While the signing of David Savard was all about the defensive side of the puck, the Montreal Canadiens’ signing of Mike Hoffman to a three-year, $4.5 million AAV deal is all about sparking the offence.
Based on his contract projection, Hoffman came in at a lesser term and under the expected cap hit, which can be seen as a solid bit of business for Marc Bergevin to get an asset he has sought for a while now.
The simple analysis of Hoffman’s game is he’s a triggerman who makes the most of his looks on net, and is a safe bet to pile up 20-plus goals in a full NHL season. Since joining the NHL full-time in 2014, Hoffman hasn’t scored fewer than 22 goals in an 82-game season, with a peak of 36 goals just three seasons ago in Florida.
The offensive firepower is a huge bonus for the Canadiens who have been in search of more scoring help for several years now. The acquisition adds another wrinkle to an offence that will feature Cole Caufield in the top role and could have Jonathan Drouin returning as well.
There is a caveat with Hoffman’s offensive talents however: he will put some goals in at five on five, but his primary offence falls heavily in power-play production. For the Canadiens, that’s not necessarily a bad thing as the power play has been inconsistent at best, and impotent at its worst.
Bringing in a guy who specializes in putting pucks in the net on the man advantage is obviously a huge bonus here, especially with Shea Weber’s shot missing for this season. It allows the Canadiens to move away from the archaic two-defencemen alignment on the man advantage and spread shooters across the two man-advantage units while creating a new-look attack.
The downside is that while Hoffman brings an elite tool to Montreal, at five-on-five he’s rather pedestrian offensively, and invisible defensively. That creates a challenge for the Canadiens who need to find a way to free him up for more offensive-zone time, and avoid having him stuck out there in heavy defensive minutes.
Which brings us to the critical question: Who should Mike Hoffman be lining up with?
With Phillip Danault out of the picture, there currently isn’t a defensive centre who could cover for Hoffman’s defensive warts right now, so the next option is creating a heavy exploitation line. My initial thought is to tweak the Nick Suzuki line from the playoffs, and swap Hoffman in for Tyler Toffoli to add a bit of pace. Suzuki has proven himself to be a deft puck-distributor who draws plenty of offensive attention on his own, and giving him a pair of wingers like Hoffman and Cole Caufield creates a three-pronged attack in the offensive zone.
It should also go without saying that Hoffman should be a staple on the first power-play unit with these potential linemates as well. His shot is a weapon that needs to be utilized fully, or the Canadiens are spending far too much on a person who specializes in one thing only.
The biggest thing with Hoffman is not asking him to be a checker or defence-heavy forward. If the team does that like they did with Josh Anderson, then it’s going to lead to a lot of struggles in short order. Keep it simple, keep him in the offensive side of the ice, and enjoy the goals. If they can get Hoffman rolling, he can easily help solve their languid power play problem and add some serious scoring depth down their wings.
Marc Bergevin got his guy once again. Now the coaching staff has to put him in the right spots to succeed. If they can do that, the Montreal offence should look much more formidable this upcoming season compared to the last few years. It’s all a question of if they will lead on the scoreboard at the end of the night.