tells us that Samuelsson’s brutal honesty will make his interviews indispensable segments of the program.

If you don’t share our excitement, perhaps you need an example of this brutal honesty. Look no further than a recent interview Samuelsson did with Ronnie Johansson of HockeySvierge.Se, which can be found in the original Swedish here and originally translated by Canucks Army here. During the chat, the former Canuck made it clear that he wasn’t a fan of the Canucks’ front office.

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In the playoffs, Pahlsson and Kassian made the Hodgson trade harder to swallow

Back in February, Mike Gillis shocked the NHL by trading away one of the best rookies in the league for an unproven power forward prospect. The fact that this came at a time when the Canucks were supposed to be buyers gearing up for the playoffs baffled and even angered a lot of Canucks fans.

Cody Hodgson was seen by a lot of people — including us at PITB — as part of the solution for the scoring issues that hit the Canucks in the 2011 Stanley Cup Final. He made the third line into a scoring line rather than a checking line and improved the second unit powerplay to the point that I suggested he be moved to the first unit when the powerplay was struggling. He was also one of the main reasons the Canucks had a lot of powerplay opportunities early in the season, as he was the best player on the team at drawing penalties.

But my favourite thing that Hodgson did was make goal posts sing with his blistering slap shot. To put it simply, I liked Hodgson a lot.

So when Mike Gillis sent him to Buffalo for Zack Kassian, I was shocked. After all, the dark times had passed for Hodgson and, while still a longshot, he was in the Calder Trophy conversation after 10 points in 11 games in January saw him named the NHL’s Rookie of the Month.

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So how’s that Cody Hodgson trade working out for Vancouver?

While the swap of two high-end rookies isn’t exactly the sort of thing that can be assessed in a month, the early returns in the shocking trade deadline deal that sent Cody “Dr. Headson” Hodgson to Buffalo for Zack “Mama” Kassian don’t flatter the Canucks.

On the surface, there’s enough there for Sabres blog Sabre Noise to take a cursory glance at the production of the two men since the trade and call it — brace yourselves — a fleecing for Buffalo. Kassian’s been toothless (both figuratively and literally) since arriving in Vancouver. Until his assist on March 30 bumped his point total to 3, his production since the trade matched Cory Schneider’s. Meanwhile, Hodgson has a much sexier 8 points, all of which have come since being promoted to a line with Thomas Vanek 8 games ago.

But the Canucks were well aware that Cody was light years ahead of Kassian offensively. At the end of February, Cody had 33 points to Kassian’s 7. Coaching and management’s concern was that, without some serious sheltering, Hodgson’s defensive deficiencies would undermine his production and make Vancouver easier to play against in the playoffs.

It would appear that these concerns were justified.

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On Cory Schneider’s low-maintenance relationship with the Canucks

It’s hard not to think a little less of Cody Hodgson in the wake of agent Ritch Winter’s admission that the rookie centre’s camp was indeed pushing for more icetime prior to the trade deadline deal with Buffalo.

Sure, such requests may “happen all the time in the ordinary course,” as Winter suggests, and perhaps this whole icetime controversy ranks high on the molehill-to-mountain conversion scale, but the mere fact that these discussions have become public knowledge provides a stark contrast to the quiet servitude of Cory Schneider.

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On Cody Hodgson, Christian Ehrhoff, David Booth, and Flaws

Canucks fans who were sad to see Cody Hodgson leave on Monday at the trade deadline didn’t have long to wait for him to return to Vancouver. He’s back in town tonight, albeit with the Buffalo Sabres. Also back is Christian Ehrhoff, who left town in the offseason, signing a 10-year, $40 million deal with the Sabres. Both Hodgson and Ehrhoff make me think about how our perceptions of players are formed. In particular, they make me think of David Booth.

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Karate, diamonds, and Cody Hodgson

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.

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Examining the pros and cons of the Cody Hodgson trade

Mike Gillis surprised everyone Monday with the announcement that beloved nerd Cody Hodgson had been traded to the Buffalo Sabres for budding power winger Zack Kassian. Many simply didn’t know how to take it. Some were sadder than Sad Cody and Sad Keanu put together. Some were angrier than angry Bieksa. Others could only make nonsensical Luongo faces.

Emotions were flying high. (Frankly, it’s a wonder there were no police cruisers overturned. Clearly, the Heart of a Canuck fan re-education campaign is working. We tip our hat to you, kinder, gentler Canuck nation.)

But now, with the benefit of a good night’s sleep behind us, we at PITB thought it might be time to recompose ourselves, gather our wits (obliterated as they were after yesterday’s gruelling all-day chat), apply a little reason to the situation, and weigh the pros and cons.

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Trade Deadline Summation: What the heck just happened?

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.

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Why Mason Raymond remains a better second-line option than Cody Hodgson

Most Cody Hodgson talk in this city centers around two things: the observation that he’s incredible, which is accurate, and the notion that Alain Vigneault has yet to figure this out. Most recently, this came up when Vigneault placed Mason Raymond with Ryan Kesler and David Booth on the second line while assigning Hodgson to centre Byron Bitz and Maxim Lapierre on the fourth. Admittedly, this was a curious move. Whither Mason Raymond?

Here’s what I know for sure: Alain Vigneault knows more about hockey than I do. One of the things that continually bewilders me is the perception that Hodgson’s success has come in spite of him, as though one of the league’s best coaches is unaware that the young centre is a natural scorer. Believe me — he knows and, as Thomas Drance illustrated beautifully awhile back, he clearly knows how to use Hodgson. That in mind, it’s probably smarter to investigate his reasoning in this instance than to assume I know more about running the Canucks than he does.

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Did Cody Hodgson take Manny Malhotra’s job? Mark Spector thinks so; Jonathan Willis does not

If you’ve been following this blog for awhile, you’ve likely figured out by now that Daniel is far more of an advanced stats guy than I am. That said, while I may not be a massive fan of tables and math, I’m still of the mind that it’s absolutely vital to pay attention to a few of the underlying numbers, especially in regards to the Canucks. Otherwise, you run the risk of coming to some spotty conclusions.

If you’re not following Alain Vigneault’s deployment strategies, for instance, you’re simply not getting the full picture. No NHL head coach pays more attention to zone starts, and it informs every aspect of his players’ statistical production. In Manny Malhotra’s case especially, if you understand his role, you’ll discover that his scoring and plus/minus stats border on completely irrelevant.

If you were only looking at Malhotra’s basic numbers, it would be reasonable to make the conclusion that Sportnet’s Mark Spector made on Friday, when he wrote the following:

“You have to believe GM Mike Gillis would move Manny Malhotra, whose job has been claimed by Cody Hodgson. But with 13 points and a minus-7 this season, we are sad to come to the accepted conclusion that Malhotra’s game has simply not returned in whole after the serious eye injury he suffered last season.”

While there are elements of this paragraph with which I agree (I’ll get to that), there are also elements that show a misunderstanding of how Hodgson and Malhotra are deployed.

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Should Cody Hodgson be on the first unit powerplay?

The Vancouver Canucks have the best powerplay in the NHL, but you wouldn’t know it from their last 15 games. The Canucks have gone 9-for-55 in that span for a percentage of 16.4%. That’s including the game against Boston when they went 4-for-11. Take that game out of the equation and you get some ugly-looking math.

While Sami Salo’s injury against Boston hasn’t helped, the Canucks powerplay was struggling even before he got injured. While his victory in the hardest shot competition in the Canucks Superskills on Sunday may be an indication that Salo is close to returning to the lineup, the Canucks need to consider all options to fix the ailing powerplay.

One of those options should be promoting Cody Hodgson to the first unit.

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Cody Hodgson makes goal posts sing with his slapshot

Just one week ago, the Canucks played the Bruins in the most thrilling game of the season. During the contest, Canucks fans witnessed one of the dirtiest things you will ever see in hockey. I’m not talking about Brad Marchand low-bridging Sami Salo; I’m talking about Cody Hodgson’s filthy slapshot that blew past Tim Thomas for the gamewinning goal. It was, as the kids say, sick, ill, and nasty.

You just don’t see slapshots like that any more, at least from a forward’s stick. The slapshot is normally the domain of the hulking blueliner who is able to put a massive amount of leverage on the stick to propel the puck forward. The two modern-day masters of the slapshot are Zdeno Chara, who is 6’9″ and 255 lbs, and Shea Weber, who is 6’4″ and 232 lbs.

Hodgson is an even 6′ and weighs a mere 185 lbs. Yet his slapshot is both blistering and precise.

My favourite part about the goal was the gorgeous sound it made. There is no sweeter sound in hockey than the glorious *ping* of a slapshot that goes off the post and in.

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Cody Hodgson is in an excellent mentorship program

I’ve been talking about Cody Hodgson a fair amount recently and for good reason. The rookie centre has 7 points in his last 9 games while playing limited minutes, is fifth in rookie scoring, and is on pace for 18 goals and 44 points. He’s on his way to what should be considered an incredibly successful rookie year.

As we all know, of course, controversy surrounds Hodgson at all times and the dark times have not passed. Instead of writing about how great Hodgson is, I’ve had to write about how his icetime is comparable to the rookie year’s of other Canucks’ stars (which Alain Vigneault read, apparently) and speculate on who the source of the complaints about his icetime might be.

Despite my best efforts, Tony Gallagher isn’t done talking about Hodgson’s icetime. He has now switched gears to complaining that Hodgson’s lack of icetime somehow hurts Ryan Kesler. Apparently Kesler is receiving far too much icetime, which will obviously cause his body to melt away like Major Toht once the playoffs come around. Never mind that Kesler’s playing fewer than 20 minutes a game and is currently 30th in icetime amongst forwards; his current pace is apparently going to wear him out.

Sigh.

It seems to me that “Silent G” is in the perfect situation for a rookie looking to become an NHL superstar. Unlike the four players ahead of him in the rookie scoring race, who play on teams with limited forward depth, Hodgson gets a chance to come along slowly on a top-tier team, learning under some of the best centres in the NHL.

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

Cody Hodgson is quietly putting together a very successful rookie campaign. The 21-year-old centre has appeared in all 39 games for the Canucks, putting up 20 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.

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The top 50 Vancouver Canucks goals of 2011 (50-41)

2011 was a fabulous year for Canucks hockey. Sure, the Stanley Cup Final may not have ended quite the way Vancouver fans wanted it to, but the Canucks were still in it, and that’s a rarity deserving of some serious appreciation.

If you ask me, so was the 2011 team in its entirety. Between the wizardry of the Sedins, the raw power of Ryan Kesler, the stable of offensive-minded defensemen, the occasional flashes of brilliance from the skilled corps of middle wingers, and the gaggle of set plays the team employs, the fans in this city are spoiled right now. We may never see another team like this one again.

With that in mind, it would be crazy to let this year in Canucks hockey lapse without looking back at some of its incredible goals. What follows is a countdown of our favourite 50, which will run Monday through Friday at 9am sharp. Please feel free to disagree with this highly subjective list in the comments.

So it begins.

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Stop worrying: Cody Hodgson gets enough ice time

10 minutes into the first period of Wednesday’s game against the Detroit Red Wings, Canucks fans got a chance to see a delightfully old-school moment: a slap-shot off the rush that rang off the post and in. That type of goal used to be a lot more common: the highlight reels from the 70′s and 80′s are full of players flying down the wing and unleashing a slap-shot from the top of the faceoff circle past a helpless goaltender. That just doesn’t happen anymore.

What was even more electrifying was who scored the goal: it was Cody Hodgson, the rookie, giving the fans a flashback to the golden years of the slap-shot.

It was a surprise not just because of how rare the slap-shot goal off the rush has become, but also because we haven’t seen that side of Hodgson’s game yet. The majority of Hodgson’s shots this season seem to have been wristshots, with most of them being, to put it as nicely as possible, unimpressive. Hodgson’s goal on Jimmy Howard Wednesday night should serve to remind everyone that he was considered to have one of the hardest shots in the OHL: he was voted as having the second hardest shot in 2009 by OHL coaches and the third hardest in 2010, the year he only played 13 regular season games. Clearly, OHL coaches respected his shot.

Suffice it to say, a lot of people were talking about Hodgson on Twitter, the radio, and the Canucks.com forums. Oddly enough, though, most of them weren’t talking about his gorgeous goal and his hellacious slap-shot. Instead, they were talking about his icetime.

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There’s no rush for Cody Hodgson to return

It was an extremely frightening sight: Cody Hodgson, while attempting to cut into the middle of the ice to avoid a Nick Foligno hit, toe-picked and tripped right into the oncoming Foligno, taking the full force of the hit directly to the head. Hodgson attempted to get to his feet, but seemed to skate like the ice wasn’t quite where he thought it should be, all with a giant smile on his face.

Though he was not knocked unconscious on the play, everything else about it screamed concussion. Hodgson had to be helped off the ice and didn’t return to the game, causing fans to fear the worst.

After the game, however, Alain Vigneault claimed that the young forward was “fine” and that “he wanted to play.” But he continued, “Our medical staff wanted to be extra careful.”

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