The Ottawa Senators avoided salary arbitration with forward Mike Hoffman on Wednesday morning, signing him to a new four-year contract worth $20.75 million, and ending speculation that the team might trade one of its top offensive weapons. The Senators announced the deal on their team website.
Sportsnet.ca reported that the deal will count as $5.1875 million against the salary cap through 2020, making him the Senators’ fourth-highest paid player. Hoffman played the previous season under an arbitration-fueled deal worth $2 million, and the Senators would have either had to go to arbitration again with the 26-year-old forward or trade his rights had a deal not been completed before August 4.
Mike Hoffman has been the Senators’ top goal scorer in each of the past two seasons, netting a career-high 29 in 2015-16, but came under fire from former coach Dave Cameron for a perceived reluctance to play consistently on the defensive side of the ice. The frosty relationship between coach and player led to Hoffman being dropped from the Senators’ top line late in games, a move that drew ire around Canada’s national capital and was a factor in Cameron losing his job.
The new contract confirms that Hoffman will be reunited with his former juniors coach Guy Boucher, who replaced Cameron behind the Senators’ bench on May 8. The signing means that Ottawa now has its three leading scorers from the 2015-16 campaign under contract through at least 2018, as Hoffman joins forward Mark Stone and defenseman Erik Karlsson. All three players are 26 or younger and combined for 202 points last season, giving the Senators a solid and efficient nucleus for their attack.
But an efficient attack has not been the problem in Ottawa, which has missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons. In fact, the Senators had one of the most efficient attacks in the league last year, finishing seventh in goals scored despite averaging 28.4 shots a game, the fourth-fewest in the league.
The Senators’ biggest problem under both Cameron and his predecessor Paul MacLean has been the number of shots on goal they’ve allowed to opponents. Last season, Ottawa conceded a league-worst 32.8 shots per game, leading it to surrender 247 goals, ahead of only Columbus and Calgary. Despite spending most of the season on one of the Senators’ top scoring lines with Stone and Kyle Turris, Hoffman ended the year with a plus-minus rating of just plus-1, leading to criticism for perceived defensive lapses that led to too many goals conceded.
That has been the lone criticism in Hoffman’s play during his time in Ottawa, as he has scored 56 goals in two full NHL seasons. With his new contract and the recent addition of 27-goal scorer Derick Brassard, the Senators are banking that a high-powered offense and a new coaching staff will bring the postseason back to Ottawa.
Are the Senators heading in the right direction here by keeping Mike Hoffman around? Do two productive scoring seasons justify his new salary? Are the recent moves likely to make Ottawa a contender again, or are their defensive liabilities still too glaring? Sound off in the comments!
Commentary by Dan Angell