The Sabres Observer
by @DaveDavisHockey on 09/12/13 at 11:58 AM ET
It's just a good old fashioned case of damned if you do, damned if you don't.
Many of the same armchair Sabres owners who lambasted Tom Golisano for his one-year contract per player fantasy, and have seen more than a few good ones leave this town over the years due to lack of commitment from management, are now suddenly telling us that ambitious owner Terry Pegula and the Sabres should gleefully escort Cody Hodgson on the bridge to early UFA status.
Forgive me, but I'm having a difficult time understanding why so many folks are treating this contract announcement as if the Sabres have anointed Hodgson hands down to be the number one center for the next six years.
How many first-line centers in the league are making $4.25M per season?
Longer term contracts aren't just for sexy UFA signings anymore. Teams are doing five, six and seven-year deals with their own players like Jhonas Enroth does coffee. There's a growing emphasis on clubs retaining their existing talent, and players throughout the league are getting higher annual salaries in return for serious commitment.
Lou Lamoriello, considered by many to be the best in the business, signed Adam Henrique, one of his best young players, to a nearly identical six-year deal. Hodgson and Henrique were born 12 days apart, and their stats are strikingly similar.
And yet so many are up in arms, wondering why the Sabres didn't put Hodgson on a "bridge contract" (the trendy hockey phrase of 2013, replacing 2012 award winner "secondary scoring"). I think bridge contracts are generally a really bad idea for teams to pursue, but that's a subject for another day.
Hodgson has 21 goals and 25 assists in his last 82 NHL games, and I'm guessing that smart hockey people wouldn't bet on those numbers going down. I don't know what some of you think a 20-goal scorer is worth in this league, but a touch above 4 million per seems about right.
The upside is obviously that Hodgson could be a dependable 60-80 point player who improves his defensive game. Instead of the Sabres then having to re-sign him in three years for $6-7M per season, they've got him at a bargain rate until he's a grizzled 29-year-old veteran.
In the unfortunate scenario where Hodgson falls flat, his cap hit isn't going to hurt the Sabres that much. Even for his lack of production, Drew Stafford's contract isn't exactly a noose around Darcy Regier's neck. And that's with a salary cap that may never be this low again.
Hey, it certainly wouldn't be awful to play it safe, sign Hodgson for a shorter term, and take your chances. But Golisano not being here to screw things up doesn't mean you always get what you want. I'm guessing David Clarkson, Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Nathan Horton, Brad Richards and Christian Ehrhoff were wanted by their previous teams.
Besides, I don't think organizations that play it safe typically end up being champions. Buffalo is rolling the dice a bit that they're going to coach Hodgson into being more responsible in his own end. They're counting on him being much more dedicated to fixing his defensive leaks than, say, Derek Roy was. And, at his annual salary, he still won't even need to be the best center on the team.
Sure, it's easy to assume Hodgson is a defensive liability who will never be a great player. Phoenix thought the same thing about Danny Briere when they traded him to Buffalo. When he was Hodgson's age, Brian Campbell was a turnstile in his own end who only was given further opportunity because of his superior skating. Yes, defensemen can take longer, but you get the idea.
It's a reach to say that Hodgson will become as big of an impact player as Briere and Campbell were, but the beauty of this deal is that he doesn't have to. The reality is, in a league happily staring at skyrocketing revenues, $4.25M just isn't putting much of a dent in any team's payroll anymore.
All we've been hearing is that teams in the new NHL win with offense. We've also been hearing that the Sabres don't have enough of it. Well, they just locked up a guy with superior offensive skills for pretty much the entire prime of his career. And if enough of Buffalo's prospects come through as advertised, the abundance of scorers will be a great problem to have.
And if you think a player with Hodgson's offensive talent is going to commit to you for six years and accept a Nazem Kadri-like annual salary, I have a Ville Leino contract I'd like to sell you.
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About The Sabres Observer
Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003. He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene. Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.
Email: firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]