Trade deadline acquisitions are often best evaluated farther down the line. Especially when you consider the player-for-picks culture of the NHL these days, scoring the return on Deadline Day trades is often an interesting task.
However, Darcy Regier pulled off quite a doozy on Monday afternoon that left him as the perceived deadline winner amongst a great many fans and experts. Buffalo’s acquisition of Cody Hodgson and Alexander Sulzer for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani was a true hockey trade that should address needs for both teams. Which team won the trade? That is a far more difficult question to address.
Frankly, this strikes me as a pretty even exchange of talent. Mainly because each team acquired a young, highly touted prospect who has traits desperately needed by the team acquiring the player. Vancouver gets a (sometimes) tough winger who can score goals and is willing to drop the gloves. They also get an upcoming RFA defenseman with strong offensive skills. The Canucks wanted to get some more grit and saw Kassian as the answer. If they can mentor him properly, I have little doubt his mean streak will come out.
On the Buffalo end, this trade did two things. First, it moved a defenseman who was stuck on the depth chart and that likely would have received another one-way tender in the offseason. Gragnani wasn’t contributing, it appeared that he was growing frustrated with the team and was blocking the pipeline for other young defensive prospects (McNabb, Brennan, Pysyk, JGL). By acquiring Sulzer, the Sabres get a player that has a bit more defensive responsibility and who has an expiring deal in July. Sulzer isn’t likely to be re-signed as there are far too many promising defensemen waiting to be promoted from Rochester.
Basically, the exchange of Gragnani for Sulzer is a proactive salary dump for Regier. He saves himself the need to tender Gragnani in the summer, while providing an adequate NHL defenseman for the remainder of this season. Now one of Buffalo’s prospects will be in line to step into the sixth or seventh defenseman role next year.
Acquiring Hodgson is obviously the biggest story for the Sabres. He is a skilled centerman with a ceiling of being a top-flight pivot for this team for years to come. His cap hit is minuscule up through next summer and is only expected to get better. Regier acknowledged that he has other players capable of providing the jam that Kassian brings to the table and Regier also likely realized that he didn’t have any players with the skill and potential that Hodgson brings to the center position.
The acquisition of Hodgson makes the Sabres a better team now and down the line. Last night’s debut left Hodgson pointless, but you could see the creativity and offense in his game. Hodgson’s arrival not only gives Lindy Ruff another viable option at center. It also signifies a systematic shift to the “core” of the team.
Ted Black said the Sabres aren’t married to any particular players who may be considered to be the core. They shipped out one of those players and brought in a young talent. Between Hodgson, Tyler Ennis, Nathan Gerbe and Tyler Myers, the Sabres young core is suddenly beginning to shape up.
Hodgson’s ceiling is that of an elite center. The low end of the scale is a talented 2B. Even if he develops no further than a 1B or 2A, this is a win for the Sabres. Hodgson and Ennis can easily fill the top two spots as centers for the Sabres for the foreseeable future. If each displays their budding skills, there won’t necessarily be the need to get a definitive elite center like Ryan Getzlaf or Paul Stastny.
A cursory glance at what the roster for next season can be assumed to be will show three young centers (Adam, Ennis, Hodgson) and a question mark in regards to the return for Derek Roy if he is to depart via trade. The same could be said if Drew Stafford is the one traded. Those two points are obviously conjecture at this time. However, Hodgson’s presence, along with Ennis and Luke Adam opens the door for a youth movement of talented pivots. It also all but guarantees that Ville Leino will be playing wing, where he has played his best hockey for the Sabres.
This trade has the potential to affect the roster and franchise in the same manner that the Chris Gratton/Daniel Briere trade did. Hodgson’s presence not only adds depth and stability to the center position, it adds top-end talent. That is something that has been absent on Buffalo’s roster since 7/1/07.