Before I write too much, I have to admit that I am a huge fan of Mike Hoffman. He can score at an elite level, posting 20-plus goals for six straight seasons. Need him to pass the puck? No problem. He has racked up 30-plus assists for five consecutive seasons as well. His superior scoring ability and consistency make him a valuable addition to any team. Now, with my personal bias revealed, I will objectively analyze whether or not the Florida Panthers’ acquisition of Hoffman was worth the cost. The correct answer, of course, is yes.
A Difficult Journey to the NHL
Hoffman had a circuitous journey to the NHL. During the 2006-07 season, he played six total games for the Kitchener Rangers in the Ontario Hockey League (OHL). The following season he switched to the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) after no OHL team signed him. His first QMJHL team released him after 19 games, but the Drummondville Voltigeurs eventually signed him for the 2007-08 season.
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Despite netting a respectable 24 goals in 62 games, every NHL team passed on Hoffman in the 2008 NHL Draft. He returned to QMJHL the following season and promptly scored 52 goals in 62 games, finally catching the attention of the Ottawa Senators who drafted him with the ninth pick in the fifth round (130th overall) at the 2009 NHL Draft.
Hoffman returned to the OHL for the 2009-10 season and notched 85 points (46 goals, 39 assists) in 56 games with the Saint John Sea Dogs. He joined Ottawa’s then-American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate the Binghamton Senators for the 2010-11 season, but it would take him four years to become an NHL regular, suiting up for 201 AHL games and even a short four-game stint in the ECHL. Finally, in 2014-15, he played 79 games for the Ottawa Senators and established himself as an NHL player.
An Elite Scorer with Ottawa
It did not take long for Hoffman to prove that he could score in the NHL. He tallied 27 goals that season, tying him with Patrick Kane and Logan Couture. After that, he never failed to score fewer than 20 goals. He also netted more than 30 assists and 55-plus points in his final three seasons with the Senators. Clearly, his arduous developmental path had prepared him for the NHL.
In fact, between 2014 and 2018, Hoffman scored 104 goals in 313 games, ranking him 24th among all NHL players during that span. His .33 goals per game matched Phil Kessel and barely lagged behind Max Pacioretty (.39) who placed 18th and 12th on the total-goals list respectively. Remember, Hoffman went undrafted in 2008. The Maple Leafs took Kessel fifth overall in 2006, and the Canadiens took Pacioretty 22nd overall in 2007. Hoffman contended with the NHL’s best, and his value had been noticed across the league.
The Cost to Acquire Hoffman
Unfortunately, it was not only Hoffman’s on-ice play that led him to be traded but also off-ice disputes between his girlfriend and Erik Karlsson and his then-fiancée. (from ‘Court records reveal how events unfolded before Karlsson-Hoffman dispute became public,’ Ottawa Citizen, 09/01/2018) It became evident that the Senators were shopping Hoffman, and he immediately drew interest from the Florida Panthers. The Panthers, though, could not strike a deal with the Senators, and Hoffman ended up with the San Jose Sharks.
In an uncommon turn of events, about two hours after the Senators dealt him, the Panthers acquired Hoffman from the Sharks. The price? A fourth and fifth-round pick in 2018 and a second-round pick in 2019. The Panthers did not lose one current roster player and picked up a consistent 20-plus goal scorer. For comparison, the Panthers traded Vincent Trocheck — a one-time 30-plus goal scorer and two-time 20-plus goal scorer — and received four players: Erik Haula, Lucas Wallmark, Eetu Luostarinen, and Chase Priskie. This comparison demonstrates how little the Panthers forfeited for Hoffman.
Two Seasons with Panthers
But how has Hoffman fared since joining the Panthers? In his first season, he posted a career-high in goals (36) and points (70). Those numbers tied him for third on the team with Evgenii Dadonov and only behind Aleksander Barkov (96) and Jonathan Huberdeau (92). He led the team with 17 power-play goals and finished second in power-play points with 35. His 253 shots also led the Panthers and placed him 17th overall in the NHL.
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Before the NHL suspended this season, Hoffman continued his impressive pace. He posted 29 goals and 30 assists for 59 points in 69 games. This points-per-game rate barely edged his 2018-19 pace — .86 and .85 respectively. He tied Dadonov for first with 11 power-play goals and tied with Keith Yandle for second in power-play points (21). Hoffman would have finished this season with 71 points.
The Panthers traded away only draft picks for Hoffman, and he has had a career season and was on pace for a second. He quickly established himself as the Panther’s leading goal scorer and a key component on the power play. Hoffman’s production made the acquisition’s cost more than worth it.
What the Panthers Lost
Now you might ask, “But how are the draft picks that the Panthers traded away for Hoffman doing?” That is a fair question. The Sharks traded the 2019 pick to Ottawa in the blockbuster Karlsson trade, and, the pick wound up with the Carolina Hurricanes on draft day. The Hurricanes selected Jamieson Reese — a 5-foot-11, 172-pound centerman out of Hamilton, Ontario. He posted a whopping 61 points in 39 games for the OHL’s Sarnia Sting in 2019-20. But, he has yet to play an NHL game, so while he has impressive stats, his NHL worth is unproven.
The fourth-round pick in 2018 landed with the Montreal Canadiens, who selected Jack Gorniak. The Chicago Blackhawks ended up with the fifth-round pick and took Mikael Hakkarainen. Gorniak has 7 points in 30 games with the Wisconsin Badgers (NCAA). Hakkarainen split time between the AHL and ECHL last season, posting 4 points in 11 games. While these prospects may break into the NHL at some point, it is safe to say that they will not have the impact that Hoffman has had.
Panthers Should Keep Hoffman
Hoffman is in the final year of a four-year, $20.75 million contract he originally signed with the Senators. He will be an unrestricted free agent (UFA) at the end of this season, whenever that may be. Trade rumors surrounded him before the 2020 trade deadline, but the Panthers opted to keep the quiet sniper. It made sense for the team to hold onto him considering it was in the playoff hunt. Moving the team’s top goal scorer would have hurt the chances of success. Now, with the playoffs in limbo, Hoffman’s future with the Panthers has become more uncertain.
The Panthers should re-sign Hoffman, though, if possible. The team has a very top-heavy offense, with only eight players with more than 30-plus points. While the team boasts two dynamic forwards in Barkov and Huberdeau, any championship team needs depth to complement superstars. Hoffman’s experience and ability position him to fill that void. At 30 years old, he has a few prime years left that would perfectly align with the Panthers’ quest for a Stanley Cup.
What Should the Panthers Pay?
Tension will arise between what contract Hoffman desires and what the Panthers would be willing to pay. His situation is unique because most players sign a long-term contract that takes them into their early 30s. Fewer sign a contract at 30 as a UFA. Pacioretty joined the Golden Knights in 2018 as a 29-year-old and signed a four-year, $28 million contract — $7 million average annual value (AAV). He had five 30-plus goal seasons under his belt with the Canadiens and 19 points in 38 playoff games. Hoffman is not on the same level as Pacioretty, who also served as the captain for the storied franchise for three seasons. Nevertheless, Pacioretty provides a benchmark for Hoffman as a veteran.
A better comparison is Filip Forsberg of the Nashville Predators, whose career numbers are remarkably similar to Hoffman’s.
- Forsberg – 458 games played, 166 goals, 187 assists, 353 points
- Hoffman – 493 games played, 172 goals, 187 assists, 359 points
At 21, Forsberg signed a six-year, $36 million contract with the Predators in 2016. Hoffman is neither as young as Forsberg nor as proven as Pacioretty. His contract should fall somewhere between the two players. A four-year, $23 million contract — $5.75 million AAV — seems fair for the 30-year-old. The Panthers should be able to squeeze him in under the salary cap, projected to rise next season. The team also can create space by trading UFA Haula and, worst-case scenario, UFA Dadonov. He will turn 32 and has less experience and offensive production than Hoffman.
Hoffman Will Help the Panthers Win
The 30-year-old sniper has shown no signs of slowing down, and the Panthers need his scoring ability and experience. While Sergei Bobrovsky’s play has been subpar, there are many reasons to remain optimistic about Panthers’ goaltending and the team as a whole. Hoffman provides the skill, leadership, and consistency the team needs for a deep playoff run. The cost to acquire Hoffman in 2018 was more than worth it, and the cost to keep him will be as well. General manager Dave Tallon should not let this underrated player leave, as Hoffman has proven many wrong throughout his entire career.