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Buffalo Sabre Zach Kassian watches a rebound off the pad of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson in Buffalo, Feb. 19, 2012. (Gary Wiepert/The Associated Press/Gary Wiepert/The Associated Press)
Buffalo Sabre Zach Kassian watches a rebound off the pad of Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender Brent Johnson in Buffalo, Feb. 19, 2012. (Gary Wiepert/The Associated Press/Gary Wiepert/The Associated Press)

Vancouver trades skill for size, toughness Add to ...

The deal was with the Buffalo Sabres but it had everything to do with the Boston Bruins.

With the Vancouver Canucks knowing they had to get tougher to combat the defending Stanley Cup-champion Bruins, the decision was made Monday to trade Cody Hodgson and his offensive styling for Zack Kassian’s brand of demolition hockey. It turned out to be the biggest, most hotly debated move on a relatively quiet trade deadline day in the NHL.

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That the Canucks would give up on Hodgson so quickly rankled some of the team’s fans. The former first-round draft pick (10th overall in 2008) had finally worked his way into the Vancouver lineup and was seemingly on good terms with head coach Alain Vigneault, who had been critical of Hodgson in the past.

On top of that, Hodgson had overcome his back problems and was playing well on the team’s third line, scoring 16 goals and 17 assists. Those totals rank him fifth among NHL rookies this season.

But the Canucks ruled Hodgson expendable with the belief they already had enough offence from their two top centres Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler. What was needed was power on the wing, someone to battle with the likes of Boston power forward Milan Lucic, who tore up Vancouver in the 2011 final. Kassian is definitely suited to attempt that.

A former first-round draft pick (13th overall in 2009), the 6-foot-3, 214-pound Kassian is about as subtle as a stampede. He likes the rough-and-rumble game and has shown he can score a little. He had 15 goals in 30 American Hockey League games this season and three goals and four assists in 27 games with Buffalo. He said Monday he likes being physical but also wanted to “chip in offensively and be an all-round player.”

Canucks general manager Mike Gillis said the trade was about making his team more diversified.

“Cody is a really good young player. He’s going to continue to develop and be an excellent NHL player. But for our needs immediately and moving forward, we felt we needed size and we needed toughness,” Gillis told reporters. “It’s about balance and it’s about being able to play in any situation and I think we’re better able to play in any situation today than we were.”

The Canucks are undeniably bigger now with Kassian and Byron Bitz, the 6-foot-5, 215-pound reclamation project who has played well when healthy. Moving Hodgson’s skill for size was made easier when Gillis acquired Sami Pahlsson from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The cost for the 34-year-old centre was a pair of 2012 fourth-round draft picks and his presence gives Vancouver a shutdown specialist.

Pahlsson was a key member of the Anaheim Ducks when they won the 2007 Stanley Cup and was fully expecting to be shipped out by Columbus. At the same time, he admitted being traded to a playoff contender was not all bad.

“Being in the playoffs is the best part of hockey,” Pahlsson said. “For three years, [the Blue Jackets]were not even close to it. That’s hard on everyone.”

The Canucks and Sabres also traded defenceman in the Hodgson-Kassian deal. Vancouver acquired Marc-André Gragnani in exchange for the seldom-used Alex Sulzer. Gragnani had a strong playoff showing in 2011, scoring seven points in seven games. His offensive potential could earn him a roster spot with the Canucks at some point in the future.

Vancouver’s final trade was announced as a swap of minor-leaguers. Forward Andrew Gordon joined the Canucks while defenceman Sebastian Erixon was shipped to Anaheim.

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