Needing scoring to replace an injured Vladimir Tarasenko, St. Louis Blues General Manager Doug Armstrong made a determined effort to acquire free agent Mike Hoffman in the offseason. He has been a solid acquisition for Craig Berube’s squad, becoming one of the team’s top-five points leaders this season.
But, should he rent or buy? Could the Blues use Hoffman as a centerpiece in a potential trade for a defenseman? Or, will the Blues use the next 21 games to determine if the former Florida Panther and Ottawa Senators’ star has found a “forever home” in St. Louis? He is set to become an unrestricted free agent after the season, and his name has been floated among St. Louis area sports talk shows as a player the team could possibly move.
With the return of Tarasenko, Robert Thomas and the resurgence of David Perron and Ryan O’Reilly, finding enough ice time for Hoffman might be a challenge for Berube, barring any additional injuries.
“There is a market for that type of player,” said NHL Insider Greg Wyshynski of Hoffman’s trade value on the BK & Ferrario Show in 101 ESPN in St. Louis on March 24.
Perron, O’Reilly, Jordan Kyrou and Brayden Schenn are in a heated battle for the top-four scoring positions on the team. Hoffman, the 31-year-old center and left winger, is quietly in fifth place with eight goals and 12 assists for 20 points. Seven of his eight goals have come at five-on-five, although he’s been in a small drought of late. His last goal came against the Los Angeles Kings in a 4-1 loss on March 17.
Late in the offseason, the Blues signed Hoffman to a professional tryout (PTO) and then, after camp, to a one-year, $4 million contract, THW reported. “The goal of the addition was obvious: the Blues had lost offensive production by letting captain and defensive leader Alex Pietrangelo walk as a free agent this past summer. With the injury to Tarasenko, they had cap space to burn. Hoffman, who had six consecutive 20-plus goal seasons and averaged 0.36 goals per game in that stretch, was an easy one-year fix.”
But with the unfolding situation with the pandemic and players facing new challenges this entire year, league insiders like Wyshynki wonder if many teams don’t just want this season to be over with and move on, he told 101 ESPN. Others wonder how well players are able to learn new systems and develop chemistry with teammates in socially distanced locker rooms, for instance. Playing in front of cardboard fans has also been led to almost depressing games.
“Now, one thing to worry about is how quickly Hoffman can learn the tendencies of his teammates — training camp went fast, and they didn’t play other teams in exhibition games,” wrote columnist Benjamin Hochman of the Post-Dispatch (‘Hochman: Blues Signing of Hoffman Is Yet Another Creative Accomplishment For Architect Armstrong,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jan. 11, 2021).
“The chemistry isn’t going to happen overnight,” Hoffman admitted later in an interview with Hochman and other reporters. “You can do a little bit after practice or before practice, but realistically, we’re three pretty good players and we’ll contribute to each other a lot. As time goes on, we’ll probably just get better and better… You get your reps in practice and in the intrasquad games. But other than that — it’s just time and experience.”
In signing Hoffman, the Blues get a proven scorer to complement the team’s struggling offense. And he comes at a price Armstrong can afford – for now at least.
“And also I think the transition game we have on our back end right now is something that the forwards want,” Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch (‘Getting to Know Mike Hoffman: ‘He’s a Pure Goal Scorer,’ St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 1/4/2021).
“Players always like to play for a contender, too, and the longer they go in a pro career the more important that seems to be, “Jim Thomas of the Post wrote.
“I think that’s what all of us players want,” Hoffman told him. “You want to win. And I think this team has a great opportunity to do so. They did so a couple of years ago. I think the depth on this team is tremendous. I think they got a very good shot of going all the way again.”
When Alexander Steen revealed he wasn’t going to play this season, “the odds increased on St. Louis as the landing spot” for Hoffman, the Canadian network Sportsnet.ca reported. “Steen is not the only Blue going on long-term injured reserve. The other is Tarasenko. That’s $13.25 million in combined cap space (although Tarasenko is expected to return). Even with Vince Dunn still to be signed, there’s room to get Hoffman signed at the start of the season. (Personal guess: one year, between $4 million and $4.5 million. That’s what a few teams thought the winger was looking for.) … Hoffman gets what he wants: a big role on a good team. St. Louis gets what it wants: a scorer to ease Tarasenko’s absence.”
His goals have come at clutch moments for the Blues. He pumped in two game-winners so far for St. Louis, although he had an inauspicious start to the season. He had to miss the first two games due to visa issues.
“It was a bit of a surprise to everybody, including him,” Berube told Blues flagship FoxSports Midwest about the 31-year-old missing his first two contests with his new teammates.
In his first game in San Jose, he deflected a Colton Parayko shot from the point early in the second period that tied the game at 2-2. Hoffman has scored at least 22 goals in each of the last six seasons and is be a safe bet to approach that range again in 2020-21, predicted CBSSports.com.
Blues’ color analyst Darren Pang, a former NHL goaltender who now covers the team for Fox Sports Midwest, is a fan of the sniper. He says Hoffman’s quick shot is one of the more remarkable ones in the league, he said.
“He gets out there, and bang it’s in the net,” said Blues color analyst Darren Pang. “It’s fun to watch.”
“When I get in positions on the ice, I just have my spots that I try and hit, and that was one of them on that side. It’s nice to get the two points here,” Hoffman told the broadcast team after his goal lifted the Blues past the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 13.
A native of Kitchener, Ontario, he was selected in the fifth round of the 2009 NHL Entry Draft. His contributions have been sorely needed for the punch-drunk Blues who have seen their goal streak sizzle, then quickly fizzle. They’ll need his goals – and a lot of them – in the month of April. The second half of St. Louis’ season includes do-or-die matchups against Honda West Division leaders Vegas Golden Knights, and huge games against the upstart Minnesota Wild, and the Nathan McKinnon-led Colorado Avalanche.
Blues Need Hoffman’s Offense for Playoff Run
If the Blues are able to maintain their lock on the fourth and final seed in the West, they will need Cup-worthy performances out of players like Hoffman, Tarasenko, Schwartz and Perron. He has played in just three postseasons in his career, registering 19 points on 10 goals and 9 assists and a minus-one rating in playoffs with Ottawa (twice) and Florida. He had 11 points in 19 games in the 2016-2017 playoffs. He logs minutes, too, averaging 17:17 of ice time over his playoff career.
With the Blues’ offense getting stymied against both the Sharks and completely shut down by the Golden Knights this past week, St. Louis fans are praying for a new messiah. Hoffman’s name is often floated on fan sites as this year’s potential hero. He’s the player everyone wants to catch fire and carry the offensive weight for this team’s struggling attack.
But the financial benefit of moving Hoffman and his hefty salary would make him a desirable target for any playoff-bound club. The Blues could be willing suitors at the upcoming NHL trade deadline. Armstrong is the master of not showing his hand on deals. He’s asking fans in a Show-Me State to trust an undefined and unspecified process
Should Armstrong opt to keep him in the fold and sign him to a multi-year deal, Hoffman can be the biggest help on the power play, THW reported.
“In recent years, he has proved himself to be one of the most efficient producers in hockey when playing on the power play. Becoming a specialist of sorts and looked to for this specific role. In that 70-point season, Hoffman tallied 17 goals and 35 points on the power play. In the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season, Hoffman had already tabulated 21 power-play points.”
Whether he will be scoring those power plays with a Blues’ sweater on his back, or that of a different team will likely come into focus in the next two weeks.
For Armstrong, the temptation to bring in a rent-a-defensemen at the expense of a player like Hoffman might seem enticing. But for a team that has been spotty and largely inconsistent on offense, the scoring punch Hoffman offers, his ability to snipe anytime and from practically anywhere, and his big, powerful left-handed shot would be too much for the Blues to let slip away. Hoffman could serve an important role for the team for years to come, and be a catalyst for another Cup run. St. Louis fans and media should not be so quick to bail on him.
Rob Staggenborg covers the St. Louis Blues for TheHockeyWriters.com, as well as hosting several NHL podcasts. He enjoys St. Louis style pizza with gooey cheese, and sitting for hours on end in metro St. Louis traffic listening to sports podcasts. He is a proud U.S. veteran. Visit his website at brockbanner.com
Follow his Blues coverage at STLFanReport.com and on Twitter @RealBrockBanne1