I know what you're thinking after reading the headline. After the recent Blackhawks' news claiming they're rebuilding and all of that, why would the team ever sign a top-six forward who should be helping a team win, not tank?
Well, tanking teams that aren't trading their core, as I mentioned in previous articles, need a way to gain draft capital and prospects in order to build from within. Currently, the Blackhawks don't have many players that fit that mold, outside of Mattias Janmark and Lucas Wallmark, and could 100% use more of those. Hoffman fits that bill.
For those not familiar with Mike Hoffman, he was drafted back in 2009 by the Ottawa Senators in the fifth round of the NHL Entry Draft. In three seasons from 2011 to 2014, Hoffman appeared in 29 games, with 25 of those coming in the 2013-14 season. He became a regular for the Senators during the 2014-15 season.
Hoffman has consistently been a dangerous goal scorer. Since 2014-15, he has logged 27, 29, 26, 22, 36, and 29 goals, respectively. He is a perennial goal scorer who is still looking for a team.
Enter the Chicago Blackhawks: a team with a glaring opening on the top line where Hoffman could slot in perfectly for the first half of the season. He would likely skate with captain Jonathan Toews and up-and-coming winger Dominik Kubalik.
Not only would Hoffman look great in an Indianhead sweater, but he would also command a HUGE return at the deadline from a contending team. Hoffman is looking for a big-ticket deal. However, because of the current market, Hoffman is still without a job. There is a chance he takes the Taylor Hall route, tries to have a monster season on a one-year deal, and cash in next season.
Assuming Hoffman performs as he has for the majority of his career, he could easily have 20-25 goals under his belt by the trade deadline. If that is the case, and the Blackhawks inevitably make him available, he could easily command a very good prospect and first- or second-round pick. That is a recipe for success in the Blackhawks "rebuild" model that Stan Bowman has shared with the fan base.
There is a glaring elephant in the room with this idea though. It's that the Blackhawks have minimal cap space left. It's impossible to deny the numbers. The Blackhawks currently have $5.2 million left, and that's without a contract for Dylan Strome, which will likely fall in the $2.5 million to $3 million range. So the Blackhawks would have to get creative to bring in a player like Hoffman.
Hoffman will likely be looking for a $5 million contract, even for one season. There are only two ways the Blackhawks could make that happen without losing Dylan Strome. The first is trading yet another player from the roster, such as David Kampf, Ryan Carpenter, or Calvin de Haan. The other option is waiting until the second day of the season, putting Andrew Shaw and Zack Smith on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), and signing Hoffman with the freed up space.
The first option is completely possible. Kampf and Carpenter are both making $1 million per year and fit the style of many players on the current roster. As for the other aforementioned name, de Haan is a very good defenseman and due to his injury history, he may be a player the Blackhawks look to move in order to give Ian Mitchell more of an opportunity on the blue line.
The second option is probably the better bet. Shaw and Smith did not skate during the NHL reboot back in July and there is no word if they'll be healthy for another season. LTIR is a great option for both of these players because they continue to get paid by the organization but don't affect the salary cap situation. Once they do that, there would likely be enough money then to ink Hoffman, if he is willing to wait that long.
There is also the chance that the Blackhawks use the second buyout window to dump Zack Smith, but it seems that they're more likely to place him on LTIR if he is not healthy.
If possible, the Blackhawks should absolutely sign Hoffman and flip him at the trade deadline. It is a tough year for free agents due to the stagnant cap, and will likely require some guys to take discounts in order to play.
If Hoffman sees the opportunity to play on Chicago's top line, get flipped to a contender, and ideally sign a big contract next offseason, then it could be a match made in heaven. There are a lot of obstacles for both sides that would have to be overcome, but this could be a perfect fit for both sides and what their end goals are.