Under Pressure: Mike Hoffman

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Each day in the month of August we’ll be examining a different NHL team — from looking back at last season to discussing a player under pressure to focusing on a player coming off a breakthrough year to asking questions about the future. Today we look at the Florida Panthers.

Going to a new team has to be a little nerve-wracking in just about any case. It’s basically like starting a new job, only everyone has nicer cars.

Take that normal “getting to know you” anxiety and ratchet it up to the nth degree for Mike Hoffman, who was traded (technically twice, as he was briefly under the Sharks’ employ) to the Florida Panthers this summer after a tabloid-level drama between himself, his fiance Monika Caryk, Erik Karlsson, and Karlsson’s wife Melinda Karlsson erupted, expediting Hoffman’s exit from Ottawa.

You don’t often see a GM admit that something left their locker room “broken,” as Senators GM Pierre Dorion said of the Hoffman – Karlsson fiasco.

[Looking back at 2017-18 | Building off a breakthrough]

The Panthers said all the right things about giving Hoffman and Caryk a “clean slate” in Florida, and it certainly helps that Florida should provide a far quieter environment compared to the pressure cooker atmosphere that comes with playing for a struggling Canadian NHL team.

Still, it’s possible that the legal situation between those parties will continue to reverberate through the 2018-19 season, and such a possibility will only increase the odds of Hoffman’s new teammates having to discuss that issue over and over again to the media. There will probably be moments when a Panthers player will feel eager to redirect the conversation to the game they just lost.

So, yeah, there could be some very messy moments.

Moving beyond the soap opera-ready stuff, Hoffman also faces more typical pressures regarding his future.

The 28-year-old has two years remaining on a contract that carries a $5,187,500 cap hit. If Hoffman wants to land an extension a year early – as many players do – then the 2018-19 season will feel like a virtual contract year, even if 2019-20 would be the real one.

Chances are, Hoffman probably would like to settle down after a tumultuous end to his time with Ottawa, so fitting in Florida – and scoring a lot of goals – could help him solidify his future. And, hey, it probably doesn’t hurt that sticking with the Panthers would call for some tax perks.

With his shot (Panthers GM Dale Tallon deemed it cannon-like), it’s actually surprising that Hoffman never reached the 30-goal mark with the Senators. Despite the awkward feelings, Hoffman did extend his 20+ goal streak to four seasons in a row with 22 last season, and he’s generated at least 56 points for three consecutive years. Such production makes it easy to understand why Florida would roll the dice with Hoffman.

As this post argues, the Panthers and Hoffman could very well get the last laugh, as both the player and team have inspired more than a few jokes on Twitter in recent times. (Panthers fans undoubtedly shut their laptops in disgust over that one Jonathan Marchessault joke too many during the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs.)

Hoffman could very well be that one additional piece that pushes a promising – if sometimes maddening – Panthers team back into playoff contention. Whether the Panthers go for even more powerful top lines or more depth up and down the lineup, there are plenty of situations where Hoffman may be a fantastic fit.

On the other hand, millions could be lost and jokes might go flying if Hoffman falls on his face.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.