Finishing up a quiet NHL trade deadline, the Buffalo Sabres and Vancouver Canucks traded young players with big upside.
Numbers Game looks at the deal that resulted in Cody Hodgson and Zack Kassian switching teams.
The Sabres Get: C Cody Hodgson and D Alexander Sulzer.
Hodgson, 22, has been quite productive in limited ice time in his rookie season with the Canucks, scoring 16 goals and 33 points, with a plus-8 rating with a mere 12:44 of ice time per game.
There was a double-edged sword for Hodgson in Vancouver. While his minutes were protected, as Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler faced the difficult matchups, while Kesler and Maxim Lapierre would start more frequently in the defensive zone, Hodgson also was stuck playing 12-13 minutes per game with lower quality linemates and it's difficult to be as productive as Hodgson was in such little ice time.
Teddy Purcell and Clarke MacArthur are the only other forwards in the league to have scored at least 33 points while playing under 15 minutes, yet Purcell and MacArthur are both over 14:50 per game, a couple of minutes per game more than Hodgson.
Moving to Buffalo gives Hodgson a legitimate opportunity to fully realize his offensive potential. Moving into a second-line centre role with the Sabres, say between Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, while playing at least 17 minutes per game, is a good test for Hodgson as he tries to establish his credentials as a scoring centre in the NHL.
Hodgson's cap hit is $1,666,666 (www.capgeek.com) and his conract runs through next season, when he'll be a restricted free agent.
Sulzer is a 27-year-old who hasn't been able to crack an NHL lineup, either in Nashville or Vancouver, and that probably won't change in Buffalo. He's contributed eight points with a plus-2 rating in 74 career games, playing about 16 mintues a night. He'll be an unrestrictd free agent at season's end.
The Canucks Get: RW Zack Kassian and D Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Kassian is a 21-year-old power forward who has had some success in his first pro season, scoring 15 goals and 26 points in 30 AHL games this season, as well as contributing seven points in 27 games with the Sabres.
Like Hodgson, Kassian hasn't played a lot (11:56 per game), but moving to Vancouver isn't necessarily going to change that outlook right away. While Kassian has upside as a scorer, he may not be ready to take on such a role for a Stanley Cup contender like the Canucks, so he could be more likely to find himself in a third or fourth-line role right out of the gate.
Kassian's ice time was protected in Buffalo, in terms of level of competition, but that figures to remain the case in Vancouver this season too. What Kassian offers the Canucks is a more physical presence. He's 6-foot-3, 228 pounds and can bang bodies on the third and fourth line in the short-term, with an eye towards working his way onto a scoring line in the next few years.
In the first year of his entry-level deal, Kassian comes at a reasonable $870,000 cap hit and he's under contract for a couple more seasons.
24-year-old blueliner Marc-Andre Gragani is a puck-moving defenceman who is slightly ahead of Sulzer in his bid to fit in the NHL as something more than a seventh defenceman.
Gragnani was the AHL Defenceman of the Year in 2010-2011 and joined the Sabres late in the season, scoring seven points in seven games, but he's been stuck on the fringe of the Sabres lineup this year, playing 16:23 per game in 44 games played, contributing a goal and 13 points along with a plus-10 rating.
Gragnani does have a positive shot differential (plus-1.8 per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 play; www.behindthenet.ca) as well, but these pluses need to be considered in context: Gragnani starts 63.8% of his shifts in the offensive zone, the second-highest percentage in the league among defencemen that have played at least 25 games (www.behindthenet.ca).
With Keith Ballard out of the lineup long-term, Gragnani will have a shot at playing on the Canucks' third pair, battling with Aaron Rome, Chris Tanev and Andrew Alberts for playing time, but he could end up seventh on the depth chart too if the Canucks don't feel they can trust his play in the defensive zone.
Both teams acquired valuable assets in this deal, but the Sabres have a chance to get more out of it long-term, as Hodgson can be a strong two-way point-producing centre. Kassian has power forward potential and could be a 30-goal scorer witha physical presence, which is a rare commodity, but it's not easy for a winger to match the overall value of a centre that is strong in both ends of the rink.