Mike Hoffman, one of the best UFAs available at the start of free agency, is still one of the best UFAs available after nearly a month of free-agency. He’s a victim of teams being shoved up against the salary cap, and he’s a victim of future cap crunch. Teams will have to take their time to weigh their options before signing him - will they have to deal current roster players? What does their long term injured reserve cap relief look like?
Hoffman, to his and his agents’ credit, are being patient. They realize that as a 30 goal scorer, he’s got the leverage for right now. According to Pierre LeBrun at The Athletic (subscription required), teams are in the process of low-balling Hoffman and his camp:
Whatever offers are there now, one-year deals varying I think from $3.5 million to $4.5 million, they will be there again closer to puck drop in the New Year. They’re not going away I wouldn’t imagine.
And I think the reason to be patient has to do with some contending teams perhaps finding cap room for Hoffman later in the offseason depending on LTIR situations. Think of Boston with its injuries to David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, St. Louis with Vladimir Tarasenko and Edmonton with Oscar Klefbom. I think those teams have all been viewed by the Hoffman camp as potential landing spots depending on where those teams are roster-wise and LTIR-wise closer to puck drop.
Hoffman would be the best replacement possible for Vladimir Tarasenko’s production. If Hoffman’s willing to entertain one-year deals, it could be doable for the Blues, but if - and only if - Tarasenko is out for the entire season. Once Tarasenko is available to play, the Blues have to be cap compliant.
In an interview with Jeremy Rutherford (subscription required), Doug Armstrong says that the Blues aren’t ruling anything out. Which, of course, makes sense - you always cover all of your bases. If you can work a deal, work it.
The Blues are already slightly over the cap before signing RFA Vince Dunn, which means some space is going to have to be cleared when Tarasenko returns. Whether it’s a little or a lot depends on if the Blues make an additional signing, and if they snag Hoffman at $4.5 million for a year, longer term players are going to have to go when Tarasenko comes back.
According to Armstrong, that’s a when, not an if:
“We work under a hard salary cap, so if he’s coming back, you have to have space for him,” Armstrong said. “Regardless of when he comes back, whether it’s Jan. 1, if we’re playing, or March 1, you still have to have $7.5 million worth of cap. If he starts on LTIR, you still have to have that amount of money that you can insert into your system. And my belief is he’s coming back. So you have to save for a rainy day … and it’s not a rainy day, it’s a great day when he’s ready to perform again.”
If you’re a subscriber, the entire interview with Armstrong is worth the read, but if you’re not, here’s a summary: the Blues have depth in the top and bottom six, and need to make space for Kyrou. There aren’t a lot of lines to read between here - the Blues don’t have the cap space, and they don’t think that they’ll need to make roster space to accommodate Hoffman.
There could be some more room at work here with Alexander Steen, whose current status is a mystery. Neither he nor the Blues expect him to be in playing condition when the season starts, but no one can say when he’ll actually be in playing condition. Once his situation becomes more stable, Armstrong can more easily make moves, but there’s also the chance that he’s fine with using the cap relief and not allocating it to anyone else. Steen being out makes room for Kyrou in the bottom six, and his fourth-line slot has been filled with the signing of Kyle Clifford.