With a little more firepower on offense, Columbus could still be playing hockey.
But they didn't have it in the bubble, and the scoring woes sent the Blue Jackets back to Columbus after the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen (and anyone who watched Columbus this season) knows that Columbus is still a scorer or two away from being serious contenders, and the expectation is that he'll make a push to acquire a top six forward before the start of next season, whenever that may be.
While there is little question that former league MVP Taylor Hall is the cream of the crop with the free agency market this
summer fall, whether or not he would make sense for Columbus is up for debate. Most notably, he's going to be expensive: Hall is expected to receive no less than $8M per season, and some estimates are as high as $10M.
But there is a player that would cure what ails Columbus in the scoring department, is a proven success on the power play, has a veteran presence, would pair well with Pierre-Luc Dubois on the top line, and would cost millions less than Taylor Hall.
His name is Mike Hoffman, and here are each of his 29 goals (in 69 games) from the 2019-20 campaign:
These are goals that would have been helpful during the regular season, could have aided Columbus to a quicker series win over the Toronto Maple Leafs to give them a moment to breathe before Tampa Bay, or, hey, could have been helpful against the Lightning themselves.
The 29 goals (which would have led Columbus this season by far) are no fluke, either. He had a career year during the 2018-19 season, with 36 goals and nearly as many assists (70). In each of his six full seasons in the NHL, he's never scored less than 22 goals. (As a reminder, no one scored more than 21 goals this season on the entire CBJ roster.)
But there's more - he's had 30+ assists in each of the last five seasons, as well. In fact, his worst season over the last five years statistically came in 2017-18 during his last year in Ottawa. Even then, he went 22-34-56. (As a reminder, no Blue Jacket this season had 56 points and only Pierre-Luc Dubois was on pace to have more than that over 82 games, and even then, he was on pace for 57.)
So he's consistent, and a huge part of consistency is staying healthy. That's another box Hoffman can check off. The Florida Panthers franchise has played 151 games since acquiring Hoffman two seasons ago, and Hoffman has played in all 151 of those games. Even before that, Hoffman missed just 15 games total during his four full seasons as a Senator. (As a reminder, the inability to stay healthy seems to come easy to the Blue Jackets.)
The clincher, though, is that Hoffman can - wait for it -
(wait for it)
(wait for it a little more)
SCORE ON THE POWER PLAY!
Hoffman would bring an instant boost to the Blue Jackets anemic power play. The leaders this year on Columbus' 16.4% power play were Emil Bemstrom and Zach Werenski, who had five goals each. That's ten combined and you knew that but it needs to be stated because Hoffman had 11 by himself this year in Florida. He had 17 during the full 82-game slate in 2018-19. For a team that has long-struggled with the power play, Hoffman is invaluable. For the sake of comparison, during that same two-year time frame, Hoffman's 28 man-up goals were more than Hall (5) and former Jackets power play specialist Artemi Panarin (13) had combined, and it isn't even close.
At age 30, Hoffman still has good years left in front of him. The expectation is that he'll be able to sign for somewhere between $6 and $7 million per year, which will be millions less per season than Hall is likely to receive. For a young team like Columbus, having a proven commodity in Hoffman would pause the need for young players like Liam Foudy and Alex Texier to immediately blossom. He could fit well on the top line with Dubois and Cam Atkinson, which is more than formidable.
Go get him, Jarmo.