Mike Hoffman (Photo by Norm Hall/NHLI via Getty Images)
The Senators got the talented left winger on the cheap this past summer thanks to a favorable arbitration ruling, but the situation will be quite different this time around. Hoffman is burning up scoresheets and due for a big raise.
The New York Rangers did something few teams have been capable of lately: they kept Mike Hoffman off the scoresheet. The Ottawa Senators left winger has been on fire lately and, Sunday's New York loss aside, Hoffman is proving to be one of Bytown's best offensive options.
This is great news for the Senators – even if it will come at a steep financial price this summer.
See, Hoffman and the Senators went to arbitration this past summer, with Ottawa getting the better of the deal: Hoffman was judged to be worth $2 million for his one-year deal with the franchise. Ottawa had come in with an asking price of $1.7 million, while Hoffman's reps at Octagon Sports countered with $3.4 million. That was after Hoffman helped the Senators make their miracle playoff run, with 48 points in 79 games – good for fifth in team scoring.
But if history is any indicator, Hoffman had more offensive upside than that. In fact, the Senators had seen it twice before. The left winger had a slow start to his junior career, then exploded. He had a so-so start to his minor pro career, then exploded. So consider Hoffman's 2014-15 campaign his "average" starting year (Hoffman had played 25 games the year prior and a handful of NHL contests before that, but last year was his first without any AHL time).
What we've seen this season is the Rising Hoffman. This is the guy who can rattle goalies with his release, the guy who leads Ottawa in goals with 14 and trails only captain and rover Erik Karlsson in points, with 26 in 23 games to Karlsson's 32 through 27 appearances.
At his current pace, Hoffman could hit 88 points this season. That's the sort of news that will be both a blessing and a curse for Ottawa when it's time to negotiate a new contract for the 26-year-old. Hoffman still has arbitration rights and could sign another one-year pact this summer. After that, however, he'd be an unrestricted free agent – and something tells me teams would line up for a guy who can score the way he can.
In arbitration, should it happen again for Hoffman, a lot will depend on the cluster of players he will be compared to. Last summer, you could look at the Rangers' Chris Kreider or the Islanders' Anders Lee and see players with similar production who were also about the same age. In that sense, Hoffman should have been awarded more.
But let's say Hoffman ends this campaign with 80 points. Who do you compare him to in that case? Keep in mind: Bobby Ryan makes an average of $7.2 million on his long-term pact with the Senators. Even if you, the reader, believes Ryan makes too much, Hoffman has to ask for at least $5.5 million, doesn't he? From there you start talking term (and for the record, the two sides won't begin talking until after New Year's). Conservatively, you go bridge deal – maybe three years, where Ottawa buys a couple of UFA years from the left winger. Or if Ottawa really buys into what Hoffman can bring, you go for the maximum eight years.
Either way, if Hoffman continues his sublime offensive play, it's going to be a fun and lucrative future for the Senators sniper.