BUFFALO, N.Y. – Without dismissing the Buffalo Sabres’ chances of making the playoffs this season, general manager Darcy Regier turned his attention to addressing long-term needs at the NHL trade deadline on Monday.
Regier completed two trades in which he filled the team’s biggest need at centre, by acquiring rookie Cody Hodgson from league-leading Vancouver. He also landed a first-round draft pick in a deal that sent veteran centre Paul Gaustad to Nashville.
In exchange for Hodgson, who is expected to immediately step in and play a second-line role, Buffalo gave up rookie power forward Zack Kassian. The Sabres also dealt sparingly used defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani to Vancouver for defenceman Alexander Sulzer.
In the trade with Nashville, the Sabres also sent Nashville a fourth-round pick in next year’s draft. Buffalo now has two first-round and two second-round picks heading into this year’s draft, giving Regier the option to use them on selecting players or cashing them in as trade value.
Regier held firm in getting a first-round pick when it came to entertaining offers for Gaustad, who was expendable because he’s in the final year of his contract.
“Long term, it’ll turn out to be a good day,” Regier said. “When we evaluated our team, we knew that we had to get better. And to get better, if it meant taking a minor step back, then we were prepared to do it.”
The trades came as Buffalo prepares to open a key four-game road swing in Anaheim on Wednesday. The Sabres (27-27-8) are on an 8-3-3 roll that’s allowed them to climb into a tie for 11th in the Eastern Conference, six points out of contention with 20 games left.
“It still allows us to run at the playoffs,” Regier said of his philosophy behind making the trades. And yet, he also cautioned, “we all are aware of the odds against us.”
Hodgson was the key addition for a Buffalo team that has lacked playmaking depth up the middle since losing centres and co-captains Daniel Briere and Chris Drury in free agency in 2007.
With 33 points (16 goals, 17 assists) in 63 games this season, Hodgson is fifth among NHL rookies in points this season, and tied for second in goals despite averaging less than 13 minutes a game while playing on the high-powered Canucks third line. He immediately becomes the Sabres fourth-leading scorer.
“He brings very solid two-way play,” Regier said. “Most teams are struggling to find top two-line centres. And as we started to go through the process of where we are going to get centermen going forward, it became a priority.”
The Sabres are deep along the wings, which made Kassian expendable.
Selected 13th overall in the 2009 draft, Kassian has shown signs of playing with a rugged style but has had difficulty landing a regular role in Buffalo this season. He has three goals and four assists in 27 games split between stints in the minors.
Kassian’s focus has been questioned. And he also ran into an off-ice trouble in May 2010, when he was charged with assault for being involved in a bar fight in his hometown of Windsor, Ontario. The charge was dropped after Kassian completed 25 hours of community service.
Hodgson has faced questions, too.
After being drafted by Vancouver, he suffered a back injury during a team-supervised off-ice training session in 2009. He continued attempting to play, and the back injury—a torn muscle—went undiagnosed for several months and eventually forced him to miss most of his final junior season.
“It’s a new opportunity, and we’ll see what happens,” Hodgson told TSN. “But I have mixed emotions. … I’m still very shocked right now.”
Hodgson is expected to join the Sabres for their game in Anaheim. And he’ll have a chance to face his former team on Saturday, when the Sabres play at Vancouver.
Notes: Gragnani has been a healthy scratch in 12 of Buffalo’s last 13 games. He has a goal and 11 assists in 44 games this season. … Sulzer has appeared in just 74 NHL games over four seasons, split between three teams. He has one assist in 12 games with Vancouver this year. … Sabres RW Brad Boyes has been cleared to play after missing two games with an upper body injury. … Sabres C Cody McCormick (concussion) will not travel with the team after coach Lindy Ruff said the player had a setback in his recovery Monday.