Last year at the NHL Draft, Ray Shero and the New Jersey Devils swung a big time trade, sending a second and third round pick to Anaheim in exchange for winger Kyle Palmieri. The trade was a huge win for the Devils, as they secured a 24-year-old player who was arguably their best offensive contributor for the same price that they traded away six weeks of Jaromir Jagr for in the lost 2014-15 season. As New Jersey continues their rebuild, they will again likely be in the market for undervalued players who are on the upswing. As always, unrestricted free agency will be a tough place to find players of that sort, so fans are wondering if the Devils might be able to pull off another Palmieri-style trade to help them get closer to returning to contention. The question is who might fit that same mold that Palmieri did a year ago?
For New Jersey, one player that should absolutely be on their radar is Ottawa forward Mike Hoffman. Hoffman has been putting up impressive numbers for the Senators the past couple years but, despite this, still hasn't seemed to get on a solid footing with the organization. Hoffman is coming off his second full season in Ottawa in which he scored 59 points in 78 games - a number which would have made him the points leader in New Jersey. He has put up 107 points over the last two seasons, despite being deployed unevenly at times. His 5v5 points/60 is 10th in the entire NHL for players with 500+ minutes over the past two seasons (via Corsica.hockey) and yet his future in Ottawa is very uncertain.
The Sens have remained skeptical of Hoffman's long-term impact for whatever reason, going to arbitration last summer (and more-or-less winning, for what it's worth) and now still without a contract heading into Hoffman's final RFA year. Apparent questions about his consistency and his abilities in late season games have prevented the Sens from making a significant commitment. Some, including Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet, have speculated that this could be it for the Sens and their talented winger. If that is the case, it would make a considerable amount of sense for the Devils to take a run at him, whether it is on draft day or beforehand.
The truth is that if a guy can score at a 30-goal pace, getting worked up about his so-called inconsistency doesn't make a ton of sense. Every player in the NHL is going to be inconsistent at times, because that's just the reality of hockey. People in Anaheim felt Kyle Palmieri had issues with consistency before he landed in New Jersey and that didn't stop him from becoming one of the Devils top offensive weapons. A guy like Hoffman who could pot 30 goals, whether they come in streaks or not, would be a huge help for the anemic Devils offense.
So what could be the drawbacks to going after Hoffman for the Devils? First, Hoffman is a left winger, which is less of a need than right wing for the Devils, particularly if Patrik Elias returns to the fold, but only one of their potential 2016-17 LWs is really a bona fide top-6 player at this point. Reid Boucher and Joseph Blandisi both had promising seasons this past year, but the Devils would be better off if they are battling for time on the third line and being insurance for the top-6 rather than one of them being penciled in on a top line on opening night. Another issue is we don't really know what it will take to pry Hoffman away from the Sens. We know they are reluctant to hand out a long-term deal, but that doesn't mean they'll let him go for peanuts.
Does the Palmieri return get it done for Hoffman and is that a price the Devils are willing to pay? There are a number of factors to consider here, including that Hoffman is not under contract like Palmieri was, which would theoretically lower his price. Hoffman has put up bigger numbers than Palmieri had a the time of his trade, though which likely balances that out. Also, the Sens could potentially want a roster player coming back rather than just futures. It could make sense for a budget team like the Sens to want a cost-controlled young player heading in the other direction. If the ask is something like Boucher or Blandisi and a early-to-mid-rounder or Damon Severson and a late-rounder, I think you would have to seriously consider it. If the ask is a return similar to the Palmieri trade, I think it's a slam dunk.
Now, this could all be completely moot if the Sens and Hoffman end up making nice under new general manager Pierre Dorion and agree long-term, but there's at least a fair amount of smoke around the idea that he could be on the move this offseason. If he is, in fact, available, he's a player the rebuilding Devils should definitely be making calls on. If Shero can pull off another trade for an impact winger, this team could be that much closer to competing in the 2016-17 season.