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Quick Whistles: Does Mike Hoffman Make Sense for the Hurricanes?

Will a big month of December convince Carolina’s front office that the team has earned “buyer” status?

NHL: Carolina Hurricanes at Ottawa Senators Marc DesRosiers-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re looking for the messiest situation in the NHL this season, look no further than the Ottawa Senators.

The Senators set out this season to prove that there was legitimacy behind their 2017 playoff run, and they doubled down on November 5 when they parted ways with Kyle Turris, 2017 first-rounder Shane Bowers, a top-10 protected first-round pick, and a third-round pick for Matt Duchene.

The clock has officially struck midnight in Ottawa’s Cinderella story.

Since November 16, the Sens have gone 3-12-5 and plummeted to the basement of the Eastern Conference. Now, instead of gearing up for a playoff run, their dysfunctional management group is gearing up for a fire sale, which could present an opportunity for the Carolina Hurricanes.

Here are this week’s long, speculation-filled Quick Whistles.

Before we talk about real, tangible things, like the good hockey team in Raleigh that has won six of their last seven, let’s talk about a trade rumor that isn’t really a trade rumor.

Tucked away in Elliotte Friedman’s 31 Thoughts column on Wednesday night was a mention of the Carolina Hurricanes and one of Ottawa’s rumored trade pieces.

I worry about writing this kind of sentence because things change and it blows up in my face, but it doesn’t seem like there’s an Edmonton-Ottawa match for Mike Hoffman – curious to see if a Carolina or a St. Louis looks at him.

Now, let’s not turn that sentence into something it isn’t. No, Friedman did not come out and say that the Hurricanes are actively pursuing Mike Hoffman or that any sort of deal is nearing completion.

That being said, I don’t think that he would say something like this unless there was at least some minor activity going on. I find it hard to believe that someone in his position with his reputation would just throw around some unnecessary random conjecture, but maybe I’m wrong...

With all of that in mind, let’s go down the rabbit hole.

The 28-year-old winger has played three full seasons in the NHL, netting 25+ goals and averaging north of 220 shots on net per season. In 2016-17, Hoffman emerged as a dangerous power play weapon, finishing sixth in the NHL in power play goals. Dating back to the start of 2014, his 91 total goals is just four fewer than Jeff Skinner’s 95.

This season, in the midst of Ottawa’s monumental collapse, Hoffman is still on pace for 56 points and 21 goals, even with his shooting percentage of 7.5% dipping well below the 12.3% that he was at through his first three full NHL seasons.

In the realm of underlying numbers, he has been a near-even 5-on-5 corsi share player (50.24% corsi for) since the 2014-15 season and his 102.41 PDO in that span is the eighth-highest among qualifying forwards (3,000+ 5-on-5 minutes) during that span, just behind the likes of Nikita Kucherov, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Vladimir Tarasenko, among others.

With Hoffman, you get a feisty player with a wicked shot who can score goals in a variety of jaw-dropping ways.

He’s not a remarkable skater and his defensive game isn’t anything to write home about, but if you’re trading for him, you’re not doing it for either of those things. You do it to acquire one of the best sharpshooters in the NHL.

For the sake of comparison, here’s how he compares to Duchene since breaking into the league.

Duchene vs. Hoffman (2014-2018)

Player Time on Ice Goals Assists Points Points/60 Corsi For % Goals For % PDO
Player Time on Ice Goals Assists Points Points/60 Corsi For % Goals For % PDO
Matt Duchene 3,808:07 53 67 120 1.89 46.02 46.81 100.29
Mike Hoffman 3,469:08 57 62 119 2.06 50.24 56.52 102.41
Stats from 5-on-5 situations. Corsica

If we learned anything from the Duchene fiasco, it’s that predicting a player’s trade value is difficult, but Friedman cleared up some confusion on that last week as it pertains to Ottawa’s sniper.

“I don’t think a second-rounder and a B-level prospect is doing it for Mike Hoffman – unless Eugene Melnyk is demanding the fire sale of all fire sales, and I don’t see that happening. I just think there will be enough interest in these guys that whoever they do decide to move, I would be surprised if the return is that low for a guy like Hoffman.”

Another suggested Hoffman trade parameter was thrown Friedman’s way of a B-level prospect and a first-round pick in the 11-20 range.

“I think now at least we’re in the conversation,” supposed the Insider.

On the surface, this looks like something that the Hurricanes should be in on. He is an established top-six sniper and power play goal machine.

The hold up on a trade like this would have nothing to do with Hoffman’s potential to be an impact player in Carolina, it’d be Ottawa’s asking price for the player and Ron Francis’ willingness to pull the trigger.

Is Hoffman worth a first-round pick in the 12 to 20 range and one of the many B-level prospects in the pipeline? I would debate that the answer is yes. While this year’s draft class looks great, it’s led by the talent on the blue line - a position of strength throughout the organization - and barring a collapse of epic proportions in the second half of the season, the Canes would be in position to draft another player in the middle third of the round, similar to Martin Necas (12th overall, 2017), Jake Bean (13th overall, 2016), and Julien Gauthier (21st overall, 2016) in recent years.

There’s enough depth in this organization’s farm system to justify passing up on a first-round pick in this draft, especially given the promising development of AHL goal-scoring leader Valentin Zykov and AHL rookie goal-scoring leader Warren Foegele to go along with likes of Lucas Wallmark, Nicolas Roy, Janne Kuokkanen, and Aleksi Saarela in Charlotte. 2017 third-round pick Stelio Mattheos is also putting together a big breakout season for Brandon in the WHL (26 goals, 54 points in 34 games) and could end up being a huge value pick down the line.

You’d likely have to move on from one or two of those good pieces, but when you’re getting an elite shooter in his prime with two years left on his contract after 2017-18 at a cap hit just under $5.2 million, that’s a sacrifice worth making.

Given the current landscape of the Metropolitan Division, the sooner a move is made to bolster this team, the better. Waiting until February might be too late given just how dominant this division is.

Hoffman makes sense.

On the ice, the Carolina Hurricanes are continuing to trend in the right direction, winning six of seven and setting the stage for an incredibly important Metropolitan Division matchup against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday.

The Pens are battered at the moment. Kris Letang, Matt Murray, and Bryan Rust are all ruled out for Friday, but the emergence of 22-year-old backstop Tristan Jarry gives Pittsburgh more than a fighting chance.

Jarry is 5-2-2 this season with a .918 save percentage and a shutout.

The Pens and Canes are tied in points for sixth place in the Metro, but Carolina has two games in hand and an opportunity to really make a statement on home ice. A win would bump them up to 43 points, just one point behind the Rangers and Islanders who both play on Friday night.

In an ideal world, both teams would exit those games with zero points, but the Hurricanes have had very little luck as of late with regards to their division foes losing games in regulation, let alone overtime or shootout.

Regardless of the outcome of those other games, Carolina desperately needs a strong performance against an underachieving Pittsburgh team that will undoubtedly be looking to turn a corner and get back to the high level they had been at for two seasons.

Over the years, the Hurricanes have found themselves in many situations like this and they have never pulled through. This is a big test, but it’s one that they absolutely need to pass.

They’re capable, but we’ve said that many times before.

Bill Peters has decided to officially go the route of “win and you’re in” with regards to his lineup.

That has led to Haydn Fleury and Josh Jooris watching a lot of games from the press box and Scott Darling riding the bench while Cam Ward has dished out solid outing after solid outing.

So far, the results have been good. As unpopular as the decision may be to roll with Ward, it’s impossible to deny that he has been the better of the two goalies this season for Carolina.

The 33-year-old is 9-2-1 this season with a .914 save percentage. In his last five starts, he is undefeated with .929 save percentage. His recent success sets him up for the start in Friday’s pivotal home game, likely giving Scott Darling the net in St. Louis on Saturday.

The last time Darling got the net on the second half of a back-to-back, he had his best showing of the season against the Columbus Blue Jackets on December 16. He followed that up with an eight-goal trouncing at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs on the 19th and hasn’t played since.

This run from Ward has been a treat to watch. He has made some remarkable saves and has given his team an opportunity every night, an opportunity that the Hurricanes have taken advantage of.

That said, we know that this won’t last forever. Ward is prone to having some phenomenal stretches, and while his current stretch certainly would qualify as such, these things tend to come to an abrupt end. A voice in my head keeps telling me that Friday will be the day that this will happen. The Canes are right on the edge of the playoffs and they’re playing a huge game on home ice. It would just be perfect timing for things to fall apart.

Regardless of if it’s Friday, next week, or the week after, the pressure is on for Darling to show signs of life when he gets his chances. He has been sitting on that meltdown in Toronto for more than a week now, so I wonder what is going through his head. He was brought in to take on a starting role, and while expecting that transition to be seamless would have been unrealistic, I don’t think anyone expected it to be this rough.

Like I said last week, I still believe that Darling is the guy. The talent is there and it really looks like he cares about this team. Whether it’s a mental thing or a fundamental thing that’s holding him back, he and goalie coach Mike Bales have to figure something out and put the pieces together.

Ward won’t keep this up forever, and Darling needs to be ready to get his net back when the time comes.

The month of December has been a tough test for this team.

At the beginning of the month, we knew that their six-game road trip would be a defining point in their season. They ended up going 2-2-2, so what exactly did that mean for the team?

In terms of wins and losses, it was an average road trip, but we didn’t learn that the Hurricanes were average. What we learned about them went a bit deeper than the record. It was how they reached that point that was telling.

Carolina opened that trip with a half-hearted 3-0 shutout loss in Vancouver and followed it up with a total collapse in San Jose where they blew two three-goal leads and fell to the Sharks in overtime. This was the point where the Hurricanes were seemingly on the verge of giving up on the system and straying away from what made them a competitive team at times throughout the year, but they didn’t.

The middle two games were a little bit better. They showed desperation and more desire to play together as a unit, but they still lost both games - a late comeback against the Kings to force an OTL and a 3-2 loss to the Ducks thanks to a stellar performance from John Gibson.

So, they lost two games with bad performances and they lost two games with good performances.

Back down to NHL .500 with two games to go on the trip, they went to Vegas and pulled out a shootout win against the Golden Knights. A few nights later, they went to Buffalo and beat a bottom-dwelling team that they had no excuse to lose to. The next night, they finished on the right side of a 2-1 score, defeating a division rival Blue Jackets club on home ice.

Since then, this team has seemingly turned a corner, and I think that the way they finished what was once considered a season-ruining road trip sparked what has been their best stretch of hockey all season.

It speaks to the mental fortitude in the locker room. They could have given up on this season, and given where they were, I don’t think anyone would have been too surprised if they had taken that route. Instead, they put their heads down and fought through it as a team, standing up for each other and convincing everyone, and maybe even themselves, that they were capable of being a legitimate threat in the Eastern Conference.

If they find themselves playing hockey in mid-April, it will be because of that season-defining road trip in early December.