VANCOUVER — Mike Gillis wanted to change the balance of power on his own team as well as in the Western Conference.
The Vancouver Canucks general manager made a splash at Monday’s NHL trading deadline by sending slick rookie centre Cody Hodgson to the Buffalo Sabres for burly winger Zack Kassian. Both are former first-round draft choices.
“We needed to have more power,” Gillis told Vancouver radio station Team 1040. “We have enough skill.”
Hodgson ranks among league leaders in rookie scoring with 16 goals and 17 assists. The transaction highlighted an otherwise moderate day of trading.
Several teams, including the Calgary Flames, remained on the sidelines rather than participate in the flurry of deals common on previous deadline days. As a result, some prized players, including Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash and Canucks backup goaltender Cory Schneider, stayed put with their clubs.
The Canucks also sent rarely used defenceman Alexander Sulzer to the Sabres for defenceman Marc-Andre Gragnani as part of the four-player deal.
Gillis said the Canucks dealt Hodgson because they have to become more physical in order to get out of the Western Conference. The Vancouver GM said Hodgson probably would have been in the same third-line role behind top pivots Henrik Sedin and Ryan Kelser for three to five years.
Hodgson was the first player Gillis drafted in 2008 after taking the Canucks’ helm, and the deal was “extremely difficult” said the GM, but the club lacked strength at the “power-forward position”
Gillis called Kassian “a force” who has the potential to become a “special player” like Hodgson.
“He skates well, he has good hands and he’s a rough, nasty guy,” said Gillis.
He said the Canucks never would have traded a young player for an older player. Kassian has a chance to grow with the Canucks and allows Vancouver to give teams a different look and play a different style, if necessary.
Hodgson and Sulzer were walking back to the Canucks’ hotel in Glendale, Ariz., when they learned of the trade from Vancouver defenceman Chris Tanev.
“It’s a new opportunity and we’ll see what happens,” Hodgson, 21, told TSN shortly after the deal was reported. “But I have mixed emotions.”
Hodgson’s departure ends a sometimes turbulent relationship with the Canucks. After the 21-year-old Toronto native was drafted by Vancouver in the first round in 2008 (10th overall), he suffered a back injury during a team-supervised off-ice training session in 2009.
When Hodgson struggled in the 2009 preseason, coach Alain Vigneault questioned the seriousness of the injury. But the problem went undiagnosed for months, forcing Hodgson to miss most of his final junior season with the Brampton Batallion of the OHL and a second year with Canada’s world junior team. The injury was finally diagnosed as a torn muscle prior to the 2010-11 season, which he split with the Canucks and their former AHL farm team in Manitoba before becoming a mainstay this season.
“I’m still very shocked right now,” said Hodgson.
Kassian, a 21-year-old Windsor, Ont., native, has three goals and four assists in 27 games with the Sabres this season, his first in the NHL. He was drafted 13th overall by Buffalo in 2009.
“I was not expecting this at all,” Kassian told TSN.
The six-foot-three and 228-pound winger is looked upon for toughness that Vancouver lacked during last spring’s Stanley Cup final. But it remains to be seen how much he will play after splitting this season between Buffalo and its AHL farm club in Rochester, N.Y.
“I like to be physical, but at the same time make plays and chip in offensively,” said Kassian, adding he also likes to stick up for teammates.
Sulzer, a 27-year-old native of Kaufbeuren, Germany, was a career minor-league player before signing with the Canucks as a free agent last summer. He was a healthy scratch during most of the past two months.
Gragnani, a 24-year-old Montreal native who was drafted in the third round (87th overall) by Buffalo in 2005, had one goal and 11 assists in his first full season with the Sabres after spending most of the past four campaigns in the minors.
Earlier on Monday, the Canucks acquired veteran centre Sammy Pahlsson from Columbus for minor-league defenceman Taylor Ellington and two 2012 fourth-round draft picks.
Pahlsson won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2006-07, when he recorded three goals and nine assists in 21 playoff games.
Pahlsson, a 34-year-old native of Ange, Sweden, recorded two goals and nine assists in Columbus this season.
He was a perennial thorn in Vancouver’s side while playing eight seasons for the Anaheim Ducks and briefly with Chicago late in the 2008-’09 season, when he helped the Blackhawks eliminate the Canucks from the playoffs. He signed as a free agent with Columbus in 2009 and is looking forward to returning to the playoffs after a two-year absence.
“It feels great,” said Pahlsson, during a conference call, about the opportunity to go to a top contender. “It’s a chance for me to get to the playoffs and get a chance at (the Stanley Cup) again.”
Gillis said Pahlsson is a shutdown defender who gives Vancouver’s third line different options and can play against the opposition’s top players.
Pahlsson was a member of Sweden’s Olympic gold medal-winning team in 2006 with Vancouver’s Sedin twins and is looking forward to play on the same NHL team with them.
“It’s exciting,” said Pahlsson. “They’re two very good friends of mine.”
Pahlsson is slated to replace Hodgson on the third line. Gillis said Pahlsson is a shutdown defender who gives the third forward unit different options and can play against the opposition’s top players.
During his NHL career, Pahlsson has compiled 66 goals and 127 assists for 193 points in 779 regular-season games and added nine goals and 19 assists in 81 playoff games.
He is earning US$2.65 million and due to become an unrestricted free agent in the summer.
In another deal, Vancouver obtained right-winger Andrew Gordon from the Anaheim Ducks for defenceman Sebastien Erixon.
Elsewhere around the league, the Montreal Canadiens dealt winger Andrei Kostitsyn to Nashville Predators for a 2013 second-round pick and conditional fifth-round selection. The move reunites him with brother Sergei Kostitsyn, who is a forward with the Predators.
The Kostitsyn brothers played together with Montreal from 2007 to 2010.
Andrei Kostitsyn is earning US$3.25 million and will become an unrestricted free agent July 1. He’s struggled recently and has 12 goals and 24 points in 53 games this season.
Montreal also claimed tough guy Brad Staubitz off re-entry waivers from Minnesota. The 27-year-old had no points and 73 penalty minutes in 43 games with the Wild this season.
Montreal wasn’t the only Canadian team making a deal prior to the 3 p.m. ET deadline.
The Ottawa Senators acquired Matt Gilroy from Tampa Bayfor fellow defenceman Brian Lee. Gilroy, a former Hobey Baker Award winner as U.S. university hockey’s top player, has two goals and 15 assists in 53 games with the Lightning this season.
Gilroy carries a cap hit of $US1,000,000 and is scheduled to become an unrestricted free agent July 1.
Lee, 24, has five goals and 23 assists in 167 career games with the Senators.
The Winnipeg Jets claimed defenceman Grant Clitsome off waivers from Columbus. The 26-year-old had four goals and 14 points in 51 games with the Blue Jackets.
The Toronto Maple Leafs acquired right-winger Carter Ashton from Tampa Bay for defenceman Keith Aulie. Ashton was selected 29th overall by Tampa Bay at the 2009 draft and has 19 goals and 16 assists in 56 games the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals this season, Ashton has 19 goals and 16 assists.
Aulie, 22, has split time between the Maple Leafs and the club’s American Hockey League affiliate this season.
The Edmonton Oilers shook up its blue-line, acquiring Nick Schultz from the Minnesota Wild for Tom Gilbert. Schultz is a more defensive-minded player than Gilbert and had spent his entire career with the Wild.
He has three points (one goal, two assists) in 62 games this season.
Gilbert had 17 points (3-14) in 47 games for Edmonton this season.
In other deals, the San Jose Sharks acquired forwards Daniel Winnik and T.J. Galiardi from the Colorado Avalanche for forward Jamie McGinn and two prospects. Also, Tampa Bay landed veteran defenceman Mike Commodore from Detroit Red for a conditional 2013 seventh-round draft pick.
The 32-year-old Commodore won the Stanley Cup with Carolina in 2006 and has eight points (two goals, six assists) in 53 career playoff games.