Buffalo Sabres: Is Cody Hodgson a Legitimate Buyout Candidate?

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It’s no secret the Buffalo Sabres have underachieved this year, and Cody Hodgson is no exception. 

Hodgson has been in the spotlight since his arrival a few trade deadlines ago in a largely unexpected trade for Zack Kassian, likely the Sabres’ top prospect at the time. 

Hodgson‘s tenure as a Sabre started slowly, and has reverted back to a similar pace. 

Through 49 games this season, Hodgson has just two goals and eight points, well behind his career best 44 points in 72 games set last season. He has looked a step behind for most of the season, and despite playing his best hockey of the season in his last few games, he was a healthy scratch in the Sabres’ recent game against the Vancouver Canucks, his former team.

All of this—coupled with the fact that Hodgson signed a six-year, $25.5 million deal two years ago—has led some, including the venerable Elliotte Friedman, to speculate that Sabres general manager Tim Murray could be looking at Hodgson as a buyout candidate this offseason. 

Now, the use of the term “buyout” this offseason is a bit different than the last two offseasons, mainly due to the fact that there is no longer any such thing as a compliance buyout. Any buyout from here on out will be an ordinary-course buyout, meaning the player bought out will still count against the salary cap for a set period of time. 

Buyout math is not so simple, given the number of adjustments that can apply to a particular set of circumstances, and with CapGeek no longer around to spoil us, a definite number is hard to come by for non-experts. However the initial salary cap hit is relatively easy to determine, computed by taking two-thirds of the remaining value of the contract and dividing it by double the remaining years.

However, because Hodgson is under the age of 26─yes, he is still only 24 years old─the Sabres will only be on the hook for one-third of the value of the contract over double the remaining years. (See Article 50.5(d)(iii) of the collective bargaining agreement.)

Hodgson has $19 million left on his contract, which has four years remaining on it after this season. That means in the event the Sabres buy Hodgson out, they will owe him approximately $790,875 per year for eight years, an amount that will also count against the Sabres’ cap.

At first glance, that number isn’t too bad, especially in light of a rising salary cap. But holding that amount for eight years is another story.

Sure, the Sabres do have a ton of salary cap room for the next few seasons, but the hope is eventually they will not. Be it due to entry-level guys graduating up, trades or free-agent signings, the surplus of cap space is sure to evaporate over time. 

Is it worth it to have any dead cap space if its known that you’ll need as much of it as possible sooner rather than later?

That begs a discussion of what Hodgson will contribute for those remaining four years.

Historically, Hodgson has never been an excellent possession player, with his best Corsi-for percentage at even strength being a respectable 49.6 percent in 2011-12 the same season he was traded to the Sabres from the Canucks. 

Since then, his Corsi-for percentage has steadily declined, dipping under 38 percent this season. Despite being one of the worst in the league right now, he is still better than about half of his Sabres counterparts in that regard, especially those who have played a decent sample size of games. 

This all ties in with the “Cody Hodgson is bad at defense” narrative that has seemingly dominated his tenure in Buffalo.

There’s no denying Hodgson is not great defensively, and that certainly has its downfalls. A lack of defensive responsibility essentially takes him out of the conversation as a top-three forward because, at its simplest, you need your top line to keep up with other top lines at both ends of the ice. 

But as a top-six guy he can still be extremely effective on the offensive end, as he showed last season. The key is in realizing that he is never going to be great defensively, and to put him in a position to succeed offensively, something Ted Nolan has refused to do up to this point. 

And this is not the time to pile on Nolan, who has gotten his fair share of criticism over the past month. However, it does need to be pointed out that Hodgson has been measurably worse, both offensively and defensively, since Nolan’s arrival last year. 

One could argue how or why that is for days, but it’s no secret that Hodgson and Nolan don’t mix well and any assessment of Hodgson needs to include that point as a significant qualifier in its analysis. 

There are other factors to consider as well, like Hodgson‘s 3.2-percent shooting, which is more than three percentage points behind Chris Stewart (7 percent), the next forward on the list.

Shooting percentage is a fickle thing, and more often than not, it boils down to puck luck. A shooting percentage that low essentially translates to “this guy is extremely unlucky.” And while boiling all of Hodgson‘s issues this season down to luck is an extremely naive thing to do, it’s playing a big part in his season.

Hodgson‘s lowest shooting percentage before this season was 11 percent, almost 8 percent higher than what he’s posting this season. If he were shooting at 11 percent this season, Hodgson would have seven goals on 62 shots, good for sixth on the Sabres. Certainly not a blistering number, but respectable, given the Sabres’ general inability to score goals this year. 

Obviously the debate on Hodgson will rage on as the season slowly comes to a close, but the real question is this: Do you buy a guy out based on a season that has a real chance at being an aberration? Yes, he carries a steep $4.25 million cap hit, but that is not even a minimal concern for Murray for the next two years at least. 

It seems that Hodgson‘s woes have solid roots in Nolan, and the likelihood of Nolan returning next season decreases with each passing day. 

It goes without saying that Hodgson has not been great this year, but since he’s only 24 years old, he still has time to right the ship and become a good piece for the Sabres moving forward. Do you give up on him after one down year?

Murray has a tough choice this summer. 

 

All advanced statistics courtesy of war-on-ice.com

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season long: @SwordPlay18

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