The NHL Draft has come and gone and free agency is on the horizon. The Buffalo Sabres and Tim Murray made a move with the Florida Panthers to kick off day two of the draft that evened out their defense ranks, bringing in Dmitry Kulikov and shipping out Mark Pysyk.
Shifting our focus from the defense, the Sabres need to add a top six winger to provide a desperately needed shot in the arm offensively. Last season, despite the 27 point improvement from 2014-2015, Buffalo still ranked in the bottom five in even strength GF%, GF, and GF in all situations. That kind of offensive production won’t let you sniff a playoff spot, let alone contend once you make it.
Essentially, the Sabres are in desperate need of another player that can play with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, who can bury the puck and produce offense, both at even strength and on the power play. You can’t count how many stellar passes from the teenagers to names like Girgensons and Moulson that amounted to nothing. In order for Murray’s club to make the next step, he has to make a move to maximize the play of his superstars that we gave up years of contention for. As I’m sure you can tell by the title, the player that the Sabres should target is none other than division foe, Mike Hoffman.
Mike Hoffman is a left wing from Kitchener, Ontario. His path from amateur to top line NHLer is a little different from most. After failing to make the Kitchener Ranger’s team as a 17-year-old, he transferred to the Drummondville Voltigeurs of the Quebec Major Junior League. After an average season, he went undrafted in his first year of eligibility, but then tore apart the Q with 52 goals as a 19-year-old. In his second year of eligibility, he was selected in the fifth round by the Senators. After a few years of development in Binghamton, Hoffman enjoyed a coming out party with consecutive 27 and 29 goal campaigns in Ottawa.
Hoffman is an RFA and carried a $2M cap hit over the past two years. He has a wicked release, and the foot speed to keep up with the play of the likes of Jack Eichel. There has been some friction between Hoffman and the Senators brass over the past few months regarding his new contract. At the age of 26, his age should be of no concern and should fit Buffalo’s blueprint to getting back to success.
When it comes to Hoffman, the name of the game is efficiency. Quietly, Mike Hoffman has been one of the most efficient offensive players at full strength and on the power play. Here’s a representation of his performance last season, as compared to some of the best scorers in the league.
|Player||5v5 G/ 60M||5v5 Pts/ 60M||5v4 G/60M||5v4 P/60M|
*Statistics come from Puckalytics.com
Yes, Mike Hoffman was more efficient in every metric examined than Steven Stamkos and Taylor Hall. Am I saying that Hoffman is a better player than the two number one overall picks? No. Hall suffered from horrible team possession numbers and, in addition to health trouble, Steven Stamkos didn’t have great partners on his line this last season in Tampa Bay. In the end, they are probably better offensive players just given their consistency, but by no means do they outclass Hoffman in terms of efficiency. What I am saying is that Mike Hoffman potentially provides better value than a trade for Hall or a huge UFA deal for Stamkos.
A few other notes, Hoffman was a shot machine for the Senators. Not exactly on Evander Kane’s level, but Hoffman posted 160 even strength shots. That is good enough for 34th in the NHL, above names like Jamie Benn and Corey Perry. Despite this, his amazing release leads to a great shooting percentage and allows for the kind of even strength offensive prowess demonstrated above. Also, Hoffman was by no means a one trick pony. His overall game yielded three consecutive years of positive Relative CorsiFor% and three consecutive years of over a 50% GF%. That kind of solid all around production, paired with elite level efficiency makes Hoffman a no-doubt, bonafide top line scoring winger in the NHL.
The value of Hoffman has to be considered in terms of dollars and years, and in organizational assets because of his status as an RFA. Talks seemed to have been tense towards the end of the season between Ottawa and Hoffman’s camp, which were not aided by the addition of Dion Phanuef’s ridiculous $7M cap hit. In April, Bruce Garrioch of the Ottawa Sun, had this to say about the contract situation with Hoffman:
After making $2 million this season, a four-year, $19-million deal that Gustav Nyqvist signed with Detroit may be what Hoffman’s looking at while there’s been talk he’d get $3.5-to-$4 million on a one-year contract in arbitration.
A four-year, $19M deal that puts Hoffman at an AAV of $4.75M would be a steal for a top line left winger. Personally, I would even consider putting his numbers into the $5.25M AAV range, given his stellar play these last two years. The Sabres could easily afford that kind of money, but the catch is the compensation.
According to the chart listed above from Copperandblue.com, At $5.25 AAV, Tim Murray would have to surrender a first and a third round pick. If he were to place another offer sheet in between 5,632,847 to $7,510,464 per year, it would require a first, second, and third round pick. I would really like to stay in the former compensation bracket, but in reality, a first, second and third round pick for Hoffman is probably the compensation that prices out the Senators. Due to the Sabres sheer volume of picks over the past four years, in addition to two seconds and two thirds in the 2017 Entry Draft, I think this is a do-able price for the Buffalo Sabres. Not to mention the Sabres have an extra second and third in next year’s draft. Worst case, you force a division opponent to match the offer and pay more for Hoffman. Also, Tim Murray has never been one to shy away from a risky pick-up.
A second option would be a trade package within the next couple of days to acquire his rights. This pathway, similar to what Calgary and Boston did last year in regards to Dougie Hamilton, would allow Ottawa and Buffalo to negotiate alternate assets to use for trading for his rights, such as prospects or roster players.
Overall, Mike Hoffman is an underrated goal scorer that could remedy the types of offensive woes that the Buffalo Sabres currently have. In today’s NHL, efficiency and quality scoring is at such a premium, that Tim Murray should not be afraid to be aggressive with draft pick and cap space to bring in a guy like Mike Hoffman, if players like Steven Stamkos and Kyle Okposo decide to sign elsewhere. The Buffalo Sabres would be well suited to take advantage of a poor contract situation and team/player relationship (a la Sakic and O’Reilly) and take a risk to try and better the team, and hopefully make a run for the playoffs only two years removed from a 55 point season.
Enjoy this snipe by Hoffman, and just imagine that shot being fed by Jack Eichel for 82 games, not too shabby a sight if you ask me. You have to appreciate that last second hurdle too, Russian judge gives it an 8.