Buffalo - February 4, 2015 - In the NHL, a year can feel like a lifetime. At least that’s how long it feels like it’s been since Cody Hodgson was last considered to be a valuable member of the Buffalo Sabres.
It’s been hard to remember that Hodgson led the team in scoring just one year ago, racking up 44 points in 72 games for a Sabres team that finished last in the NHL standings. He’s just a year removed from 20 goals and a larger role in the Sabres offense.
Of course, with just two goals and eight points through 49 frustrating games, it can be pretty easy to forget all that. It gets even easier to forget in the wake of a healthy scratch against the team that traded him: the Vancouver Canucks.
In what has been a tumultuous season for the Sabres, perhaps no individual Sabre has had a tougher time than Hodgson and it seems like the bulk of the city is ready to cut ties with the 24-year-old center and chalk this all up as a loss. And that would be foolish.
Sure, on paper, it’s hard to imagine Hodgson, formerly a top 10 pick of the Canucks, amounting to his potential. He’s not strong on defense – at best, he’s simply not seen. At worst, he’s a liability – and when his offensive game dries up, it’s hard to find a use for him. The Sabres gave up a then-budding power forward to get him and make him a focal point.
But Hodgson is still just 24. He’s still learning his game, seeing how he fits in head coach Ted Nolan’s world and how he can best help the Sabres. That task is made even more difficult when the team you’re playing for has been stripped bare of talent to prepare for the future. It should be of no surprise that Hodgson was playing his best hockey when he was lined up with talented players like Thomas Vanek. He then found his way into the doghouse under Nolan and has skated with the likes of Cody McCormick, Patrick Kaleta and Torrey Mitchell ever since. Not exactly names you’d see littering NHL top sixes.
His defense is an issue, sure, and it’s never likely to be a strong point. For a guy like him, if he’s not scoring and he’s seeing his role diminished, it’s got to be hard to want to commit to being a better defensive player. So instead of trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, the Sabres and Nolan should be trying to find him the right linemates to make use of his very obvious offensive gifts. Sometimes in a defensive system where you want to hold everyone accountable, there has to be a little slack given to the guys who just aren’t defensive players.
Most importantly is the fact that in a rebuild effort like the one the Sabres are undertaking requires all the help they can possibly get. Why totally waste an asset like Hodgson who is still young enough and talented enough that he can be worked with?
Hodgson was back in the lineup on Tuesday night in a rare win over the Canadiens. He chipped in an assist on the first goal of the night by Drew Stafford, looked like he had a little bit of a fire in him and generally had a solid night. It doesn’t mean things are all sunshine and roses ahead, but it’s a nice little positive in a season that hasn’t had many for Hodgson.
Hopefully, he’ll regain his scoring touch and take his place as one of the building blocks on the current roster. Otherwise, the Sabres may find themselves letting him go and wondering just where it went wrong.
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