Today, the Buffalo Sabres waived Cody Hodgson. He was slated to make roughly $4.75mm per year for the next four years to produce lackluster and declining scoring stats (putting up only 13 points). Compounding his ineffectiveness was his -4.43 AB, highlighted by miserable two way play. We calculate that Hodgson cost the team over four goals this season. As such he is a liability to NHL teams everywhere? Right?
Not so fast. It turns out that Hodgson’s value is several fold. He draws penalties in the upper quartile of players in the NHL (which means he is doing something right). He also is decent a puck possession (which means he is skilled). His two way limitations aside (which may mean the rest of his team were loafers), Hodgson theoretically could improve a good 5×4 team at an affordable price tag. If Hodgson were to land in Detroit for example, his AB would actually be positive, and possibly wildly so. We are not saying that Detroit could should or would secure him, but a team with a power play differential at the upper end of the NHL could easily gamble on adding someone like Hodgson to their roster. This is especially true if the new suitor is seeking an upgrade to their third line (i.e., had a negative AB player from last year that was not successful even on a better team than Buffalo). That translates to almost everyone.
What is somewhat surprising about this move for Buffalo is that they seem to be retooling the team with potentially excellent AB players at the expense of hurtful ones. Ryan O’Reilly (+2.08), for whom Buffalo traded Zadurov (a disaster at -8.12 AB) and Grigerenko (-1.99 AB), was one of the best turnover margin players in the NHL last year (+72). Buffalo stole O’Reilly (and we will get to panning Colorado in a future piece, tsk tsk!). On point, with a better supporting cast, including Jack Eichel, Hodgson could have fit nicely within a potentially better balanced Buffalo team.
It is difficult however for us to be fully enthusiastic about the Sabres turnaround since their apparent change in philosophy is somewhat dampened by the deals they made for David Legwand, and the oft-injured, and serially negative AB, Evander Kane. Buffalo Brass must see something we don’t. Possibly, the Sabres are going to rely upon new head coach Dan Bylsma to exact more discipline on the legacy players and lean on guys like O’Reilly for leadership. A culture change is imperative, but we are not sure that Buffalo is finding the exact talent they need to accomplish this end.
As such, the flurry of deals involving Buffalo will probably be a “two steps forward, one (or two) step back” outcome; essentially the NHL equivalent of rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic – fraught with mixed messages. However, we can’t be too critical, since Buffalo is starting from an exceptionally low base – ostensibly without any devotion to advanced statistics like AB. The Sabres are the definition of a “work in progress.” The learning curve will be steep (but Buffalo is NOT alone in the NHL on this score) and can only get better. Unfortunately we cannot decipher if Buffalo is really serious about organizational change – they seem to be making some right moves and some wrong ones. Nowhere is this more evident than the removal of Hodgson; from which we will likely conclude that the future will become a little longer for the Sabres and a little shorter for another team.