David Booth’s contract runs for four more seasons, including the current one, and the Vancouver Canucks' new acquisition is slated to skate on an all-American second line with Ryan Kesler and Chris Higgins.
The loser in Vancouver’s trade with the Florida Panthers is rookie Cody Hodgson, who played just nine minutes Saturday in a 3-2 overtime win over Minnesota. It also begs two questions:
1) Where does Hodgson fit near- and long-term?
2) Where does Mason Raymond slot when (or if) he returns from back surgery?
On the first question, the Canucks have now tried to integrate Hodgson on both the second and fourth lines with mixed results. He is a playmaking centreman, and skating between two “energy” players did not represent his comfort zone. On the second line, he had to play out of position on right wing to accommodate middle-man Ryan Kesler.
Monday, head coach Alain Vigneault had Hodgson centering the third line with Manny Malhotra playing left wing. The Canucks have long thought about easing Hodgson into the lineup in that role, but shifted gears when openings on other lines cropped up. (Malhotra, one of the NHL’s top face-off men would take most draws, particularly on the left side, then switch positions with Hodgson after the puck is dropped).
Long term is another matter. Vigneault lectured the media and fans Monday for wanting instant results from the organization’s top prospect, the 10th pick in the 2008 entry draft.
But if Hodgson is on the long, slow path to offensive production like the Sedin twins and Kesler, then it’s difficult to see him fitting with the Canucks over the next few seasons. The Canucks have an open Stanley Cup window while the Sedins, Kesler and others are in their prime years, and they don’t have room for a passenger who is learning on the job. That could make Hodgson a trade candidate, particularly if holes become apparent.
General manager Mike Gillis proved Saturday that he will address shortfalls quickly, shipping wingers Mikael Samuelsson and Marco Sturm to Florida for Booth, who will presumably become a finisher on Kesler’s left flank.
Here’s what Vigneault said about Hodgson during a sermon at his Monday press conference:
“Cody is trying to establish himself as a regular NHL player at a very young age, which is not something that is easy to do. There seems to be this theory, or this perception here, that if he doesn’t succeed than we haven’t handled him right, or he’s not good enough.
“He’s a very young man, and you people here in Vancouver should know more than anybody: are the twins better players now than when they came into the league? It took them a long time. Is Ryan Kesler a better player now than when he came into the league? Some players are able to step in, but there are not a lot of Sidney Crosbys...who can contribute at a high offensive level. Some other guys, it takes them a little bit longer.
“We feel Cody has a tremendous amount of upside. He’s an extremely hard worker, and we feel he is going to be able to contribute. Is that going to happen now? We’re all trying to figure that out.”
As for Raymond, he remains out “indefinitely” but must be feeling uneasy about his place in the lineup should he return later this season. The Canucks hoped he would develop into Kesler’s left winger, but after a 25-goal season two years ago, Raymond slumped to 15 goals last year and began shuffling down the forward combinations.
It’s also worth questioning whether Raymond, a perimeter-oriented player who uses speed more than jam to generate offence, will ever be gritty enough to serve as a top-six forward in the playoffs. He suffered a serious injury in the Cup final -- fractured vertebrae followed by soft-tissue “issues” and ongoing pain -- that could have implications for his game, and beyond hockey.