With the post-trade posturing by teams, general managers and fans to promote the view that this is a trade that helps both teams, often thats far from the case, and considering the wealth of draft picks and prospects exchanged at the deadline, its not always clear which team emerges as the victor in the long run.
While we promoted Vancouvers and Nashvilles roster upgrades as strong steps towards filling holes in their depth, dont overlook the roster solidification undertaken by the Buffalo Sabres, who likely came away with the best overall player exchanged on deadline day in center Cody Hodgson while also prying away the Predators first round pick in the trade that sent sizeable forward Paul Gaustad to Nashville.
Hodgson made his debut in a 2-0 win at Anaheim on Wednesday, finishing with a plus-1 rating and taking four shots on net. Flanked on opposite sides by Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford, Hodgson looked perfectly comfortable in immediate action, considering he hadnt as much as practiced with Buffalo after flying from British Columbia to upstate New York for a physical before flying back to Southern California for Wednesdays game.
Im fine. I got a good sleep Tuesday night, Hodgson said about his cross-continent travels. Alexander Sulzer and I had quite the trip back and forth, but it needed to be done, no problems. Were excited. Theres going to be no tiredness, thats for sure.
Involved in several outnumbered attacks in his first outing with the Sabres, Hodgson showed off the attributes that had hockey fans in Vancouver considering a Calder Trophy run as the leagues rookie of the year, never mind the two dominant centers in Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kesler that kept him entrenched as a third-liner.
Searching for two lines that can give us more of a solid offensive look, Sabres coach Lindy Ruff described the process of bringing in a skilled young player into the lineup so late in the season.
First, you sit down with him to go over how we play through the three ends of the ice, Ruff said. We use video sometimes to reinforce that. We dont have a lot of practice time if you look at this trip. I dont think were going to have a meaningful practice day. Compare how they play, or what his assignments were in his own end to how we play, and let him play.
Having grown up in suburban Toronto, where he played at nearly every level from minor hockey to juniors and on Canadas national U-18 and junior teams with Colorado Avalanche star Matt Duchene, the move to Buffalo is almost a homecoming for Hodgson, whose brother attends Brock University near Niagara Falls. His family will frequently be supporting him at the First Niagara Center, a much easier commute than flying across the continent to watch him play in Vancouver.
Hodgson spoke on his earliest impressions of his new team after he joined them on the ice for the first time at Wednesdays morning skate.
Theyve had a bit of injury troubles, and it looks like most guys are pretty healthy now, and Im looking forward to getting back on the right track, Hodgson said of the Sabres.
Talking with the coaches, it seems pretty similar to Vancouver. Theres some systems tweaks and stuff like that that Ill have to think about. On the ice I try not to think too much, and just go play. There are good players, and like I said, just try to fit in and do the best I can.
Acknowledging Hodgsons fitness and that hes got good hands, he understands the game, Ruff spelled out Buffalos current late-season predicament.
Were battling for that last playoff spot it should bode well having a center you should have for a long time. At the same time, offensively we look for him to add some offense to our team.
Considering the 43-save shutout they received from Ryan Miller on Wednesday, along with the offensive punch throughout the top two lines and Tyler Ennis move back to left wing, the suddenly nearly-healthy Sabres who battled injuries up and down their lineup all season should be among the teams trending upwards over the seasons final five weeks. A five-point deficit with 19 games to play is by no means insurmountable.
Im excited to be here, and hopefully its a good fit, Hodgson said. I think we can complement each other. I know a few guys already, and Im looking to have a good time. Its fun.
Rookie forward Johansen battles through second half struggles
Columbus Blue Jackets rookie forward Ryan Johansen, the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft, was battling through a challenging rookie season in which his elite skill level was occasionally rising to the surface as a 19 year old competing against grown men.
As an underager eligible to be returned to his junior Portland Winterhawks, with whom he recorded 161 points in 134 regular season games, he was properly kept on Columbus roster and earned 17 points in his first 42 games while maintaining a plus-5 rating, indicative of the softer situations the Blue Jackets eased him into. He enjoyed a five-goal, 12-point stretch through 11 games in late October and early November and was Columbus lone representative as a Young Star at the All-Star Game, a quality consolation prize considering the team wouldnt release him to Canadas World Junior team.
There were a few of the guys that came up to me and were really humble and nice, Johansen said of his All-Star experience. It was cool to actually see that, because you never know what theyre going to be like. For them to come up to a 19-year old kid and just chat for five minutes or whatever it is, its cool. Its nice to see.
Theres not much of a happy ending to this rookie saga. Johansen was a minus-3 in a 6-0 loss to San Jose in the Blue Jackets first game after the break and was a healthy scratch for the four games that followed. Since his benching, hes been held scoreless with a minus-3 rating over seven games.
I definitely thought it would be a little easier than it is, and Ive learned so much over the period of time that Ive been here, Johansen said to FOX Sports West in early February during the second of four consecutive games he sat. Obviously I still am not getting into all the games, but Im still learning a lot. Every day is a process for me, and Im just trying to learn new things every day and make sure I keep improving my game.
In hindsight, Johansens four-game benching clearly appears to be the wrong move by Columbus management. Confidence is the elusive attribute that allows players to reach their maximum skill potential, and the Blue Jackets punitive measure in all essence wiped out the positive footing gained from a modestly successful first half of the season. By keeping a 19-year old on the roster, Columbus had to assume a certain margin for teenage error, yet at the first major setback experienced by the dynamic young forward, their immediate reaction was to remove him from the ice instead of allowing him the opportunity to learn, grow, and build chemistry with his teammates. Considering where the Blue Jackets are in the standings and the trade that sent forward Jeff Carter to Los Angeles last week, were shocked that Johansens ice time has plummeted to just above an average of eight minutes over his last two games. Development isnt going to be expedited by withholding a young player from the ice.
Johansens self-assurance is at its most evident when he describes the high expectations he had placed upon his 19-year old rookie season.
I know I can be doing a lot better. I think close to 20 points isnt nearly as good as I could be doing. So Im just going to try and get back in the lineup and do my thing.
Its part of the process of adjusting to life in his first professional season, one that saw him join one of the NHLs most talent-deficient teams after teaming with fellow first rounder Nino Niederreiter and Toronto second rounder Brad Ross on a line for a Portland squad that won four playoff series in his two Western Hockey League seasons.
Itd be a challenge for anybody, Johansen said of Columbus struggles this season. What can you do? Youve just got to look past it and try and move on. Its obviously been a tough year, so were just going to try and forget about the past.
Capitals not guaranteed to emerge from playoff dogfight
We all remember Saturday, October 22, right?
That was the supposed Stanley Cup preview in which the 6-0 Capitals blistered the 6-0 Red Wings by a 7-1 score while engineering the best start in franchise history and generating quite a bit of postgame rah-rahs from the locker room.
"It shows that we got a lot of depth and everyone can score every night," said Matthieu Perreault, one of 14 Capitals who registered a point.
"It makes our team pretty tough to play against. You got to get out there with four lines ready to go every night because our four lines are ready to go every night. It feels pretty good right now."
While every team will endure injury issues, no team other than perhaps the Buffalo Sabres or the Pittsburgh Penguins has been as hamstrung by key players missing time to injury than Washington. Perraults observation on October 22 isnt necessarily as accurate on March 1.
Alex Ovechkins pivot, the worldly skilled playmaker Nicklas Backstrom, hasnt played since suffering a concussion on an errant elbow administered by Rene Bourque in a win over Calgary on January 3. Nursing a five-game point streak (eight points total) at the time of his injury, the absence of the more-than-a-point-per-game Backstrom has necessitated line shuffling by coach Dale Hunter.
Ovechkin, who was already performing under his career averages with .87 points per game prior to Backstroms injury, has dropped to .77 points per game in his 21 games since. Considering the injury and the depth scoring that hasnt consistently materialized this season for the Capitals, no longer has Ovechkin seen the majority of his time alongside right wing sniper Alexander Semin, whose points-per-game is on pace for its lowest total since 2007-08, Bruce Boudreaus Jack Adams Award-winning season that helped transform the Washington franchise.
Defenseman Mike Green recently returned from abdominal surgery that had sidelined him for nearly six weeks, adding another offensive option that should help the Capitals underachieving power play, which ranks 19th in the league with a 16.7 success rate entering March.
While Backstrom isnt expected to return in the near future, general manager George McPhee opted to stand pat at the trading deadline.
If theres an area in which Washington needs to show improvement over the seasons final six weeks, its their success on the road, where their 11-18-3 is much closer to the playoff also-rans than the teams expecting to win a playoff series or two. Though the team has won three in a row, theyve only posted four wins against current playoff teams two against Florida, one each against Boston and Pittsburgh since Backstroms injury. The club has won only 11 of 25 games over that span.
I wouldnt make big changes, Mc Phee said to Dan Steinberg of the D.C. Sports Blog. You know, if we didnt have these injuries to two really important players, then Id say boy this team isnt good enough. But our goaltending going forward is gonna be good with the young guys we have, and we need these guys the Greens, the Backstroms, the Ovechkins these guys have to be healthy. I mean, if any team in this league loses guys like that for most of the year, youre gonna be scratching and clawing, and thats where we are.
GAME OF THE WEEKEND
Buffalo at Vancouver
Saturday, March 3, 10:00 p.m. ET
One of sports simpler pleasures is the ability to watch two teams compete against each other less than a week after making a major trade. Vancouver may be one of North Americas most polite cities, but that doesnt mean Cody Hodgson wont be booed every time he touches the puck. We normally dont profile fourth liners in the G.O.T.W., but Zack Kassian will be a man possessed on Saturday, looking to hit any and all comers on his former team. Though Buffalo received a superb 43-save performance by Ryan Miller in a 2-0 win in Anaheim to kick off its four-game western swing on Wednesday, Miller will have to be even better on Saturday to withstand hockeys hottest team in the second half. We here at FOX would also like to pat ourselves on the back after correctly predicting last weeks 3-2 St. Louis shootout win in Winnipeg and will look to make it two in a row by proclaiming a 4-2 Vancouver home win on Saturday.