Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis and his Boston Bruins counterpart Peter Chiarelli tinkered rather than overhauled their rosters at the NHL trade deadline a year ago, and their clubs wound up in the Stanley Cup final three months later.
Chiarelli added Chris Kelly, Rich Peverley and Tomas Kaberle. Gillis opted for the trimmings of Maxim Lapierre and Chris Higgins.
The guy who has a championship ring, Chiarelli, travelled a similar path this time around. He decided to add depth in shot-blocker extraordinaire Greg Zanon, a defenceman, another veteran blue-liner in Mike Mottau and experience in 39-year-old left wing Brian Rolston.
Gillis made a similar move in his addition of 34-year-old shutdown centre and playoff-hardened Sami Pahlsson, who played a vital role in the Stanley Cup championship won by the 2006-07 Anaheim Ducks. But his other trade was bold, maybe too bold.
Gillis subtracted 22-year-old Cody Hodgson and his 16 goals from the third line, along with defenceman Alexander Sulzer, in order to land size in 6-foot-3, 228-pound Zack Kassian and a depth defenceman in Marc-Andre Gragnani.
It was a size (Kassian) for skill (Hodgson) deal. But in limited ice time this season, Hodgson has exhibited an offensive flare and enhanced the success of the first overall Canucks, meanwhile Kassian is not ready for prime time. He has been inconsistent as a pro, whether with Sabres or their farm team in Rochester, and still needs time to develop. He couldn't earn a regular spot on a so-so Sabres team this year.
So if Gillis made this trade to counteract the toughness of the Bruins, the Canucks GM will be disappointed this spring. Kassian isn't ready to aid the Canucks cause on a consistent basis in the NHL just yet. He definitely won't replace the offence and skill left by Hodgson's absence.
Hodgson's 33 points is fifth among rookies. But while the four freshmen in front of him - Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Adam Henrique, Gabriel Landeskog and Matt Read - played between 17 minutes and 24 seconds of ice time to 18:24, that wasn't the case for Hodgson. He played only 12:43 a game, including time on the second power-play unit, in which he scored five goals.
Maybe Hodgson never would have flourished in Vancouver as long as Alain Vigneault was the head coach. Vigneault never seemed sold that Hodgson was ready for a top-six role in the NHL. This likely stems back to the first impression Hodgson made with the Canucks organization.
Hodgson was the 10th overall selection of the 2008 NHL entry draft, Gillis' first at the helm of Canucks. In the summer of 2009, Hodgson suffered a mysterious back injury that was misdiagnosed. It turned out he had a nerve problem in his leg. When he didn't perform up to expectations in training camp, Vigneault criticized Hodgson's play and questioned whether he was hurt.
Hodgson was returned to his junior team in Brampton and missed most of the 2009-10 season. He spent most of the season in the AHL with the Manitoba Moose last year, too. Then the young centre saw time in 12 games in the playoff run on mostly the fourth line, but sometimes on the wing on the second or third line.
Hodgson deserved more ice time this season with the Canucks. Now he'll get a chance with the Sabres and he will produce. The Canucks do have depth at centre, but Hodgson is a future elite-level player who could have played a big role for the Canucks for a long time. Instead, Gillis and his management team decided to subtract a key part. Sometimes tinkering for an elite-level team is better.
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