Feb 282012

I’m writing this post more than a few hours after the Canucks traded Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres; in return, they receive forward Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

First, the good.

Zack Kassian is a big player. At 6’4″ and 225 lbs., he’s bigger than every other Canucks forward except for Byron Bitz.

And he hits.

And he fights.

And he has decent hands.

In other words, Kassian’s a young, power forward in the making – a type of player the Canucks don’t have in the organization.

However, with just 7 points in 27 games this season, he’s shown but mere glimpses of fulfilling that promise.

On the other hand, to get Kassian, the Canucks had to give up blue-chip rookie, Cody Hodgson, who already had 16 goals and 33 points in limited ice-time this season.

So why did the Canucks do this trade?

The Short-Term

Since their Stanley Cup Finals defeat to the Boston Bruins, the Canucks have faced numerous questions about whether or not they have the requisite size and toughness to undergo another lengthy playoff run. Even after beating the Bruins in Boston in January, they were asked if they could produce the same kind of compete over a playoff series. One win was good, but can they do it again and again and again?

With this trade, Gillis dealt from a position of strength to address a position of need. For all the progress and success that Hodgson has had this season – and don’t get me wrong, he’s had a lot – he’s also a somewhat redundant piece in the Canucks puzzle. Playing on the 3rd line, he faced sheltered minutes, many of which may not be available in the postseason. Gillis is gambling that one of Maxim Lapierre, Sammy Pahlsson, Manny Malhotra, or even, Steven Reinprecht can provide what Cody does, and at the same time, add some size and toughness on the wing.

After acquiring David Booth early in the season, it’s no secret that GM Mike Gillis wanted more balance in the roster.

Consider it mission accomplished.

On paper, the Canucks should be a tougher team to play against. With Kassian, Mason Raymond, Jannik Hansen, Maxim Lapierre, Manny Malhotra, Sammy Pahlsson, Dale Weise (plus perhaps Byron Bitz, Steven Reinprecht and Mike Duco later) in the bottom-six, Alain Vigneault has a lot of options to roll out against opposing teams’ top lines (and free up the Sedins and Kesler for the offensive side of things). All are defensively-responsible, all have speed and all are tenacious on the forecheck. Add the offensive potential from Kassian, Raymond, Hansen, and to a lesser extent, Lapierre, and you’ll see why Gillis and company may have tinkered this way.

The Long-Term

In one trade, the Canucks addressed a couple of key organizational needs: a power forward and a defenseman with some offensive potential.

Here’s a recent (September 2011) scouting report on Kassian:

Get ready Sabres fans because here comes “Mean” Zack Kassian. In all honesty, he really isn’t that “mean” of a person – only on the ice. I conducted an interview with Kassian last season (click here) and came away impressed with his poise and overall knowledge of the game and its players. Many have labeled Kassian as a boom or bust prospect, but I just don’t see it. If he “booms”, he will be a first or second line scoring threat with a nasty physical edge. If he “busts” he will end up just a gritty 3rd or 4th line winger (which I wouldn’t consider a bust if he is still playing in the NHL). He projects as a player similar to Lucic, Downie, Burrows or Bertuzzi (prime). For Kassian’s size and aggressive tendencies on the ice, he has a very underrated set of hands. With all the makings of a pure power forward, Kassian put up 77 points this season and was a point-per-game player in the playoffs. His biggest assets are his size, strength, energy and his shot, which he recently developed into a more of a lethal weapon. Taken from the interview I conducted with him, one of his major flaws is speed and skating. In order to be able to play in the NHL as early as next season, Kassian will need to spend some serious time with a power skating coach this off-season. Training camp will give Kassian the opportunity to prove whether he is good enough to log serious minutes at the next level of his development. If things don’t go well for him in training camp, he will be able to polish his game at the AHL level with Portland next season.

Also, the underrated aspect of this trade is Marc-Andre Gragnani. Last season, Gragnani was the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman and points leader among defensemen in the regular season (12G-48A-60P in 63 games) and the Sabres’ top scorer in the playoffs (1G-6A-7P in 7 playoff games). In 44 Sabres’ games this season he has 12 points (1G-11A) and leads the team with a plus-10 rating. Along with Chris Tanev, Kevin Connauton and Yann Sauve, the prospect pool on defense suddenly doesn’t look that bad.

As Matt asked earlier, about the only thing funny with this trade is its timing. Why do it now? Everyone wants to add grit for the playoff run, but why do it at the expense of a potential Calder Trophy nominee?

Mike Gillis is gambling here. He’s gambling that the drop-off from Hodgson to Kassian will be more than offset by the acquisitions of Booth and Pahlsson. He’s gambling that Kassian – and potentially, Gragnani – will be part of the next core of Canucks when the Sedins and Salo inevitably slow down. It’s a huge gamble, especially in a year in which the team is again expected to contend for the Stanley Cup. Let’s hope for his sake – and our sanity – that it pays off.

Feb 282012

The Vancouver Canucks’ trade that saw Cody Hodgson and Alex Sulzer shipped to Buffalo for Zack Kassian and Marc-Andre Gragnani is the biggest trade since Roberto Luongo came to town in 2006. No trade since that time could have bigger long-term ramifications for this franchise.

The Canucks may have easily just traded a future captain and point per game player in Hodgson. The Sabres may have just moved the second coming of Milan Lucic in Kassian. No one knows. We’ll have to re-visit this trade in three to five years time.

But what we do know is that the decision to move Cody Hodgson is a curious one.

Truth is, the Canucks had little reason to make a big move such as this one. If the Canucks were intent on adding some grit, they could’ve done themselves and their fans a lot of good if they just paid the first-round price for Paul Gaustad or Steve Downie. They would’ve added a piece that had the potential of staying in Vancouver beyond this season and not alienated an emerging star like Cody Hodgson in the process.

Not only that, the Canucks are sitting first in the NHL standings. Was an Earth-shaking move such as this one so necessary? NHL logic dictates that most teams wouldn’t have messed with the locker room chemistry and just made minor adjustments like the team did last year with Chris Higgins and Maxim Lapierre.

Which leaves only this: Did Hodgson and his camp want out of Vancouver? He wasn’t going to get top-six minutes behind Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler, and that alleged “rift” must’ve at least put a damper on things. Plus, I’ve never seen a family so ecstatic to see their son go from a legitimate Stanley Cup contender as I did with Hodgson’s family. If Hodgson wanted a trade, then so be it. But the Canucks didn’t need to rush into this trade. If the Canucks wanted or had to move Hodgson, couldn’t this deal have been consummated in the offseason if the Canucks fall short of the Stanley Cup?

This is a tough deal for fans because of their emotional investment in Hodgson since his 2008 draft. We’ve seen him go from legitimate future star to overhyped prospect to bust project to potential rookie of the year candidate. Tell me how trading Hodgson for Kassian helps this team win a Stanley Cup now. Hodgson may still be a bit of an unproven commodity, but he’s certainly shown more than Kassian has.

I understand this is a business, and I understand Mike Gillis trying to address the team needs right now. I get all that. But from where Hodgson is at now as a rookie of the year candidate, and judging by how well he was performing and how well-liked he was in the dressing room, this move still comes as a shock. Hodgson deserved to at least show he has what it takes to succeed in the postseason and win a Stanley Cup.

It’s a shame that we’ll never know.

Feb 272012

The Vancouver Canucks have traded centre Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer to the Buffalo Sabres for right-winger Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Alright, so let the depression soak in. In 3… 2… 1…

What the Canucks traded: There’s no questioning who the better player was in this deal, and that was Cody Hodgson. At every level of hockey he’s played at, Hodgson has enjoyed success. When he was drafted 10th overall in 2008, TSN’s Bob McKenzie had nothing but terrific things to say about Hodgson. The Canucks were, at the time, getting the heir apparent to a retiring Trevor Linden. Hodgson only exponentially increased the hype when his World Junior performance in 2009 saw him lead the tournament and scoring.

The back problems and alleged rift between Hodgson and the organization ensued. But time heals all wounds, and Hodgson this year was truly coming into his own. On several occasions this season, Hodgson was the best Canuck forward on the ice, scoring clutch goals and making smart passes in the offensive zone. He is well on his way to becoming the two-way leader that most people envisioned him to be, capping out at a point-per-game if he reaches his potential.

Alex Sulzer was a minor piece in the deal and an expendable one at that. He has a booming shot but rarely ever used it. His defensive shortcomings were noticeable.

What the Canucks received: In Zack Kassian, the Canucks received a player who essentially has all the makings of becoming the second coming of Milan Lucic. Kassian has been a high-scoring threat at the OHL level when he’s not on the sidelines serving a suspension. Kassian was a part of that loaded Windsor Spitfires team that steamrolled its way to the Memorial Cup in 2011, putting up 77 points in 56 regular season games. He’s also been a part of Team Canada at the world juniors in 2011.

In Gragnani, the Canucks are getting a mobile defenseman who reminds me a little bit of Christian Ehrhoff. Gragnani has all the makings of a smooth-skating puck-moving defenceman, but also has some defensive shortcomings, which are natural at his young age. Last year, Gragnani was anointed the AHL’s most outstanding defenceman and led Sabres blueliners in scoring during the playoffs. The potential for Gragnani is there and he immediately becomes their most NHL-ready defenceman.

More analysis and video coming your way shortly…

Feb 242012

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

LW/RW Daniel Winnik, Colorado Avalanche, $950K, UFA 2012

If going into this week Daniel Winnik could be considered an under-the-radar trade deadline acquisition, TSN’s Bob McKenzie let the proverbial cat out of the bag when he announced Winnik was the most coveted role player at the trade deadline. As the good folks at another fine Canucks blog might say, Winnik has the kind of Corsi numbers which would make him a valued asset.

What he brings

Aside from not being a faceoff master as a winger, Winnik’s game isn’t a whole lot different than Manny Malhotra’s. Winnik will find himself on a first penalty-killing unit and can grind it out with the best of them. And even though the leadership core in Colorado isn’t exactly loaded with experience (outside of Milan Hejduk), Winnik wears an ‘A’ for the Avs and that counts for something.

Why he fits

Winnik takes a remarkable amount of shots — he’s currently at 146, which would put him fourth on the Canucks. If you put that kind of player on a more talented third line with Cody Hodgson and Jannik Hansen, Winnik’s offensive numbers would likely increase. And if Winnik doesn’t fit on a third line, he certainly wouldn’t look out of place on a fourth with Maxim Lapierre and Byron Bitz/Dale Weise.

What he’ll cost

The fact Bob McKenzie stated Winnik was coveted may have just increased his trade value going into the deadline. But it’s hard to tell where Greg Sherman and the Avalanche are right now; acquiring Steve Downie seems to indicate Colorado is focused on making the postseason (they have no choice but to given they have no first round pick this summer) and would rather push than try and cut their losses. If Winnik is indeed moved, it’ll be in the waning hours of the trade deadline and it won’t be for cheap; a second-round pick is probably the asking price.

Feb 242012

[Inspired by Arsenio Hall's "Things That Make You Go Hmmm…", Clayton Imoo talks about Canucks-related things that make him go hmmm… You can follow Clay on Twitter at (@canuckclay) or on his website, Clay's Canucks Commentary.]

After a brief one-week hiatus, I’m back to ponder a few things relating to our favourite hockey team.  On the heels of Vancouver’s thrilling 4-3 shootout victory over the Detroit Red Wings, here are a few Things That Make You Go Hmmm:

1.  I’ll take seven more games please. Last night’s tilt between the Canucks and Red Wings was the most highly-anticipated Canucks game since they took on Boston in early January.  And why not? It was a match-up between the two top teams in the Western Conference (and arguably the league) and perhaps a preview of the Western Conference Finals.  After fighting from behind all game, Vancouver ultimately ended Detroit’s amazing streak of 23 consecutive home victories.  You’d think the Canucks would have a decent shot as the team with the league’s best road record.  With the Red Wings earning a single point, they are still one point up on the Canucks having played one more game.  Supposedly, the Canucks had been looking forward to last night’s game for a few weeks.  I’m looking forward to the Canucks and Red Wings meeting in the Western Conference Finals.  Granted, there’s a lot of hockey to be played before the, and certainly, anything can happen in the playoffs.  But just think of the awesome hockey that would be played – their matches always seem to be competitive, highly-skilled and fast-paced.

2.  Surprise surprise:  the Canucks are “overrated”. In the NHLPA Player Poll recently-released by Hockey Night in Canada, the disdain towards the Canucks was very apparent as Vancouver was named as the most overrated team in the league.  I went to Twitter to ask hockey fans why they thought the Canucks topped this category, and here are some (unedited) responses:

@SharkCircle:  Because they dont like them. Because its a flawed poll. Unliked Leafs got the same type of thing. Unliked canadian teams is all

@FlyingVHockey:  Envy, “soft” tag, envy, Sedins unique play and European background, most hated easily translates to over-rated.

@Lucmeister:  because of last year, lost in game 7 of the SCF at home + media adding fuel to the fire + people think Sedins are “pansies.”

@geoff_heith:  my opinion is they think we’ve got no grit…aka fighters and hitters. I think we’ve built a team of skill and self control

@oljacko:  Big eastern population who don’t see Canucks regularly and influence polls the most. They vote on negative hearsay.

@SFUteachlearn:  Because we haven’t won a cup yet! :( ^mm

I think it’s ridiculous to call a team overrated when it’s two points out of first place overall and came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup.  This argument would make sense if the Canucks were floundering near the middle of the league, as the definition of overrated implies that the team isn’t as good as some people think they are.   But they are a top three team.  I like what @FlyingVHockey said above:  hated translates to overrated.  I tackled this topic in my latest Clay’s Canucks Commentary…it’s another musical endeavour for your listening enjoyment.

3.  How active will the Canucks be at the trade deadline? After a few minor deals, the NHL had its first major trade Thursday when the Columbus Blue Jackets sent Jeff Carter to the Los Angeles Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round pick.  The deal reunites Carter with ex-Philly teammate Mike Richards exactly eight months after they were first split up when Richard was traded to the Kings on June 23, 2011.

There has been much speculation as to how active Canucks’ GM Mike Gillis will be in the next few days.  The three most common desires from fans are a top-six forward, a bottom-six forward, and a depth defenseman.  Those advocating for changes in the forwards cite Mason Raymond’s ineffectiveness along with the unreliability of both Byron Bitz and Dale Weise to provide some muscle.  As for the blueline, many fans have been clamoring for another top-4 defenseman given the attrition that happens in the playoffs.  The recent injury to Keith Ballard adds even more uncertainty, although it has resulted in some timely ice-time for Chris Tanev.

Feb 232012

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

D Bryan Allen, Carolina Hurricanes, $2.9M, UFA 2012

Can you go back? Can Bryan Allen come back? It’s been nearly six years since the Luongo-Bertuzzi trade was finalized and lost in the hype of acquiring the all-time Canucks leader in wins and shutouts was that they had lost a fairly rugged, hard-nosed blue liner in Bryan Allen, who was just starting to hit his stride as a bottom-pairing defenceman.

What he brings

If Andrew Alberts isn’t going to use his physical abilities in the top six, Bryan Allen certainly will. Too often has Alberts been given the chance to finish a check only to ease up on the opposition, and you get the sense Allen wouldn’t hesitate to do so when the game is on the line. But perhaps most notably is Allen’s ability to get in the shooting lanes and block shots. He has 130 blocked shots thus far, which would put him far and away ahead of the Canucks leader Alex Edler (98).

Why he fits

Right sided defenceman, right sided defenceman, right sided defenceman. That is far and away the biggest advantage to acquiring Bryan Allen. Let’s put it this way, if a left-side defenceman in the top four (Hamhuis or Edler) were to get injured (as it happened during the SCF), the Canucks could survive knowing Aaron Rome can step in (although that wasn’t an option after his suspension in the final). If the Canucks suffer an injury to a right-side defenceman in the top four (Bieksa or Salo, and I stress Salo especially), the Canucks are forced to use Chris Tanev in the top four. That is simply not an option. At the worst, Allen is a right-sided Aaron Rome. Also, consider that Keith Ballard is a natural left-side defenceman forced to play the right-side when healthy.

What he’ll cost

With Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason re-signed and presumably off the market, the ‘Canes may use UFAs-to-be, Allen or Jaroslav Spacek, to help re-stock the cupboard. Jim Rutherford will be asking for value similar to what Niklas Grossman got (2nd and 3rd round pick). For whatever reason, defensive defenceman are at a premium at the trade deadline so fans should be prepared to pay through the nose for one.

Feb 222012

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

The playoff picture — as it always is at this time of year — is about as clear as mud, and as it stands the Dallas Stars are very much in the hunt for one of the spots. That alone means that it’s possible none of these players will be available when next Monday comes and goes, but if GM Joe Nieuwendyk decides to throw up the red flag, the Canucks could be in the market for one or even two of these players, all of whom bring some much-needed sandpaper to the roster.

LW Brenden Morrow, $4.1M, UFA 2013

Looking at the sheer price tag alone, it’s a close-to-zero chance that the Canucks make a lucrative enough trade offer for Brenden Morrow, who makes almost as much as Keith Ballard, is on the books for one more year, and is currently injured. But like Shane Doan, Morrow’s a feisty captain who can be a difference maker in a game. Just ask Milan Michalek in 2008:

Morrow would probably fetch Mason Raymond, a prospect, and a 2nd round pick.

Any of the Stars’ defense: D Stephane Robidas ($3.3M, UFA 2014), D Sheldon Souray ($1.65 M, UFA 2012), D Mark Fistric ($1.0M, RFA 2012)

Stephane Robidas, Mark Fistric and Sheldon Souray are all unique cases that would vary in price.

Robidas, a hard-nosed defenceman, would be the priciest of the bunch, and I can’t imagine many teams will come calling for Souray. Fistric is an interesting case because of his impending RFA eligibility.

But Robidas is a serviceable right-side defenceman who could slot into the top four easily. If Dallas were willing to swap Ballard at $4.2M for Robidas at $3.3M, it’s a bad contract for a not-so-bad contract.

Fistric is a former Vancouver Giant whose game is simple: Block shots, dish out the hits, and chip the puck off the glass and out. Ugly, isn’t it? But a simple game might be the best remedy on a Vancouver squad laden with forwards who have no problem generating offense.

Both Robidas’ and Fistric’s values are similar to what the Flyers paid for ex-Stars defenceman Niklas Grossman (2nd and 3rd), so if the Canucks are willing to fork over some picks, it can happen.

C Steve Ott, $2.95M, UFA 2014

If having Maxim Lapierre wasn’t bad enough, Ott would ensure the Canucks are the most hated team in the league. But like new Colorado forward Steve Downie, Ott has a bit of a scoring touch to go with his big mouth. He’s a safe bet for 30 points a year, 100PIM and 250 hits.

Would GM Mike Gillis consider a one-for-one swap for Mason Raymond?

Feb 212012

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes

Photo credit: Yahoo!

RW Shane Doan, Phoenix Coyotes, $4.55M, UFA 2012

Long shot? Probably. But let’s put this in perspective. With every day that passes, the chances of the Coyotes staying in Phoenix seem to grow more faint. Seattle is investing city dollars into building a new NHL/NBA arena, and Kansas City and Quebec also seem like logical destinations. All said, the Coyotes will not be staying in Glendale, effectively removing any type of loyalty or allegiance Shane Doan may still tether to the town. So why not trade their most tradable asset who loves that city?

What he brings

Don’t let the aging veteran fool you. Doan can still play a physical game with the best of them, and the leadership intangibles he would bring would be an added bonus in a Canucks dressing room. His 35 career playoff games over a 15-year career also indicate he’s got the hunger to win a Stanley Cup before he rides off in the sunset.

Why he fits

Doan isn’t exactly a young buck anymore, but he’s still a gritty scoring winger who’d look pretty nice on a line with Ryan Kesler and David Booth.

What he’ll cost

The price to acquire Doan wouldn’t be cheap, and given how the Coyotes are still very much in the playoff picture, it might be tough to see them trading him to a team they may possibly meet in the first round of the playoffs. Phoenix would likely want Vancouver’s most tradeable asset (Mason Raymond), a decent prospect (Jordan Schroeder or Anton Rodin come to mind), and a 1st round pick this summer.

Feb 202012

Throughout the week, CHB will host a series of posts highlighting possible trade targets that the Vancouver Canucks could be pursuing at the trade deadline next Monday.

Travis Moen, Montreal Canadiens

Photo credit: ESPN

LW/RW Travis Moen, Montreal Canadiens, LW/RW, $1.55M, UFA 2012

Remember when the Canucks played the Ducks in the playoffs of 2007? There was a highlight in that round where Roberto Luongo had the puck wedged in his pads, not completely covered, and Travis Moen barged in front and jammed both Luongo and the puck into the net. The goal counted. Much rage ensued.

What he brings

Moen has always been a gamer when the playoffs come around. He was a key performer in Anaheim’s 2007 run and didn’t look out of place in Montreal’s 2010 run to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Why he fits

His gritty, crash-and-bang style would look good on a third or fourth line with Maxim Lapierre, and you know that he won’t shy away from contact, especially from a certain Eastern team in black and gold if the opportunity presented itself.

What he’ll cost

Still on the mend with an upper-body injury, the impending UFA is probably valued at a third-round pick. But given the recent going rate for players such as Dominic Moore (second round pick), there may be a team willing to pony up a second-round pick as well.

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