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by Kevin Snow / Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres traded size for skill on Monday, acquiring center Cody Hodgson and defenseman Alexander Sulzer from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for winger Zack Kassian and defenseman Marc-Andre Gragnani in what turned out to be the biggest transaction of an otherwise dull deadline day.

In a separate deal earlier in the day, Buffalo shipped center Paul Gaustad and a 2013 fourth-round draft pick to Nashville for the Predators’ first-round pick in this June’s Entry Draft.

The 22-year-old Hodgson is a playmaking center who had 33 points (16+17) in 63 games with the Canucks, while averaging just over 12 minutes of ice time per game. Sabres general manager Darcy Regier said Hodgson fits an immediate offensive need for the Sabres at a spot he calls the “second-most difficult position to fill in the National Hockey League behind goaltending.”

“Most teams are struggling to find top centers, most teams are struggling to find top two line centers,” said Regier. “And when we started to go through the process of ‘where are we going to get centermen going forward?’, it became a priority.
“The goal was when we evaluated our team, we knew that we had to get better. And get better in the event if it meant taking a minor step back, and we were prepared to do it. It still allows us to run at the playoffs. We all are aware of the odds against us. But I think with Cody coming in, he will give us a good boost on the offensive side.”

What the Sabres lose defensively in Gaustad, they gain in Hodgson’s offensive abilities. The six-foot, 185-pound center was the 2009 Canadian Hockey League Player of the Year when he recorded 92 points (43+49) in 53 games for the OHL’s Brampton Battalion.  Drafted 10th overall by the Canucks in the same 2008 Draft that brought Tyler Myers (12th) and Tyler Ennis (26th) to Buffalo, Hodgson’s 33 points this season are good for fifth among NHL rookies, just eight behind New Jersey’s Adam Henrique.

(Hodgson, Myers and Ennis were all teammates on Canada’s gold-medal winning team at the 2009 World Junior Championship in Ottawa. Hodgson led all scorers in that tournament with 16 points in six games.)

“We certainly lose Gaustad’s competitiveness and size, and his ability to play against the other team’s top lines,” said Regier. “But we really felt that we had to address going forward -- with (Gaustad’s) pending unrestricted free agency -- we needed to address the center position, the offense, and an opportunity to get a young man like Cody.”

Regier said he’s not concerned with having to give up a pair of rugged forwards in order to bring back the smaller Hodgson along with a first rounder in this year’s draft.

“The physical side that we have in young players, Marcus Foligno can play every bit the style and the way Kassian can play. We’re comfortable with Marcus going forward. Also, I would point to Brayden McNabb has that going forward. We just feel that it’s an area we can go into the marketplace in the summer and more easily acquire than the skill and the talent side.”

The decision to part with Gaustad wasn’t an easy one for Regier. They had discussions with his agent twice in the past week, but ultimately set the bar for what they considered would be an acceptable return via the trade route.

“We thought long and hard about if we should trade him, and if so, under what conditions to trade him,” Regier explained. “We set the standard high, and the standard was that we had to be able to acquire a first-round pick. And if we couldn’t acquire a first-round pick in that process, we were not going to trade him, we were going to keep him for the term even though he’s an unrestricted player and would obviously hit the marketplace unless he signed prior to that on July 1.”

Regier said the move to swap Sulzer and Gragnani was essentially an opportunity to give a pair of young, seldom-used blueliners a fresh start in a new environment.

Sulzer had one assist in just 12 games with the Canucks this season, and hasn’t played in a game since January 15. Drafted in the third round (92nd overall) of the 2003 Entry Draft, the 27-year-old Sulzer has amassed eight points in 74 career games with Vancouver, Florida and Nashville. A native of Kaufbeuren, Germany, Sulzer has represented his country internationally in two Olympic Games (2006, 2010) and four World Championships.

In other Sabres news on Monday before the team lifted off for sunny California: Lindy Ruff said Cody McCormick failed his neuropsych test, and he will not accompany the team on the four-game road trip… Brad Boyes took part in the full practice and is expected to return to action this week after missing the past two games with an upper body injury… Corey Tropp was returned to Rochester after playing the last two games in place of the injured Boyes.

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