The Best Remaining Destinations for Free Agent Mike Hoffman

Teams are running out of cap space while the second-best forward of the 2020 UFA class remains on the market, patiently awaiting the right deal. Which teams are best positioned to pursue him?
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We’re three weeks into unrestricted free agency, and the No. 2 forward of the 2020 class remains out there, waiting for the right deal. Left winger Mike Hoffman, who averages 29.9 goals per 82 games across six seasons since becoming an NHL regular, still doesn’t have a team. The long wait can partially be blamed on the elimination of the early UFA negotiation window, as teams couldn’t even start pitching Hoffman until 12:00 p.m. ET Oct. 9. The main culprit, of course, is the flat salary cap of $81.5 million squeezing out of the free-agent middle class, forcing them to take less than their true market values, as Hoffman’s former teammate Evgenii Dadonov did.

Another reason why Hoffman hasn’t picked a home yet: he’s staying patient and hoping not to become a victim of the flat-cap squeeze. As The Athletic's Pierre LeBrun reported earlier this week, as many as a dozen teams have kicked the tires, half of them seriously, but Hoffman’s agent Rob Hooper explained that the camp will take its time rather than bite on a lowball offer – which for now might mean something well below $5 million per year. There may be opportunities to get closer to his market value, which has to be at least $6 million per season if not more, if teams start stashing players on LTIR with the intent to keep them there deep into the 2020-21 season.

So which teams actually make sense as landing spots for Hoffman, factoring in hockey fit and financial fit? Consider these five, listed alphabetically, and keep the Florida Panthers back-of-mind as a “sleeper” to bring Hoffman back at a discount if he can’t find the deal he wants.

BOSTON BRUINS

It’s been obvious for a while now that the Bruins need secondary scoring to support the Perfection Line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak. In 2018-19, they accounted for 41.2 percent of Boston’s goals, and the share jumped to an astounding 47.1 percent this past season. But with Marchand and Pastrnak both expected to start 2020-21 late after respective off-season surgeries, even primary scoring is a concern for the Bruins at the moment. The Bruins have about $6.6 million in projected cap space, so targeting Hoffman depends on what dollar figure RFA Jake DeBrusk gets and whether GM Don Sweeney would clear out another contract to chase Hoffman. The Bruins also have to worry about their ravaged blueline, which has already lost Torey Krug and may not bring back Zdeno Chara.

The good news about Pastrnak and Marchand’s injuries: both players currently sit on the off-season LTIR, so the Bruins have the capacity to spend to 10 percent above the cap right now, meaning they could theoretically fit Hoffman and DeBrusk under the cap temporarily, buying Sweeney a couple months to shed salary elsewhere.

EDMONTON OILERS

The Oilers’ dynamite second line of Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Leon Draisaitl and Kailer Yamamoto isn’t something you want to mess with. Not after they were so good together following Yamamoto’s mid-season call-up. The Oilers still don’t project to have a high-end option on either wing for Connor McDavid on the top line, however. At first glance, they have nary a dollar to spare of cap space, but keep an eye on defenseman Oscar Klefbom, who might end up missing the entire 2020-21 campaign because of a chronic shoulder injury with a murky recovery timeline. He’s an obvious candidate to land on LTIR, and because he might do so for the full season, he’d provide legitimately projectable salary relief.

The Oilers might then need to use Klefbom's $4.167 million worth of cap space to chase a blueline replacement, but would Hoffman also be tempting? They likely wouldn’t be able to offer as much money as some suitors, but if there’s one team that would be worth trying on a one-year deal, it’s Edmonton, as playing with McDavid (or Draisaitl) could produce career-best numbers just in time for Hoffman to hit the market again.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

If Hoffman goes the bad-team-mercenary route, the Kings are an interesting fit. With all due respect to Alex Iafallo’s breakout 2019-20 season, he’s not a natural first-line left winger. In a perfect world, he’d be a long-term solution in the middle six. If the Kings feel like No. 2 overall pick Quinton Byfield will make the team right away and accelerate their rebuild, it wouldn’t hurt to add proven scoring on the wings, especially since Hoffman would be a boon for their woeful power play. Since it’s known that he’s willing to sign a one-year deal, as Taylor Hall did with Buffalo, Hoffman could conceivably give it a go with the Kings and, if they aren’t contenders next spring, get flipped to a contender before trying it all again next off-season.

Even if the cap stays relatively flat a year from now, the presence of the Seattle Kraken will help take money off other teams’ hands, so the market should be a bit friendlier by then. A one-year pact would be a nice low-risk option for both sides. It would allow GM Rob Blake to dip his toes in the “Are we good yet?” water with an ejector seat built in,

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

The Preds are very quietly sitting on more than $17 million of official cap space. That number will shrink once they sign RFA acquisition Luke Kunin, but the Preds will still have a significant chunk of change to spend. They’re also fresh off a season in which two of their top four scorers were defensemen. They badly need another finisher, especially after bidding farewell to right winger Craig Smith, who signed with the Boston Bruins. It’s no secret they’re one of the teams interested in Hoffman, as it’s been reported by multiple outlets at multiple junctures over the past several weeks.

From a cap standpoint and a hockey fit standpoint, few teams make more sense for Hoffman than the Predators – to the point it’s a surprise a deal hasn’t gotten done. Is that reason to believe Hoffman is holding out hope to play elsewhere?

ST. LOUIS BLUES

The Blues lacked a game-breaking finisher this past season with star right winger Vladimir Tarasenko losing all but 14 games, including the playoffs, to a shoulder injury that requires a third surgery. His best-case recovery scenario would be a February 2021 return, but it’s likely he starts the season on LTIR. It’s also possible he’ll never be the same player again. Three surgeries to the same shoulder is serious business.

If the Blues can’t count on Tarasenko to be their go-to sniper anymore, Hoffman would be a logical fit for a win-now contender one season removed from capturing the Stanley Cup. Tarasenko could still return during the year, though, so if there’s going to be a true LTIR savior in St. Louis who frees up space for GM Doug Armstrong to take a run at Hoffman, it’s Alexander Steen. He’s 36 and dealing with an undetermined injury that cost him playoff games during the bubble tournament. He’s more of a role player at this stage, having logged a career-low 14:02 per game in 2019-20. He carries a $5.75-million cap hit. The Blues opted not to buy him out, but if he feels his days as an NHLer are truly done, he could pull a Marian Hossa and park himself on LTIR all season long to take one for the team.

The Blues are solid on the left wing with Jaden Schwartz and the emerging Zach Sanford, but Hoffman can play the right wing, too, and could replace fellow left-shot right winger Tarasenko there. It would push Robert Thomas further down the lineup and force Jordan Kyrou to earn a scoring role yet again rather than inherit one, but that depth would be a good problem to have.

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