The Habs made a splash in free agency with the addition of Mike Hoffman, giving them another quality scoring threat. Is he the right fit for Montreal? Our writers offer up their thoughts.
Terry Costaris: I like the Hoffman signing though, given his age, fans should expect declining numbers in the goal-scoring department over the term of his contract. Hoffman should improve Montreal’s power play but is a defensive liability. He replaces Tomas Tatar but is not as reliable of a 5 vs 5 player.
I realize that Tatar was not much of a playoff performer but he could be relied on to help get Montreal into the playoffs. Hoffman is the type of player who can help this club get through the playoffs. He also offsets and likely upgrades Shea Weber’s contribution on the power play.
Right now, the Canadiens are not a better team than they were this past season. More moves need to be done. What we saw at the start of free agency was a work in progress.
Last summer, the Habs made major upgrades throughout their lineup transforming their roster from mediocre to very good. If they want to compete against the likes of Boston, Florida, Tampa, and Toronto, then GM Marc Bergevin needs to swing some very savvy trades. It won’t be as easy this go-round as he strategically took advantage of the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic on most franchises to secure quality discount deals.
The Habs have lost Weber, Phillip Danault, and Tomas Tatar. These are big losses. Weber is the heart and soul of this franchise. Danault was like Guy Carbonneau in his prime. Tatar is a very good regular season performer.
This signing, along with David Savard’s is a good first step in terms of keeping the Canadiens competitive in their extremely strong division. More though, obviously needs to be done.
The two biggest variables that I see are Jesperi Kotkaniemi and Jonathan Drouin. Right now, how they fare next season could decide whether or not the Montreal Canadiens will make the playoffs. If I’m a betting man, I’d wager that both should improve.
Montreal had a Cinderella playoff run. It felt great but we need to take off our rose-coloured glasses and see things for what they are. The Habs were a very good, second-tier team. They are not elite. They needed to build on what they already had this season in order to have a better regular season showing for 2021-2022.
Losing Weber and Danault, in particular, are huge blows. What has happened early in free agency does not really move the needle in terms of making Montreal a greater threat in the Eastern Conference.
I strongly believe then, that what Bergevin does these next few days/months will likely determine if the Habs will make next year’s playoffs or not.
Allan Katz: Getting a true sniper in hockey is no easy task. Usually, offensive stars get huge contracts, as they should. While Hoffman signing for $4.5 million is no small potatoes, it is on the low side for someone who has a good shot to score 30 goals. So, what’s the deal? Well, everyone knows, the man balances off great offensive talents with very poor defensive skills. The result is putting down this deal is rather easy and most sportswriters have done so. Yet I think Montreal is aware as anyone else of what Hoffman brings to the table and I think they believe it will work. The NHL has tons of 200-foot players with nominal offensive talents. The Habs can fill a clown car or two with these guys. These players, Armia, Lehkonen, Perreault, Evans, Paquette, can all carry a scorer on their line, protect them and thrive with them.
To top it off, and this is no small take, he’s a power play specialist. Montreal needed one more sniper and they got him. Bergevin is trying to make one more big deal and I’m guessing Kotkaniemi is the bait. When Weber’s money is freed up watch out because that’s when the team has to make a move. Also, if Drouin can show he’s back and hungry and ready to go then he might be gone too in the search for a big shot up the middle. Rating the Hoffman deal as a success will be part of what Berg is working on in his next deal: Balancing off the sniper with a 200-foot two-way centre or some other surprise. Essentially, the team upgraded on Tatar for about the same money it would take to re-sign him.
Brian La Rose: This is going to be a very interesting fit. The Habs are all about playing strong at 5-on-5 and Hoffman is far from a good player at full strength. There’s a reason he was a healthy scratch in St. Louis and this was it. On the other hand, he remains one of the top power play scoring threats in the league; only four players have more power play goals than he does over the past five years. If you’ve watched Montreal over that span, you know that the man advantage is a real sore spot.
Hoffman and Tatar are two very different players. Tatar fit the system that the Habs played during the season but didn’t help much on the power play last season. Hoffman doesn’t fit the system at all (he’s going to draw the ire of the fans in a hurry) but with him and Cole Caufield, all of a sudden, the power play has two high-end shooters. That should help offset some of the lost production at 5-on-5.
There was a lot of dumb money handed out in free agency but this contract wasn’t one of them. The third year isn’t great given his age but overpaying in the term of a deal is normal for pretty much everyone. $4.5 million for someone that should be able to push for double-digit goals on the power play and be around the 20-25-goal mark isn’t bad value. Just don’t expect Hoffman to bring anything else to the table.
Naqeeb Shaikh: The term and price seem a bit high; a two-year deal would have been better in my opinion around the $3.5-$4 million range. But let’s see how this plays out and how much of a boost the power play gets with this addition; it is more than a depth signing almost like replacing the goals lost that Tatar gave. It will be interesting to see how he is used by Ducharme and who he ends up finding chemistry with. This seems like a high risk/high reward signing for a forward who is more known to rack up points on the powerplay than consistently produce on even-strength.
Norm Szcyrek: Hoffman is a pure scorer, similar in some ways to Tyler Toffoli. He has a deadly shot and will be a big help to the power play if he is utilized there often enough. In terms of goal production, the two wingers are very similar, as both like to shoot the puck a lot and have been productive over their careers. Hoffman has scored 16 more goals over 32 more games during his career and his best season to date has eclipsed Toffoli’s by five goals. I believe Toffoli is a better defensive player and due to that, he should earn a little more ice time than Hoffman will in Montreal. As a left winger, Hoffman’s arrival will likely push Jonathan Drouin down to the third line, since both he and Toffoli appear set for the top two lines. Overall, I think this was a good free agent signing, as both the term and contract amount were both reasonable.
Dave Woodward: Hoffman’s skills on the power play and as a scorer address a long-standing need for the Canadiens. Over the past several years, the Habs’ power play has been at best ordinary and more often abysmal. The lack of high-end scoring talent is a big reason why. While Hoffman is not an elite NHL player, he is a sniper who scores many of his goals and registers many of his points on the power play. Hoffman has consistently scored goals in his career with over six 20-goal seasons and scoring 36 goals in 2018-19 for the Florida Panthers. Last season, he scored 17 goals in 52 games with the St. Louis Blues.
The knock on Hoffman is his defensive play. In the year he scored 36 goals, Hoffman was a -24 for example. While that was his worst plus/minus year, Hoffman is not known as a defensive forward.
The cap hit of $4.5 million and term of three years for the 31-year-old Hoffman is reasonable and could be fairly described as a good deal from the Habs’ perspective. Hoffman has played 545 NHL games. With his skill set, he should be able to perform throughout the contract’s term, barring injuries. Given the contract’s cap hit, term, and the skill set that Hoffman brings to a team in need of (i) an upgrade on the power play; and (ii) goal-scoring generally, this is a nice piece of work by Marc Bergevin.