HabsWorld.net -- 

After an underwhelming performance this season, it would be fair to suggest that Mike Hoffman hasn’t panned out as planned in Montreal.  Our writers discuss if they think they’ll be able to move him out this summer or if he’ll be at training camp in the fall.

Terry Costaris: In an ideal world, Hoffman and his hefty salary and a third-round draft pick is traded to a contending team and his contract is off the books. However, this fantasy scenario is never going to happen. A sweetener needs to be added.

There are two potential types of sweeteners. One is through salary retention. The other involves a decent pick or B-level prospect(s). Montreal has plenty of both.

The only one that I can think of that is of reasonable value is salary retention by the Habs.

The Montreal Canadiens are not going to give up a second-round pick to make this type of deal happen. They are still stocking up their cabinets.  And I doubt another franchise will take Hoffman for a third. The odds of such a pick amounting to something are quite slim.

I also doubt that a B prospect does the job because such a player also has a very low likelihood of becoming a decent or serviceable NHLer.

Realistically, it would likely cost the Canadiens at least a 50% retention amount to MAYBE be able to move him. That would be a lot of burnt-up money that Geoff Molson might not want to part with.

Hoffman at 50% less salary though, could be of value to some contending teams. This to me then is the only possible scenario that might facilitate a trade.

Tom Haapanen: Hoffman is much-maligned, and may not be producing at the level of his contract, but he still has produced better than half a point per game for the past two years. His 5-on-5 production is actually not far off his years in Florida and Ottawa, but he is barely scoring on the Habs’ anemic power play. Still, his production for the past two years is better than Josh Anderson’s, for example.

However, he is clearly not a player destined to be part of the lineup during their contention window. The question is whether other GMs in the league still value him even as his scoring has dropped off, thanks to Montreal’s power play issues.

The easiest move is likely to be on the trade deadline day when a playoff team will be willing to take a chance on him, and the Habs can retain some salary. Kent Hughes should be able to secure some kind of a return in this scenario, helping to maintain a healthy prospect pipeline. That said, if he can generate some interest this summer, and another team is willing to offer some compensation, Hughes should certainly consider that option.

Allan Katz: Outside of a Hoffman for Crosby trade I think we should go with a “grin and bear it” mentality with Hoffer. The reason the sit-still-and-do-nothing concept is the best is simply because the alternatives are so lousy. Buying Hoffman out on the last year of his contract is not worth it. While there is a log jam of mediocre soon-to-be-gone talent on the wings, there is a penalty of paying out cash after Hoffman is long gone. This year is not the year to go for the playoffs; caution be damned. That cash in the future might mean the difference of making a trade that is really important and not being able to because of cap circumstances.

So why not trade him? Why not pay half his salary, add a fourth-round pick and get an underperforming minor leaguer with some talent and a seventh-rounder in return? The simple answer is that no one is interested. Yet, here is where things get intriguing. Hoffman has a great shot and decent offensive instincts. His defensive prowess was “not too bad” and he does try occasionally, but he is seen as a one-trick pony who can’t even do his one trick that well anymore. The thing is the league’s perception of Hoffman is probably worse than the reality. With injuries (has been known to occur) the Habs might need him and he might respond with a hot streak. With his great shot, he could have double-digit goals by the trade deadline – that could deliver a middling draft pick. He could also turn into an interesting throw-in on a bigger trade.

If this dream scenario doesn’t turn out (sure, a probability) he could be unloaded in any number of ways, but none as punishing as a summertime buyout. So, while I support a Hoffman for Crosby trade my concern is that the Las Vegas Raiders might not be interested and their linebacker, Max Crosby, would not help the Habs (he has not learned to skate).

Brian La Rose: There isn’t a great option here for the Canadiens.  In a perfect world, they’d probably like to clear his whole contract but that’s going to be easier said than done.  They’d probably like to have his roster spot available to a prospect or a free agent that winds up on a short-term pillow deal but the only ways to guarantee that are an undesirable buyout or burying him in the minors which carries longer-term reputational repercussions.

I don’t think attaching a mid-round pick to move out his contract is going to work, especially since there are very few teams willing to take on an undesirable deal right now.  Even with salary retention, the cost to clear him out is going to hurt.  That cost is more than Montreal should be willing to bite the bullet on.

If it were me in charge, I’d be looking to flip him for another winger on an expiring contract that seems likely to be moved and do what they tried to accomplish with the Denis Gurianov acquisition by getting someone that might fit the system better.  Since they have some financial flexibility, they could potentially even leverage taking on a pricier expiring contract and pick up a little something for their trouble.

Best case scenario, the new guy pans out and either sticks around or gets a better trade return at the deadline.  Worst case scenario, it’s a Gurianov-type flop and they don’t get anything for him.  Even so, if that’s the end result, couldn’t that still be better than parting with a future asset to clear out his contract?

There’s no winning here for the Habs which is rather unfortunate since Hoffman could have filled a very important role on this team if he could score on the power play.  But if that’s not going to happen, perhaps it’s time to fill his spot with someone that can be a better all-around performer at five-on-five.

Kevin Leveille: The Habs roster should undergo some significant changes over the next few months as Edmundson, Dvorak, and maybe even Anderson might find themselves elsewhere to complete some roster moves to fill in Hughes’ vision. While I’m sure Hughes would love to off-load Armia, I think the team will have to play him in the hopes of moving him next summer. In the middle of these moves comes Hoffman, signed for one more season for $4.5M. Given the current construction of the roster up front, it makes little sense to bring Hoffman back, but he holds little value as a player, less so given his contract, and the buyout penalty simply makes no sense for the rebuilding Canadiens. So, what will they do?

The most logical solution is to ask a kid to be patient and allow Hoffman to play himself into a positive trade scenario at the deadline. However, we all saw how that played out for Drouin and Monahan last season, so does the team hinder development to take that risk? I think the answer to that was given in last season’s finale when Hoffman was scratched. To me, this was a clear “writing on the wall” type of move. It was a revenge game for Hoffman after taking a nasty cross-check in his previous encounter with the Bruins, and unless there are some circumstances around the scratch that make it acceptable to the player, I can’t see much appetite for Hoffman to be motivated to return to this team. If we accept the desire from both parties to move on, the next question becomes just how desperate are the Habs to move Hoffman?

While it is possible for Hughes to eat some salary in the deal, I still think it will be difficult for a contending team to acquire Hoffman at $2.5M. I think the Habs have to look at the rebuilding teams, and at that point, moving the entire $4.5M and adding a sweetener might be the easier path to moving the player. The rebuilding Habs will not part ways with a 1st rounder to make it happen, but they do have a plethora of later picks. Add to this that they’ve already had too many later-round picks in recent years to realistically sign all of these prospects while staying under the contract limit, and there seems to be the answer. Depending on the team, I could see the Habs opting to give Hoffman and a 2nd rounder for Future Considerations, or even Hoffman at 25% retained and a later pick. The buyers? Chicago comes to mind as they won’t hate the idea of the extra pick and a proven sniper next to Bedard on the power play. Arizona is always a good burying ground for contracts. San Jose is another possible destination as the pick might be of interest to them as they begin a rebuild.

One thing is certain, moving Hoffman ahead of the upcoming season should be seen as addition by subtraction for this young roster.

Peter Longo: In terms of play, Hoffman was still relatively productive – coming in fourth in both goals and points, or just over 0.5 points per game in 2022-2023. This is actually pretty decent given he played on a very bad hockey team. And it’s not like the Habs have a plethora of talented wingers ready to produce at that rate. Given the injury history of the team over the last two seasons, there is certainly still a spot for a player performing at Hoffman’s level. So getting rid of him for nothing or especially if the Habs need to add a sweetener, really doesn’t make sense.

As long as Carey Price remains under contract and on LTIR, the Habs really don’t have any cap issues. Effectively they can spend his $10.5M cap hit, allowing them to go up to $95M in total salaries (assuming the NHL salary cap is $83.5M in 2023-2024). And with Drouin, Monahan, Byron, and Dadonov’s contracts ending, there is over $20M in new cap space to spend. The Habs aren’t going to be competitive next season so there’s really no point in pushing the cap structure, so I don’t see a benefit to buying out Hoffman.

Having said that, obviously with Hoffman’s age (33), he’s not going to be around when the Habs are competitive again, so that means he’s an obvious trade candidate over this next year. On a stronger team with better linemates, it’s not unrealistic to think his production would improve a bit, so I think other teams will see value in Hoffman – especially as a rental player for the playoffs. So, it is just a matter of getting the best value. If Hughes can trade Hoffman anytime over the next year for a mid-level draft pick – even if he has to eat a portion of his salary – I would consider it a win.

Norm Szcyrek: I do not believe the Habs will be able to do anything except hold on to Hoffman for his last season in Montreal.  Of course, he could be moved before the trade deadline for a middle-round draft pick, but my expectations are very low that even that will be completed.  There is no evidence so far that the Habs GM will consider a buyout option, and making that happen has some cap implications for the next two seasons that Hughes may not be keen to implement.  One possible move will be placing Hoffman on waivers, and after he passes, assign him to the AHL. It’s a tricky move to make happen because it can also send the wrong message to the rest of the team, and to any potential free agents that are considering signing with Montreal. I prefer that he not be in the Canadiens lineup, because all of his ice time keeps another younger forward from getting valuable experience.

Dave Woodward: The decision on Hoffman really depends on whether a younger player who will (or can be) part of the Canadiens’ rebuild is ready to play with the Habs this season and take Hoffman’s place on the roster.  Given his age and the current status of the rebuild, Hoffman has no future with the Habs beyond this coming season.  If he is taking up roster space that can be better filled by an up-and-coming winger, Hoffman should be moved.  If the player(s) that would otherwise be with the big club can benefit from more time in Laval, the Canadiens should keep Hoffman and try and move him at the trade deadline.

A buyout would be a mistake.  The Canadiens have no cap crunch for the 2023-24 season.  If he is bought out, the Habs will save cap space for this season (which is unnecessary) and lose cap space in 2024-25 when they are more likely to run into cap issues.

Of course, if a young player is knocking on the door, moving Hoffman may be difficult.  It likely means taking on another team’s bad contract or retaining some salary.  Subject to the details of any deal, if that’s what it takes to develop another player who will be part of the team in the medium to long term, so be it.  It is all about development for at least the next few years.  That is the priority.

While Hoffman is weak defensively, he does add some offence.  If he is not impeding the development of a younger player, keep Hoffman (and move him at the deadline) to give fans a few highlights to watch next year, a season that promises to be another dreadful season for the Habs.