A Look Toward the Off Season: Part 2
While Columbus has some RFAs to sign this off season, they don't have an issue with any high-priced UFAs like we saw last summer. One outstanding question is what the salary cap number will be for next season. The aforementioned UFAs didn't stay in Columbus affording the Jackets great flexibility to sign UFAs this off season. If I had to guess I would say that Columbus may have around $10M to spend in the free agent market if they wanted to go up to the cap.
Unrestricted free agents have not been a bright spot for the Jackets in the past. Columbus has struggled entice players to play here for one reason or another. Their recent success could have some UFAs looking to the capital city as a destination. Gus was an excellent signing that most assuredly was sot after by other teams. There is a top-notch defensive corp, solid young goaltending and plenty of room for an elite scorer to make his mark. Who is out there that could be the staring scorer in Columbus next season?
Mike Hoffman (FLA)
In each of his six full seasons in the NHL (OTT and FLA) he has scored 20+ goals and tallied 48 or more points, with his first full season being the lowest scoring total. His best season was 2018-2019 with 36 goals and 70 points. In 69 games this season his totals are 29-30-59. The cap hit on his current contract is modest at $5.65M, but he will likely command $8M+. His biggest drawback is his age, 30. If he is looking for term (5 or 6 years) his contract will be a problem for any team toward the end. Columbus cannot afford a 34, 35, 36 year old with a $8M+ contract and be competitive. If he is looking for a 3-4 year contact, the Jackets could be in the mix.
Evgenii Dadonov (FLA)
Hoffman's teammate will also potentially hit the free agent market. In only 3 full NHL season Dadonov has put us some impressive stats with 65, 70 and 47 points respectively. It is a smaller sample size and he is also aging (31). His current contract sits as $3.6M. Again, a shorter term contract (no more than 4 years) could be manageable for Columbus, but any longer would potentially spell trouble in future seasons.
Patrick Marleau (PIT)
The long-time SJS is making $700,000 in PIT right now. He is 40 years old and may not play another season, or may want a homecoming in San Jose. He is a potential 20-goal-scorer, who wouldn't play every night but would give you 55-60 games. For sub-$2M it would be a calculated risk.
Taylor Hall (PHO)
Far-and-away the BIG FISH of the free agents this off season, Taylor has little chance of landing in Columbus. The 2018 MVP will command (and get) $10M per year contract. He is 28, in the prime of his career and looking for a mega-payday. Hall has played 10 NHL seasons amassing 218 goals and 563 points. His potential for huge seasons is high, but his overall numbers don't differ much from Hoffman's.
Hoffman has played 6 full NHL seasons and one partial. His career number are 172-187-359. His consistent goal scoring over the last 6 seasons is also comparable:
Goal Scoring (games in parenthesis)
2014-2015 14 (53) 27 (79)
2015-2016 26 (82) 29 (78)
2016-2017 20 (72) 26 (74)
2017-2018 39 (76) 22 (82)
2018-2019 11 (33) 36 (82)
2019-2020 16 (65) 29 (69)
Over this time Hall scored .331 goals per game while Hoffman scored .364 goals per game, comparable. However, Hoffman has played an average of 77.3 games per season while Hall has played significant less at 63.5. I know that Hall was out with a season ending injury in 2018-2019, but Hoffman also has very consistent goal scoring over these 6 seasons.
Durability and consistency favor Hoffman, but potential for a huge impact sits with Hall. Hall would likely demand a significantly higher salary (and get it) but be much harder to entice to come to Columbus.
My preference would be to make a run at signing Hoffman. Hall would need to be overpaid to play in Columbus. The number of UFAs of significance this off season is small, driving up the price for the top talent. This may be problematic when trying to land Hoffman. It could be another season with the current roster...unless Jarmo could swing a trade (Part 3).
Stay safe, Good Luck and Go Jackets.