Mike Hoffman Is Headed Toward a Career Year with Panthers

As the Ottawa Senators crumbled into smithereens this offseason, the Florida Panthers took advantage and gathered one of their spare parts, Mike Hoffman. With him, the Panthers land themselves another weapon to add to their already-promising lineup, but what should we expect of him? Personally, I believe he is in store for a career-best season and I predict he will hit the 30-goal mark due to strong power play numbers and new opportunities in Florida.

Power Play Excellence

The Panthers finished the 2017-18 season near the bottom of the league in power play success at 18.9 percent, 21st in the league. The lack of scoring on the man advantage was a clear weakness for the playoff bubble team and they hope that the acquisition of Hoffman is the extra juice the special teams unit needs to push them into the playoffs.

Mike Hoffman
Former Ottawa Senator Mike Hoffman is a dangerous player on the power play and can add a scoring threat to the Panthers offense. (Mandatory Credit: Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

He was a major player on the Senators’ power play unit in recent seasons. Often playing opposite of Erik Karlsson on the point, Hoffman’s role was to use his shooting touch to generate scoring chances. Although Ottawa’s power play wasn’t strong, he was one of the few consistent pieces. He tied for the team lead with eight power play goals and outright led the team with 21 power play points in 2017-18.

His team-leading numbers show that he is capable of being a helpful part of a power play. However, his potential influence on the Panthers’ power play can be more accurately displayed in the graph below, which measures the concentration of shots on net on the power play with Hoffman on and off the ice in 2017-18.

In these charts, the darker purple areas represent high shot activity. Conversely, the darker green represents areas where less shots were attempted from. While Hoffman was off the ice, the Senators were quiet in the offensive zone relative to when he was deployed. The top of the right faceoff circle is where the left-handed shooter was lethal and essentially the only location the Senators expected goals from.

The combination of the points Hoffman produced on a poor power play, in conjunction with where and how often he created shots, implies two things: first, he can shoot. Whether it’s a one-timer or a wrist shot, he is able to find shooting lanes when up a man. Second, and most importantly, the Senators’ offense during these circumstances was created primarily because of him. Therefore, adding him to a stronger power play unit in Florida with more weapons that can draw defenders’ attention will only increase his production.

Quality of Teammates

Hoffman’s first impactful NHL season was his 2014-15 campaign when he scored 27 goals and 48 points. In the years since, he’s been a lock for at least 20 goals, with a career-high 29 in 2015-16. What is most impressive about his goal totals is that he accomplished this without another Ottawa forward topping 65 points. With the increase in player skill around him, I expect Hoffman to have more quality scoring chances, leading to more goals.

Mike Hoffman
Mike Hoffman has been a consistent 20-goal scorer for the last four years with the Ottawa Senators. (Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports)

As the analytics movement continues to grow, it’s imperative to stay on top of new data-collecting techniques that may give teams an edge. One in particular that I feel relates to the Panthers and Hoffman merger is the importance of the quality of teammates that a skater plays with. With a PhD in mathematics and founder of HockeyViz, Micah Blake McCurdy claims that the importance of a player’s teammates is underrated in today’s NHL.

“It (quality of competition) matters, on average, about three or four times less than quality of teammates does, even after you take into account how you have five opponents at 5v5 but only four teammates.” Micah Blake McCurdy in the Vancouver Courier

So what does this mean for Hoffman?

Whether playing on the power play or at five-on-five, his linemates in Ottawa were objectively worse than the quality of players he will be joining in Florida. He will likely be on the second line with 2017 all-star Vincent Trocheck and young gun Jonathan Huberdeau. Between these two up-and-coming forwards, it’s fair to say that Hoffman’s surrounding talent will be significantly better this upcoming season.

Vincent Trocheck, Florida Panthers
Vincent Trocheck has emerged as one of the most talented young centers in the NHL. How will he affect Mike Hoffman’s game? (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As previously mentioned, no forward that Hoffman has played with has put up over 65 points in a season, a feat that Trocheck and Huberdeau both accomplished last season. Trocheck had 75 points while adjusting to a rotation of linemates while Huberdeau posted 69 points in 82 games and, at just 25, he is still likely to progress toward a higher ceiling.

As the quality of teammates becomes more applicable to surrounding players’ performances, it will be interesting to see how a player like Hoffman will fare with upgraded linemates. As shown, he has created offense on power plays while holding his own at five-on-five with lesser skill around him. We know that he has been hovering around the 30-goal mark and the addition of stronger surrounding players should elevate him over that threshold.

Jonathan Huberdeau, Florida Panthers
Jonathan Huberdeau is one of the many young Panthers forwards who can help improve Hoffman’s game. (Jean-Yves Ahern-USA TODAY Sports)

Ottawa Drama Is Motivation

There is no denying that Hoffman’s departure from Ottawa was necessary, not to mention, painfully awkward. After allegations surfaced that his fiancé was harassing Karlsson’s wife, it was apparent that Hoffman’s time with the franchise was over. With this story presumably hanging over his head, he has an incentive to play better and restore his reputation as a positive locker room presence, which will increase his future value.

Hoffman has two years left on a four-year contract with a cap hit of $5,187,500. This recent scandal has already dropped his value tremendously. Ottawa originally traded Hoffman, ECHL defenseman Cody Donaghey, and a fifth round draft pick in 2020 to the San Jose Sharks for forward Mikkel Boedker, defenseman Julius Bergman, and a sixth round pick in 2020. After just two hours, Hoffman was traded again, this time to the Panthers for second, fourth, and fifth round picks.

This price is a bargain considering what Hoffman was reportedly worth at the 2018 Trade Deadline. He will be 30 years old when he hits the free agent market and his next deal will likely be his last chance to sign a long-term deal. It is in his best interest to exceed expectations as a player in the coming seasons to offset the negative attention he has garnered.

Predictions for Hoffman and the Panthers

Related: Best & Worst Trades in Panthers History

It’s evident that trading for Hoffman was a big-time move for the Panthers this offseason. Adding a strong shooter to tie together the second line will hopefully be enough to push the Cats into the playoffs. Because of his expected power play role, better teammates, and his need to prove that his talent can trump any negativity he brings to a team, I believe he is in store for his best season yet. I predict he will be a 70-point player and will finally crack the 30-goal mark. If all goes well, this should lead the Panthers to a playoff position.