Canadiens Must Make Most of Hoffman Hot Streak with Trade

Montreal Canadiens forward Mike Hoffman is proving he has something left in the tank and, most importantly from the Habs’ perspective, in trade value. With three goals in his last two games, Hoffman’s making a strong case he can be a worthwhile contributor to any playoff-bound team’s Stanley Cup hopes. And, if any such hypothetical trade helps dash those of the Habs in the process, why not?

Mike Hoffman Montreal Canadiens
Mike Hoffman, Montreal Canadiens (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

After all, the Canadiens are rebuilding and, if Hoffman stays hot, that can damage the Canadiens’ shot at a top-three pick at the 2023 NHL Entry Draft. The Canadiens are now a (relatively) impressive 7-6-1 and that means the NHL’s 18th-best record heading into action Friday night and no theoretical shot at the first-overall selection to have their pick of projected generational-talents Connor Bedard, Adam Fantilli and Matvei Michkov (based on current NHL Draft Lottery rules).

Hoffman an Underrated Commodity

Now, alone, Hoffman is unlikely to move the needle all that much himself. He’s only getting a 16th-ranked 13:53 per game. However, that has rarely if ever been the case in his career, even during his career 70-point season with the Florida Panthers back in 2018-19 (when current and then-teammate Evgeny Dadonov also coincidentally scored 70 points, with both he and Hoffman actually, arguably, underrated under the right circumstances).

Back then, it was Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau leading the pack for the Panthers. Right now, it’s Cole Caufield and Nick Suzuki (and Kirby Dach… and Sean Monahan and Christian Dvorak) ahead of him on the list of the team’s scoring leaders. All that to say, Hoffman, even when he was at his peak, is purely a complementary player.

Hoffman can still be valuable, as he’s proven over the last few games, even from the beginning of the year if you look at some of the underlying analytics. However, for the Canadiens specifically, that value is of the negative variety due to several factors, namely his contract and the roster spot he’s occupying. They just have more to gain without him in the lineup.

When ex-general manager Marc Bergevin signed Hoffman, the Canadiens had been coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final. There had been hopes the Canadiens could continue to contend, maybe even quasi-realistic ones as it was before everyone knew Carey Price would be out for pretty much the entire 2021-22 season (but admittedly after Bergevin announced the same fate would befall Shea Weber).

Even so, no one anticipated the Canadiens suffering through one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Hoffman’s first under contract. Bergevin eventually got shown the door, prompting the hiring of Kent Hughes to replace him (alongside executive vice president of hockey operations Jeff Gorton) and the current rebuild with which we’re all familiar.

Hoffman and Habs No Longer a Fit

So, Hoffman, even if he’s scoring, is taking up space. He’s conceivably eating up minutes that would otherwise be given to someone like prospect Jesse Ylonen, who continues to produce for the Laval Rocket in the American Hockey League. The hole Hoffman was signed to fill, to replace Tomas Tatar on the wing, no longer needs to be addressed, at least not by a player who’s now 33, arguably in decline and only under contract until 2024. It just doesn’t line up with the Canadiens’ hypothetical timeline to contend again.

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However, the Canadiens have little choice but to play him, even if they would otherwise give Ylonen that opportunity. That’s the cost of showcasing Hoffman for the purposes of a trade, and, for the last few games, it’s worked out amazingly to the point Hoffman, with four goals on the season, is on pace for 27.

Jesse Ylonen of Espoo United
Current-Montreal Canadiens prospect Jesse Ylonen – (Ilari Nackel/Espoo United)

Can he keep it up? Possibly, but the Canadiens are in a weird position, where they may want him to for the purposes of a trade, but not for the purposes of helping the Habs to win. The only solution is for them to trade him as soon as possible, for whatever they can get for him, even if it’s a late-round pick. They can’t afford to wait for the trade deadline.

Hoffman vs. Drouin

It’s a slightly different situation with someone like Jonathan Drouin, who’s on an expiring contract. If the Canadiens don’t find the right deal, Drouin presumably walks, no harm, no foul. If the Canadiens don’t trade Hoffman, he’s staying for one more season, which would be less than ideal considering their logjam up front and the need to make room for younger players. So, don’t wait for the right deal. Get all you can for him now, even if it’s nothing.

Montreal Canadiens Jonathan Drouin
Montreal Canadiens forward Jonathan Drouin – (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)

Think of it like a garage sale. All due respect to Hoffman, one man’s trash is another’s treasure. Even if his contract doesn’t line up with the Habs’ timeline, it may line up with that of another team. Even if there isn’t room for him with the Habs, there may be somewhere else, like with the Edmonton Oilers, following the injury to Evander Kane. Ultimately though, Hoffman must go. Regardless of his driven-up trade value, it’s about whatever any other team can afford, because the Canadiens can’t afford another season of Hoffman.

Hell, the way he’s scoring right now, they may not be able to afford much more of Hoffman this one, at the hottest he’s been since he signed (as he’s never before so much as had a single multi-goal game). That right there says all you need to know. The Canadiens have to hit the trade market when the iron is hot, or risk it cooling down, because a cold Hoffman isn’t going anywhere. That just shouldn’t be an option.