Our look at the Sens' pending free agents continues. This week we look at the forwards. Yesterday, we looked at long-serving Chris Neil. Today, it's a much newer Senator: .
Last season, Mike Hoffman led the Ottawa Senators in goals, but was sometimes demoted in the lineup due to defensive deficiencies. In the summer, he went to arbitration, and the decision took much longer than normal to be handed down. The reasoning: Hoffman was an extremely unique case. As Elliotte Friedman likes to point out, almost nobody gets their first NHL point at age 24 and goes on to produce at the rate Hoffman has. In the end, the arbiter agreed with the team and awarded Hoffman a $2-million prove-it contract.
And he's proven it. In spades. Last season he tallied 27 goals - this season, he has 23 goals in 30 fewer games. He also only needs 7 points in his final 29 games to tie last year's point output. His even-strength points-per-60 has fallen from 2.49 to 2.24 (all numbers from War on Ice), but that still has him 19th in the league among players with at least 200 minutes played. I've also noticed his hustle on the backcheck a lot more this year. His wrist shot is the best on the team, and his slap shot is right up there. When he skates full tilt, he may be the fastest player on the team too. He's Ottawa's most productive forward, and far and away the team's best LW.
All of which means he's going to get paid. A lot more than $2-million per year. How much more remains to be seen, but it seems likely that he'll be commanding a salary north of $6M per year. That's what Taylor Hall is paid, and a little higher than the bargain contracts of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. $6.5M is what Erik Karlsson is making, and the team will hope it can make a good case that Hoffman isn't better than Karlsson. And considering how long it took Hoffman to make the show, I'm assuming he'll be willing to take a pay cut for a lengthy contract.
The flip-side is that Hoffman is still an RFA, and could command a lot of value on the trade market. Elite LWs aren't traded often, and as everybody knows, the Sens really need help on defence. I still think Mark Stone is more valuable as a forward in the long run. The team is a little thin on LW, since Shane Prince or Zack Smith will likely be the top LWs with Clarke MacArthur and Milan Michalek out, but the team is awfully thin on defence. If you can trade him for a stud blueliner like Oliver Ekman-Larsson, you do that trade immediately. If you can trade him for Cam Fowler and a first-round pick, you think hard about that trade.
So what should the Sens do? I think either a) re-sign him for eight years, $6.3M per year or so, or b) trade him for serious defensive help. He's one of my favourite players to watch, but I'd understand if he was traded for blue line improvement. I'm torn about which one I'd prefer, and I'm glad I'm not the GM making the choice.
I think that Sens' management has realized that Hoffman is crucial to this team's success. Since GMs are conservative, I think it's much more likely we see him signed than traded. I don't think they'll go full term, but I expect a six-year extension worth more than $6M per year. Current rumours are that the Sens are trying to trade Jared Cowen to make room