Everything was looking up for Mike Hoffman. Coming off of a 59 point, 29 goal campaign in 69 games with the Florida Panthers, Hoffman was in a great position to secure a home for the next few years. However, the free-agent period went completely awry. Despite the circulating rumours, a projected six to eight million dollar man went unsigned for months. This caught many hockey personalities and fans off guard, to say the least. Finally, he signed with the St. Louis Blues.
Mike Hoffman Deal Brings Promise
Mike Hoffman managed to score 25+ goals in five of the last six seasons. Results that many believed would attract NHL general managers. However, this would become further from the truth. Hoffman had to wait over two months from the initial “free agent frenzy” to be given a PTO (professional tryout) by St. Louis. He signed a PTO primarily as a sign that Blues management wanted to bring him into the fold. However, they needed to sort out their cap situation before any that happened. After putting Alex Steen and Vladimir Tarasenko on LTIR (Long Term Injury Reserve), effectively freeing up cap space, they signed Hoffman to a 1-year, 4-million dollar contract.
Blues fans for the most part were happy with the signing. Other fans scattered across the hockey world were skeptical. A one year contract carries very little risk. However, it would not be a surprise to see Hoffman extended soon, which could lead to potential problems.
Why Is There Concern?
Hoffman can score goals. Anyone who watches him play or even briefly looks at his statistics knows this. However, his production at even-strength is quite hollow. He rarely generates goals for himself, whether it be off the rush or through movement in the offensive zone. He shoots predominantly from low danger areas. The outside of the faceoff dots is where he operates, as do many shooters in today’s NHL. However, he avoids the slot entirely. The front of the net and low slot is his Kryptonite.
Inevitably, he hurts his xG (expected goals) numbers because of that. Normally this would be a problem for players. Not generating high-danger chances from the slot and driving play is not an attribute to be praised. However, a player like Hoffman with a unique and powerful shot is an exception. Players like him, David Pastrnak, Alex Ovechkin (to an extent), Brock Boeser, Patrick Kane, and more, have the luxury of finishing talent. They can take shots from not-so threatening areas and still convert at a high rate.
Finishing is valuable and consistent seasons of 25+ goals looks good from the box score. However, those numbers are very deceiving. Hoffman’s RAPM statistics over the last three seasons, relative to 207 players with a minimum of 3000 even strength TOI, represent that well.
GF/60: -0.047 (182)
xGF/60: -0.056 (181)
CF/60: 0.02 (145)
xGA/60: 0.105 (177)
CA/60: 0.57 (137)
Despite his lack of even-strength prowess, his power-play numbers are in the upper echelon among all players. Among 133 players with a minimum power playtime of 500 minutes over the last three seasons:
GF/60: 0.825 (8)
xGF/60: 0.435 (82)
CF/60: 3.66 (110)
That is a lot of stats, but they manage to get the point across. Hoffman, despite producing goals in the box score, is not creating them. He doesn’t shoot the puck a lot either. The best bet for the Blues, to be as close to “guaranteeing his success” as possible, would be to play him with a Ryan O’Reilly or a Robert Thomas, two elite and dynamic puck-moving forwards that can get into the zone with possession. Thanks to data from Corey Sznajder and the A3Z Performance Tool from CJ Turtoro, we can look at a player’s passing and how much they are contributing to the offence through that aspect of the game. O’Reilly is in the ninety-seventh percentile in shot assists from 2018-20. Robert Thomas is in the eighty-second. Both players are top tier passers, and Hoffman could benefit from playing alongside them.
As for the deal, it’s not that bad. It’s a one-year contract, which means very little risk. If he doesn’t perform up to snuff, the Blues front office doesn’t have to worry. Especially with Tarasenko inevitably coming back, Mike Hoffman is expendable. It is the best for the Blues, and good for Hoffman. It gives him a chance to prove that he is worth more than he got, and it provides incentive.
In terms of the money, he is getting is an adequate amount. After hearing what he was originally asking for at the beginning of free agency, the Blues got a deal. Hoffman’s performance over the last few seasons was never worth six to eight million dollars. However, in today’s NHL a consistent 25+ goal scorer is viewed as a commodity. General managers will pay for them, but in this case, it was for the best. The bait was not taken and that allows a chance for good value for the Blues.