Don Cherry loves good Canadian boys, especially good Ontario boys because he’s from Ontario and… it honestly doesn’t seem to go any deeper than that. Cherry routinely chides the Toronto Maple Leafs for not acquiring more local talent, and he did so again in a pair of Twitter rants about last week’s draft, where he calls professional leagues in Sweden and Switzerland “ice follies” and suggests the Leafs disappointed 40,000 kids who play in the GTHL by overlooking Ontario prospects.
But the most interesting part about Cherry’s rant isn’t what he’s saying, which is the same kind of illogical dog-whistle xenophobia he’s been pitching to ignorant hockey fans long before he started making his suits out of your grandmother’s curtains. Most Canadians are painfully familiar with his wrongheaded views about French-Canadians and European players. What made this rant truly interesting was how he avoided mentioning any draft-eligible Ontario players by name, and I think I know why.
Good Ontario boy Steven Stamkos was the consensus first-overall selection in 2008, and he has more than fulfilled expectations by maturing into one of the game’s top goal-scorers, but Cherry had his eyes on another Ontario product that year: Cody Hodgson. Granted, Cherry wasn’t the only one high on Hodgson, who was selected 10th overall by the Vancouver Canucks, but no one went as high as Cherry did when he was asked which player from the 2008 class would have the most impact.
“The guy I’m in love with is Cody Hodgson for Vancouver. Everywhere he’s been, he’s been a captain. I will say that he will be the captain of Vancouver Canucks someday. I’ve watched the kid. He’s got that I don’t know what it is about a captain, a leader. He will be the guy. Stamkos is automatic, don’t get me wrong. But Cody Hodgson, I hope to keep him. This kid’s going to be in the National Hockey League, sort of like a Steve Yzerman. I can’t say anything higher than that.”
Cherry’s effusive praise takes us on so many tangents: He’s watched the kid play! Future captain of the Canucks! YZERMAN! It wouldn’t be difficult to imagine Hodgson as some sort of hockey demigod after reading that. So, how did those lofty expectations pan out?
A nagging back injury delayed the start of Hodgson’s NHL career, but he produced 41 points in his rookie season and finished eighth in Calder voting. A trade to the Buffalo Sabres led to two more promising years and a fat contract extension (six years, $25.5 million) before his production dropped off a cliff. Buffalo bought out the final four years of Hodgson’s deal after a disastrous 2014-15 season and he only made it halfway through the season with the Nashville Predators last year before they placed him on waivers.
Predators general manager David Poile offered the most frank and damning assessment of Hodgson:
“We signed him to enhance our (offence) and it didn’t happen,” Poile said. “You look for other areas that maybe a player can help you — checking or penalty killing or some other area. Really, I think we were pretty honest with Cody and told him that he had to produce offensively, and he hasn’t.”
Poile is essentially saying Hodgson is not reliable on defense, can’t hit, and his offensive production is too inconsistent – the exact same kind of criticism Cherry leans on to stereotype Swedes and Russians. The only difference here is birthplace, which explains why Cherry has been eerily silent about Hodgson (a.k.a. the next Steve Yzerman) as unrestricted free agency approaches.
Hodgson had everything: a birth certificate with “Toronto” on it, the jawline of Liev Schreiber…
…if only any of those things had any bearing on hockey talent or future success. Alas, they don’t, and neither does the opinion of Don Cherry.