Who is the Buffalo Sabres' #1 centerman?
This is one of many questions you probably haven't asked yourself this summer but also probably should because the fantasy ramifications could be huge. Right now the candidates are Tyler Ennis and Cody Hodgson, just as they were last season. Before you throw your lunch pail at me and scream, "What about Steve Ott!?!?!" Followed by innumerable expletives, let's give Ott his due. Ott is the best centerman on the Sabres but he's not going to be the most productive unless your league counts hits, penalty in minutes and all sorts of other groovy rotisserie stats. We know that though. What we don't know is who the most productive Sabre centerman will be next season. Will it be Ennis or Hodgson? Stick around for this week's Cage Match to find out.
As mentioned above, this question is nothing new. Going into last season the evidence seemed to be pointing in Ennis' direction. He finished the 2011-12 season on a tear, scoring 27 points in his final 26 games for the Sabres. Meanwhile, Hodgson, acquired by Buffalo at the 2012 Trade Deadline, managed just eight points in 20 games with his new club.
Clearly momentum was with Ennis but then the NHL was locked to start the 2012-13 season and when the league started up again teams didn't have much time to come together. Coaches were forced to ride whatever chemistry came about as the shortened season began. For Hodgson that meant a prime gig as the top line center between Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville who Frozenpool can show us were Hodgson's predominant linemates last season.
Hodgson got off to a quick start on that top line scoring 15 points in 17 games before long time Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff was fired. Ron Rolston was brought in as an interim head coach and he kept that Vanek-Hodgson-Pominville top unit together until Pominville was dealt to Minnesota at the 2013 Trade Deadline. Under Rolston Hodgson managed just 19 points in 31 games. What's interesting though is how his minutes changed under Rolston.
In the first half of last season Hodgson was skating 18:50 per game with 2:18 coming on the power play and a regular shift on the penalty kill. In the second half, under Rolston, Hodgson's minutes dropped to 17:49 per game as his penalty kill minutes fell precipitously but his power play time nearly doubled up to 3:51 per game as he joined the Sabres' top power play unit.
His numbers hardly reflect this change in deployment. The only explanation is that Hodgson caught lightning in a bottle in the first half while paired with Vanek and Pominville – two notoriously streaky players. Once they cooled off (and Pominville was traded) Hodgson's well dried up a bit and his scoring pace dropped accordingly. In all likelihood, even considering the spike in minutes in the second half his production under Rolston more correctly represents his skills than does his scoring under Ruff to start last season if for no other reason than the sample size was bigger.
Vanek remains a Sabre for now and he and Hodgson will presumably be paired together again next season. This will mean more streaky production, which gives Hodgson a pretty wide range. It's unlikely he has the consistency at this point in his career to drive the play and force scoring even when Vanek is in a slump so he's at the mercy of Vanek's fickle twig. And that's assuming Vanek isn't dealt at some point because he's a serious candidate to be moved at some point next season given his expiring contract and Buf