Goals cost money and they take up cap space. And over the past six seasons, Mike Hoffman has proved with two teams that he can give you somewhere between 25 and 30 of them. In fact, he scored 36 in 2018-19 and was on pace to score 34 last season before the pandemic hit.
It’s so 2020 that we’re almost a month into free agency and Mike Hoffman has yet to find a home for next season. That’s in part because he wants a term that is longer than most teams would like to give. But with today’s news that Gustav Nyquist could be out of the lineup until early February after undergoing shoulder surgery, perhaps it’s time the Columbus Blue Jackets circled back on Hoffman. Doing so would help them both in the short and long terms.
Even with Nyquist in the picture, the Blue Jackets could use more offense on the left side. The current left wing corps of Alexandre Texier, Nick Foligno and Riley Nash combined for just 21 goals last season. And with Nyquist as a fixture on the first power play, he’ll need to be replaced and who better than Hoffman to do just that? Over the past five seasons, only three players in the league have more than Hoffman’s 58 power-play goals. And again, even with Nyquist in the lineup, the Blue Jackets could sorely use Hoffman’s goals, since their power play finished 27th in the NHL last season and only three teams finished with fewer man-advantage goals than the Blue Jackets.
You can see why the Blue Jackets, who have about $12 million in cap space going into next season, wanted to keep their powder dry. They still have to come to terms with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Vladislav Gavrikov on a new deals before the season begins and they’ll need to fill some fairly significant UFA holes in 2021-22. But in the short-term at least, the injury to Nyquist will open up $5.5 million in cap space if he’s put on the long-term injury list, which would give them plenty of room to sign Hoffman and still have ample cap space to ink both Dubois and Gavrikov with a little left over.
But even more, the Blue Jackets need goals in a big way and nobody who’s left on the free agent market can give them more than Hoffman. Only two teams in the NHL scored fewer goals than the Blue Jackets did last season and only one had a worse goals differential among the 24 teams that qualified for the playoffs. For the past two seasons, the Blue Jackets have portrayed themselves as plucky, small-market underdogs and they have been well-suited to that roll, knocking off the mighty Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep in 2019 and making it out of the round-robin portion of the playoffs in 2020.
But can anyone look at this Columbus team and believe it is a serious Stanley Cup contender? Adding Hoffman won’t vault them into that status, but it will give them an offensive injection they could use, with or without Nyquist in the lineup. Since the departure of Artemi Panarin, the Blue Jackets have had a significant hole on their left side. Without Nyquist, it has become a chasm.
The Blue Jackets have a goaltending tandem that has the potential to be spectacular. Their defense corps is the envy of much of the NHL. There is some downside in signing a 30-year-old to the long-term deal that Hoffman is seeking, and he's not about to settle on a one-year deal unless he has to, but on the flip side there’s not a lot to suggest that he’s going to slow down his scoring pace anytime soon. In fact, the past two years of his career have been his most productive. Hoffman is the kind of player who can score when he gets the opportunity at 5-on-5 and on the power play, which is something he’d certainly get with the Blue Jackets. And the vision of him playing alongside Dubois on the Blue Jackets’ top line offers some very intriguing possibilities. The injury to Nyquist has created more of a need for Hoffman’s services, but the reality is he’s a guy the Blue Jackets need even when their roster is 100 percent healthy.