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.

Canucks’ Ilya Mikheyev to have season-ending knee surgery

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VANCOUVER, British Columbia — Vancouver Canucks right wing Ilya Mikheyev is set to have season-ending surgery on his left knee.

Canucks general manager Patrik Allvin said Friday night the 28-year-old Russian forward tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in the team’s first preseason game Sept. 25. Mikheyev will undergo surgery next week and is expected to be ready for training camp in the fall.

Mikheyev was originally listed as week-to-week with the injury and played 45 regular-season games, finishing with 13 goals and 15 assists. He scored in his final appearance Friday night, a 5-2 home victory over Columbus.

Mikheyev signed a four-year, $19 million contract as a free agent last summer.

Maple Leafs’ Matthews out at least 3 weeks with knee injury

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Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews will miss at least three weeks with a sprained knee.

The team announced the reigning MVP’s anticipated absence Friday, two days after Matthews was injured in Toronto’s victory against the New York Rangers.

Matthews is expected to miss at least six games and could be out for a few more. The timing of the injury coinciding with the NHL All-Star break and the Maple Leafs bye week prevents this from costing Matthews more time out of the lineup.

After being voted an All-Star by fans, Matthews is now out of the event scheduled for Feb. 3-4 in Sunrise, Florida. The league announced Aleskander Barkov from the host Florida Panthers will take Matthews’ place on the Atlantic Division All-Star roster.

Matthews, who won the Hart Trophy last season after leading the NHL with 60 goals, has 53 points in 47 games this season.

Caufield opted for surgery with Habs out of playoff race

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MONTREAL — Montreal Canadiens winger Cole Caufield said Friday he wouldn’t be having season-ending surgery on his right shoulder if the team were in playoff contention.

But with the Canadiens near the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings, the 22-year-old Caufield said he decided to have the surgery to protect his long-term health. The procedure is scheduled to be performed by Dr. Peter Millett on Wednesday.

“I didn’t want to stop playing,” Caufield said. “I had a couple tests done to look at it more clearly but, in the end, like it could’ve been one more fall and it could have been even worse.”

Caufield, who leads the Canadiens with 26 goals in 46 games, had three different medical opinions on his shoulder before concluding that his season was over.

“I think they’ve seen a lot more than I have and they know the differences and what they like or don’t like about it,” he said about the medical opinions. “Long term, I think this is what’s best but for sure it was tough to sit out that game against Toronto on Saturday night.”

Caufield initially felt the injury in an awkward fall during Montreal’s 4-2 loss at Dallas on Dec. 23. He said his right shoulder popped, and he replaced it himself.

Caufield felt it again in the Habs’ 4-3 loss at Nashville on Jan. 12. The club announced on Jan. 21 that Caufield would miss the rest of the season.

Caufield is nearing the end of his three-year, entry-level contract and will be a restricted free agent this summer.

All-Star Matty Beniers to miss next 2 games for Kraken

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SEATTLE — Seattle Kraken rookie All-Star Matty Beniers will miss the team’s final two games before the All-Star break after taking a big hit from Vancouver’s Tyler Myers earlier this week.

Seattle coach Dave Hakstol said after morning skate Friday that Beniers would not play Friday night against Calgary or Saturday against Columbus. Hakstol did not speculate on Beniers’ availability for next weekend’s All-Star Game in Florida.

The team has not specified what kind of injury Beniers sustained from the hit. He was barreled over by Myers away from the play early in the second period in Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over Vancouver. Myers was penalized for interference on the play. Beniers returned briefly for one shift later in the period but did not play in the third period.

Beniers is Seattle’s lone All-Star selection this season. He leads all rookies in goals (17) and points (36), and is fifth in total ice time for rookies.

Seattle also placed defenseman Justin Schultz on injured reserve and recalled forward Max McCormick from Coachella Valley of the AHL. Hakstol said Schultz is improving but there’s no timeline on his return.