Why a lucky NHL GM may be able to win big in a Mike Hoffman trade

The Ottawa Senators have tried everything from playing loose and positive, to playing focused and serious, but still haven't found the emotion that will help them consistently win games.

We’re rapidly approaching the annual trade season, which means that we know a few things will happen:

a. People living on the West Coast will frantically wake up every morning, half expecting to pull up their Twitter feed and see that all hell has broken loose out East while they were still asleep.

b. Players on teams whose seasons haven’t gone the way they would’ve liked are fair game to be included in trade rumours, particularly if there’s a mismatch in timeline between the individual’s age and the club’s readiness to win. Bonus points if the player in question is set to hit the open market in the summer.

c. Every team that’s currently positioned as a contender will be reported to be looking for top-six wingers who can provide additional scoring punch or puck-moving defencemen who can help fortify their back-end, because you can quite frankly never have enough of that in the league today.

One player who checks a bunch of those boxes is Mike Hoffman, whose name has unsurprisingly started get bandied about in trade discussions with increasing fervor of late. And it’s not without reason.

Each listless loss that piles on top of a disappointing season only increases the likelihood the Senators will pull the chute and do something drastic between now and the deadline. The comments coming out of Ottawa haven’t done anything to put the fire out, with speculation that part of the driving force behind any moves could be a mandate to shed salary.

If that really is the case, Hoffman is a logical candidate to move if only by process of elimination. He’s due $11.3 million over the next two years, which means he’s one of a very few players on the team that would be of interest to other potential suitors despite carrying a significant price tag. For most of the other Senators who are still owed high dollar figures, they’d either need to be strapped to draft capital/prospect sweetener or be part of a bad money swap going both ways, neither of which represent a particularly palatable alternative for Ottawa.

The issue with trading Hoffman right now is that the Sens wouldn’t be doing so from a position of strength, with his stock presumably taking a hit around the league based on his numbers this season. As good of a player as he is, the stinky season has engulfed everyone in Ottawa.

Hoffman’s underlying shot metrics have actually held steady to those from years past, as the Senators have had the puck more often with him on the ice than when he’s on the bench. Yet it ultimately hasn’t mattered, because they haven’t been able to buy even a lick of good fortune in the offensive zone.

Season Goals For Goals Against Goal Differential Shooting % Save %
2014-2015 51 34 +17 11.00 92.53
2015-2016 49 40 +9 10.43 92.23
2016-2017 54 32 +22 11.36 92.69
2017-2018 17 26 -9 6.71 89.85

(All numbers via Corsica, and reflect on-ice totals for the Senators with Mike Hoffman on the ice at five-on-five)

It’s pretty staggering that not even at the halfway mark of the schedule, the Senators have nearly given up as many five-on-five goals against with Hoffman this season as they did all of the last.

It’s a plague his teammates can certainly commiserate with – their renowned defensive structure and previously reliable goaltending has completely imploded and now sits all the way down at 30th in the league in five-on-five save percentage for the year. That’s a large reason why he’s currently sporting an unseemly minus-13 on the season, and why Ottawa has been outscored when he’s been on the ice for the first time after three consecutive years of being a net positive.

It hasn’t been easy sledding for Hoffman and the Senators at the other end of the ice either. The team has been held off the scoresheet entirely five times in their past 14 contests, which neatly coincides with Hoffman’s personal goalless streak. He’s fired 41 shots on net during that stretch, so it’s certainly not for a lack of effort, but it’s just been that kind of season in Ottawa.

That drought has dragged his personal conversion rate down to seven per cent for the season, which puts him squarely in the list of the most snakebitten volume shooters. For some perspective, in Hoffman’s three full seasons in the league prior to 2017-18 he shot 11.6 per cent on 700-plus shots. During that same time the league average rate for forwards was hovering around 10.7 per cent.

So that dip this season is awfully illuminating when it comes to explaining why Hoffman is now on pace for less than 20 goals. It’s rather unusual territory for a player who, prior to this funk, had established himself as one of the most reliably productive scorers in the game:

Metric Total League Rank
5-on-5 Goals 82 21st
5-on-5 Points 167 40th
5-on-5 Primary Points 139 23rd
5-on-5 Points/Hour 2.62 30th
5-on-5 Primary Points/Hour 2.18 15th

These numbers encompass the three seasons spanning 2014 through 2017. They intentionally include his power play results, because he was sparsely used in that area of the game in the first year and as a result only had one PP goal. But there’s no reason to believe his shot doesn’t play there, as he showed the following two years when he was 11th in total goals on the man advantage and seventh on a per hour basis.

Typically a good rule to follow in cases like this is to bet on the track record. Wacky stretches like this happen all the time. Sometimes they last for a full season and feel like they’ll never end. But eventually, barring some sort of tangible explanation for it, like a fundamental physical change or age-related decline, we know the percentages typically normalize and regress back to their usual averages.

Unless Hoffman is injured or suddenly forgot how to play hockey over the summer, when it comes to predicting future performance there’s no reason to believe that the most recent 40 games are more indicative than the 260 that preceded.

If you’re only paying for the former in a trade, but actually getting the latter, that presents a rather enticing scenario for some enterprising GM out there.

We’ve already heard the Blues are poking around, which is a fit that makes a ton of sense on paper. They’re a team that’s often been hesitant to push their chips in, but this might be a special case that warrants an exception. The Western Conference is more wide open than it’s been in recent memory, and it’s there for the taking.

Plus, unlike most other rental options that are available this time of year, Hoffman is still on the books for two more seasons following this one, which surely holds additional appeal to a St. Louis team that’s supremely conscientious about maximizing its assets. There’d be a bit of a clash between Hoffman and Tarasenko on the power play as both prefer to occupy the right side, but you can never have enough weapons. This is particularly true at five-on-five, where Hoffman and his shot would provide the Blues with another dynamic layer to their offence for which the opposition would have to account.

The Blues surely won’t be alone in their pursuit of Hoffman, should he truly become available. There’s a little less than two months until the trade deadline rolls around, but we’ve already seen traces of blood in the water in Ottawa. Expect the vultures to sniff out the buy low opportunity, and start circling shortly if they haven’t already.

It’s not everyday that a legitimate top line winger becomes available at a discount rate, so when one does GMs have to be ready to pounce.

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