Black Ice Issue #32 — And With The Tenth Pick…

In our last post, your correspondent lambasted the leadership tactics of our Vancouver Canucks as inconsistent and unstable. Fear not Vancouverdom, help is on the way. Will Luongo return sooner then expected from injury? Is it Mats Sundin, savior of the free-world, soon to arrive from a far off Scandinavian village — point-a-game in hand? No and no. But rest your laurels dear city, the savior for our beloved franchise comes in the guise of a small, play-making center who hales from the middle of the Canadian shield. He comes with a ringing endorsement from that ‘ol red faced, cigar chompin’ Irishman named  Pat Quinn and at the moment, he is tied with John (don’t call me sweepstakes) Tavares in scoring at the World Juniors.

His name is Cody Hodgson. His number is 18. Get ready rafters, twenty years from now you may need retrofitting to hold the weight of another banner.

In Canuck Nation you dare to dream. You hold your breath, anticipate defeat, and carry on your routine with the heavy burden of losing. With Cody, there is much hope. Here are three reasons why.

One, the drafting of Cody Hodgson signals a new direction in scouting for the Vancouver Canucks. For years the Vancouver Canucks have been the laughing stock of the scouting world, drafting duds such as Dan Woodley (7th overall, played 5 games) and Jason Herter (6th overall, played 0 games) and often leaving notable players such as Brian Leech, Jaromir Jagr, Al MacInnis and Ray Bourque on the dock for other teams to snatch up, much to the dismay of hindsight. That is not to say the Canucks have had meager luck on the drafting table, it just says that over the years, the scouting staff has proven spotty and inconsistent. In some ways this is worse then totally inept scouting because it has kept the club in a mediocre stasis, never truly building a culture of winning that has benefit clubs in the long-term. Look no further then the Detroit Red Wings or the Colorado Avalanche as evidence of this. Ever since Vancouver lost the the Gilbert Perrault sweepstakes 38 years ago, they have been struggling (often in vain) to find a winner, often with sub-par consequences. This has to be worse then teams that ice duds on a daily basis like the Phoenix Coyotes or the Florida Panthers. There is zero expectation for these teams, they merely subsist to pad the NHL calendar and insure wins for superior teams. Cody Hodgson will change all of this. He has the grace and leadership of Joe Sakic and the compunture and athleticism of Steve Yzerman. He is smart, quick and lofty in the expectations he has for himself as a player. He is precocious in the vein of Trevor Linden in the year that Linden was drafted, yet he is humble to a fault.

Two, the drafting of Cody Hodgson officially signals the end of the Pat Quinn, Brain Burke, Dave Nonis era. This oligarchy of power began in 1987 when Pat Quinn officially signed on after a strange exit from the Los Angeles Kings (where Quinn was still under contract). After being banned from coaching until 1990 (and after the kings sued the Canucks for tampering), Quinn immediately made his mark on the club by drafting franchise stalwart, Trevor Linden. In the the pursuing years, success in the draft was quickly fallowed by failure. The Quinn oligarchy, on the surface can be described as a trading dynasty and not a drafting one. In other words, Quinn, Burke and Nonis are better remembered for their ability to acquire players through trades then through the draft and subsequently developing this talen in the farm system. In the era of these three GMs, they built all built competitive squads, Quinn in 1994, Burke in 2003 and Nonis in 2006, but the core of these groups came through trades not from the draft.

In the era of salary caps and off-loading soon-to-be UFA’s at the trade deadline, there is little in the realm of blockbuster deals anymore. Team must build through the draft, go through a 3-5 year rebuilding process, capitalize or go-bust, and start again, ad infanitum. When Mike Gillis was hired he immediately went to work, shoring up the scouting department and refusing to bend to local pressure to draft B.C. boy, Kyle Beach (who is not representing Canada at the World Juniors right now unlike Hodgson) and going with a more numbers-based model of sports management (see SABERMETRICS). This goes to prove that the big money, ego-largesse era of Canucks hockey (and the NHL as a whole) looks likes it’s coming to an end. Bone crushing hits are quickly being replaced by keen number crunching and creative solutions are being championed to keep the players motivated and healthy, thus leaving the most important asset in the game alone to do what he does best — win hockey games. Attachment to this old regiment was not severed easily as hockey fans in Vancouver waited to see what the bag-eyes rookie GM would do. There was little in terms of praise for Mike Gillis and his “safe” choice of Hodgson in the first round of the 2008 draft but this mark was recently upgraded to a “great” choice when Hodgson again lite the lamp at he World Juniors. With Gillis’ master-courting of uber-UFA Mats Sundin, he has bought himself some well deserved stock in this city and his steady hand at the drafting wheel has led many detractors to wonder what else this wunderkind GM has left up his sleeve in order to built a culture of winning in this city.

My third point regarding the drafting of Cody Hodgson is that he is the first prospect, since the drafting of Trevor Linden, who basically been pre-ordained future captain, signifying a new era on the ice for the Vancouver Canucks. When Roberto Luongo was named captain in September, most people agreed that it was the best choice. The fact, however, is that the present group has a limited window of opportunity to find success in the post-season (should that even qualify). Luongo may bolt for a better chance at winning a cup, most likely on the East coast and the Sedins could follow the money (or Gillis could let them walk) and that essentially makes up the nucleus of the the team. Gillis will keep players like Demitra (and possibly sign the oft-injured Marian Gaborik) to shore up the team while talent develops.

A GM must always have one foot in the present and one foot in the future when assessing potential moves (and counter-move) at various points in the season. With Cody Hodgson, Mike Gillis has made one of his most “bold moves” to date. He has made a statement which say he has a firm hold on the direction of the team, whether they are winning now or winning with a new roster 3-5 years from now. The message Gillis sent fans in Vancouver was that a new era is begining. Similarily, the Quinn dynasty was bookended by Trevor Linden and his accomplishments on the ice and Quinn/Burke/Nonis’ accomplishments in the front office. We will now see how long the Gillis era will be shadowed by this young, smart hockey player from Toronto with so much promise and up-side that the comparisons to Linden are almost eerie.

See you in 2028 rafters!

 

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