Mike Hoffman hit a total of 11 combined posts and crossbars last season. He led the league.
Oddly enough though, if you ask anyone that watched all 82 games of the Senators’ 2015-16 campaign, they wouldn’t have the 26-year-old’s increased daily dosage of iron as the number one reason he didn’t hit 35 goals.
The opposing team’s goal posts didn’t remove Hoffman from the Senators’ first power play unit for over 15 games as he led the team in goals per 60 on the man advantage (while Hoffman boasted an impressive 2.96, the closest to him was Bobby Ryan at 1.61). Nor did they send him down to serve multiple games on the fourth line during a push for the playoffs for the second season in a row. And they certainly didn’t throw Hoffman on the bottom trio and replace him with Mark Borowiecki on the first line in the third period of a tie game in Florida - a game in which Hoffman scored the game-winner in the final frame.
No, that was all Ottawa’s former head coach Dave Cameron.
So while the clanging of crossbars became remarkably frequent and his ice time took quite the hit, Hoffman still managed to notch 29 goals. That’s quite the feat.
It would be rather difficult to address the issue of luck, so maybe the speedy left winger should keep a rabbit’s foot in his elbow pad or a shiny loonie under the sole of his skate. But the other major negative influence on Hoffman’s 2015-16 woes has been more than taken care of.
Cameron out; Guy Boucher in. And as you probably already know, the Senators’ new bench boss is a fan of his newly inherited top goal scorer.
“When I look the power play, you’re right, there are great assets here. I have worked with Mike Hoffman in junior, I had him do similar things that I did with (Steven) Stamkos in Tampa and the same when I had (John) Tavares when I had three times with Hockey Canada. Those guys are shooters, so definitely I do have a plan with Mike, but I have a plan with the other players also.” - Guy Boucher. May 9, 2016.
Boucher has a history of letting his stars loose, especially his goal scorers. In 2009, during Hoffman’s second stint with the Drummondville Voltigeurs, the then 18-year-old had his best season in junior carting 52 goals and 42 assists in 62 games. Steven Stamkos also benefited from Boucher’s presence. To this day, the Lightning’s star sniper’s career highs in goals (60), assists (46) and points (97) were all recorded with his former coach behind the bench.
Like he’s said, Boucher is going to use Hoffman for what he is: a quick, talented sniper with an outstanding release. And already we’re getting a preview of what’s to come beginning Oct. 12.
Hoffman four points in three preseason games so far - three of them goals. And not a single one wasn’t a work of art.
Nice shot by Hoffman. Sens take the lead 3-2 pic.twitter.com/X4A6Vxfpi6— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) September 30, 2016
Hoffman wins it in overtime. Assist goes to Galchenyuk. pic.twitter.com/cc3o5BCLgP— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) September 30, 2016
Mike Hoffman's shot speed is ridiculous. The puck spent roughly no time on his stick. pic.twitter.com/Ti6XMNqahu— Marc Dumont (@MarcPDumont) October 1, 2016
We’re also getting a preview of how the Kitchener native will be utilized on the power play. Patrolling the left point and, as you saw on that last goal, sneaking closer to the net when possible, Boucher is already forming his offensive strategy around one of his top offensive talents. Which, in hindsight, is the obvious thing to do.
It’s no secret that Hoffman is an elite scorer on the power play, but he’s nearly as helpful at even strength. Able to boast the best points per 60 at 5v5 amongst Senators forwards last season, there’s a reason why his offensive zone starts have rapidly increased every season.
2013-14: 32.4% O-Zone, 28.1% D zone, difference of 4.3
2014-15: 38.2% O-Zone, 26.8% D-Zone, difference of 11.4
2015-16: 41.7% O-Zone, 27.2% D-Zone, difference of 14.5
But even adjusting his 5v5 stats for the advantage he gains from the high percentage of offensive zone starts he receives, Hoffman has significantly improved every year in the NHL (minimum 200 minutes at 5v5).
It was extremely clear last season that teams have begun to cover Hoffman in the offensive zone similarly to the way the cover Alex Ovechkin. But while his even strength goal rates saw a small dip (1.41 goals per 60 in 2014-15 to 0.96 in 2015-16) and his shot rates did the same (18.45 individual Corsi for per 60 in 2014-15 and 16.57 in 2015-16), he adapted to more of a playmaking role. He was still that dangerous sniper on the left wing, but just simply more dynamic.
The big factor this season will be Hoffman’s drive to play a 200-foot game. We know he definitely can.
At the beginning of the 2014-15 campaign, there was no doubt he was taking care of his own end, in fact, he looked like one of the better defensive forwards on the team. But when he started displaying poor coverage and too many fly-bys at the point, two things happened: his defensive play stopped translating to the offensive zone and Cameron dialled back his opportunities.
Now, it seems Hoffman will get more leeway with Boucher - as a coach getting his second chance in the NHL, he’ll want to use his top scorer more than ever - but it’ll benefit the sniper short term and long term if he adheres to the game plan in both ends.
If Boucher sticks to his current idea for forward lines with Mark Stone and Hoffman alongside Kyle Turris on the first line, it could be an overwhelmingly deadly weapon. With the chemistry we saw at the beginning of last season when the HST line was together for a handful of games, they could hit the ground running right out of the gates.
So, what would be considered a dramatic projection for Hoffman’s output this season? You’d be hard-pressed to find an analyst who thinks the Senators’ star winger is incapable of hitting the 40-goal mark this season.
Maybe it’s more of a safe bet to say he stays in the mid 30’s, but it’s becoming exceedingly difficult to predict anything but an astronomical season from Mike Hoffman.
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