Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Building the Buffalo Sabres 2014-15 roster--LW, Cody Hodgson

Reprinted with permission from hockeybuzz.com

One should never confuse Buffalo Sabres forward Cody Hodgson with a Selke candidate. If playing defense were paramount to his success in the NHL, his career would pretty much be over.

That's not to say that Hodgson doesn't recognize his shortcomings. He has been working on the defensive aspect of his game for the past couple of off seasons, along with his skating, in an attempt to be more responsible in his own zone. But defense is not why the Sabres traded for him, not why he signed a six-year contract extension nearly a year ago, and not why he's now on the wing in a top-six role.

“He’s not known for his great defense," said head coach Ted Nolan (via Bill Hoppe of the Olean Times Herald,) "and we don’t want him to play great defense. We want him to score offensively. But you have to be reliable defensively. One thing about the wing position, it’s not as complicated as playing center ice.”

Moving Hodgson from center to wing was a pretty smart move by Nolan. The coach put him on a line with center Zemgus Girgensons and winger Brian Flynn and it worked out very well.

Hodgson scored a goal in his first game on the wing vs. the Tampa Bay Lightning on a tip in. Girgensons stole the puck at the Bolts right faceoff dot and sent it to the point. Hodgson was in front of the net to tip in the shot from the point. It would be the first of four goals in nine games for him on the wing to finish the season. He would add four assists as well. That nearly point/game pace would make his minus-2 rating over that span a little more palatable.

Hodgson has always had defensive shortcomings and it's one of the reasons that former Vancouver Canucks GM Mike Gillis traded him to the Sabres just before the trade deadline in 2012.

The former first round pick (2008, 10th overall) was stuck on the third line behind 'Nucks #1 center Henrik Sedin and standout two-way pivot, Ryan Kesler. Having Hodgson on a checking line was a classic square peg/round hole scenario.

Hodgson would skate 12 games in the 2011 playoffs for Vancouver with the Canucks making it to the Stanley Cup Finals which they eventually lost to the Boston Bruins in seven games. That series loss lead to another reason that Gillis wanted to trade Hodgson, specifically, to the Sabres.

The Big Bad Bruins version 2.0 emerged during that Stanley Cup Final. The B's used the 'Nucks as a virtual and literal (see Brad Marchand/Daniel Sedin) punching bag. After taking a 3-2 series lead, Vancouver got punked in the last two games. Gillis' soft but skilled team needed more grit in the line up and he was able to land big winger Zack Kassian in the deal.

Between the end of the Finals and the trade deadline, Gillis felt that he needed to prop up Hodgson's trade value.

In a Vancouver Province piece published April 25, 2012, Gillis was quoted as saying, "We built [Hodgson] into something we could move. That was by design," specifically the limited number of defensive zone faceoffs Hodgson was on the ice for in the days leading up to his trade. “We put Cody on the ice in every offensive situation we could,” hearkened Gillis.

Vancouver entered the 2012 Stanley Cup playoffs as the top seed in the Western Conference. They ended up losing in the first round to the eventual Cup-champion Los Angeles Kings. The following season the 'Nucks were swept in the first round of the playoffs by the San Jose Sharks.

Head coach Alain Vigneault, who carried out Gillis' master-Hodgson plan, was fired soon after their 2013 exit. Gillis was shown in the door this past May after the Canucks failed to make the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

It wouldn't be too farfetched to think that Hodgson had a bit of a smile on his face as he witnessed the demise of a front office that threw him under the bus for their own inadequacies. Not only was there the belittling of "having to prop him up to trade him," Gillis also raked Hodgson over the coals for having an injury and (at times) for having to deal with a (supposedly) overbearing father, “I spent more time on Cody’s issues than every other player combined on our team the last three years,” Gillis snarked at a press conference.

Hodgson hit the 20-goal mark last season for the first time in his career. He averages 21 goals/82 games and is still only 24 years old. And he did that throughout all of the turmoil that has surrounded his career to this point. It should be noted that after being traded by Vancouver, Hodgson, is now under his second GM and third coach in 140 games as a Buffalo Sabre.

As for this season Hodgson looks as if he'll be on the wing for a few of reasons--the team wants Girgensons at center, the Sabres also lack scoring on the wings, and he played pretty well there for his short nine-game stint.

It's a new lease on hockey life for Hodgson as he finally puts the turmoil of Vancouver, as well as last year's historically bad Sabres team, behind him.

He may not even know how to react.

Building the 2014-15 Buffalo Sabres roster:

LW, Matt Moulson/C, Tyler Ennis/RW, Drew Stafford
Cody Hodgson/Zemgus Girgensons/--

RHD, Tyler Myers/LHD, Josh Gorges

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