Sunday, April 11, 2021

Should the Blues be searching for offense, they should look no further than in their own stable

Hoffman returns to lineup after pair of healthy scratches, scores twice, 
makes last pitch to remain with club before Monday's trade deadline

ST. LOUIS -- Mike Hoffman stepped to the podium following the Blues' dramatic 3-2 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at Enterprise Center and stared straight into the Zoom camera with a purpose.

Those eyes. Man, those eyes were piercing. 
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Mike Hoffman scored two tying goals Saturday in a 3-2 overtime win
against the Minnesota Wild at Enterprise Center. 

Almost to the point where Hoffman's eyes were looking right through you.

It was pretty obvious Hoffman, who scored twice, including the game-tying goal with 41.6 ticks left on the clock, wasn't a happy camper.

It had nothing to do with the game itself. Hoffman was more than happy to fight and battle with his teammates in an important game that takes the Blues (19-16-6) into Monday's 2 p.m. (CT) trade deadline, but it was pretty evident that the goal-scoring winger had some pent-up energy to offload after being a healthy scratch the previous two games.

Hoffman, who is fifth on the Blues with 23 points (11 goals, 12 assists), was asked what's this past stretch been like for him.

"It's the NHL," he said.

End of answer, a couple seconds of silence.

Then asked to please elaborate, Hoffman said, "It's part of the business that we work in. Those are the things that happen throughout a season. Sometimes you've got to deal with them."

Politically correct answer. Not exactly what he was wanting to discuss, obviously.

Hoffman, who sat out the past two games -- both Blues wins -- and three of the previous six games, has been the subject of trade rumors with the Blues' ship sinking before eventually finding themselves on the outside looking in before this three-game winning streak now finds them on the inside, ahead of Arizona, which had vaulted five points ahead of them last week. 

It was becoming evidently clear the Blues were sitting the veteran winger to protect the asset from getting injured ahead of Monday to use him as a trade piece. 

Hoffman had to be convinced his days with the Blues were numbered because he had already changed his Twitter profile from an action shot of him in a Blues uniform with a bio that read '#68 for the St. Louis Blues' to a picture of presumably is his dog and no bio information. 

And just think, when Hoffman chose the Blues, signing a one-year, $4 million contract to come to St. Louis believing he could win a Stanley Cup here, it was hard to imagine it would come to this predicament.

But does it really have to?

Let's not judge and analyze over one game, but this was a good sample size on full display of to compare what Hoffman can offer the Blues as they chase a postseason berth and the best way to utilize him.

And enabling him to still be wearing a Blues jersey come Monday night in Minnesota.

These past three games were viewed as make-or-break games for this hockey club, and they came away with six of a possible six points.

Fair enough, so instead of perhaps being sellers, do the Blues now become buyers? Do they try and add if they can?

Or better yet, why not just keep the assets you already have?

We all know what the Blues are built of, and that's hard workers that scratch and fight and claw for every inch of ice. Not a cast of superstars that's build for success to play a brand of pond hockey.

Hoffman has always been, and always will be known for his offensive attributes. The Blues knew what they were getting when they signed him, and they were getting a potential game-breaker, or game-changer; not a guy that was going to chip and chase and go battle for pucks in corners like, say, a Ryan O'Reilly, or a Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, David Perron or a Tyler Bozak would do.

This is the kind of player that has his cannon cocked, locked and loaded, and ready to unleash. So for a team that's thirsting for offense, accentuate Hoffman the best way they can, go into attack mode the rest of this season and roll with the punches.

Get Hoffman out there with guys that will get him the puck, the way Schenn and Schwartz do for Vladimir Tarasenko. Get Hoffman on the ice with more regularity on the power play, in that right circle, and let a Torey Krug or Vince Dunn put pucks on a platter for him to unload. 

Hoffman changed the game Saturday on a dime. When the Blues were down 1-0, he was able to crank a shot from the top of the right circle that got a bit of luck and caromed off the Wild's Jonas Brodin, but it did tie the game 1-1 on the power play.

And with Ville Husso pulled for an extra attacker, Hoffman's one-timer for the tying goal from the top of the right circle also got a fortuitous bounce when goalie Cam Talbot made the initial save, but the puck caromed off defenseman Matt Dumba and back into the net.

But that's what shooters do. Shooters shoot, and they find ways to put pucks away.

Hoffman's had six straight seasons of 22 goals or more. It's not a coincidence.

Is Hoffman going to win the Blues awards for the most hustle awards? No, but he can change games in a snap for them, and other than Tarasenko, who was missing most of the past year and a half because of injury, name anyone on this Blues roster that can affect a game like that for them with one windup or flick of the wrist?

Remember what Brett Hull used to do once upon a time, and no, nobody is comparing Hoffman to Hull.

So if, and nobody knows what general manager Doug Armstrong will do here, Hoffman sticks around to help the Blues in their push, could he help them?

"Yeah, of course," Blues coach Craig Berube said. "He's contributed this year a number of times. Like I said, he played a solid game. I thought he competed hard tonight, worked hard, he was on the body tonight, and he ended up scoring a couple goals. But he has the ability to put the puck in the net with his shot. He's got good talent, and when he puts his mind to it, and he competes hard and works hard, he's a good player. I thought he was a good player tonight. So, yes he can help our team."

And just think, Hoffman was in the lineup Saturday because Robert Thomas was injured late in the third period of Friday's 9-1 win and has been ruled to be week to week with an upper-body injury.

Enter an angry Hoffman into the lineup.

"I thought 'Hoff' came in, made an impact," said Blues captain Ryan O'Reilly, who scored the OT game-winner. "The way he shoots the puck is so deadly and just makes two unbelievable plays, big goals for us. To come in and do that after being out for a couple of games was a huge, huge lift for us and the team and him too. ... I think it’s just kind of making sure he knows he’s a big part of this team and he is. You can see it out there. He did a lot of good things, physical, and he’s one of the best shooters in the game and he came through for us and I think it shows the depth that we have. We’re a deep team and that he can come in and make an impact, that was huge for us."

Perhaps part of Hoffman's anger stemmed from the Blues possibly sending him to a team (Buffalo?) that has no shot at the playoffs. For a 31-year-old that's in the prime of his career searching for titles, it would make the season a lost cause.

Maybe this performance Saturday was Hoffman's way of showing the coaching staff, management and his teammates that he's all-in.

"I think this hockey club has a lot of talent and can be a top team," Hoffman said. "Obviously in a season like we have now, there's games every other day and obviously things weren't going well there for a little bit and sometimes it's very hard to get out of that funk. There's no time to get away from the rink, get away from the game, clear your mind. It's just constantly go, go, go, play every other day. Sometimes you just need a game like that a couple nights ago to swing things around. There's good players in that dressing room. There's no reason why we shouldn't be in every game, every night.
(St. Louis Blues/Scott Rovak)
Blues forward Mike Hoffman (68) is congratulated by teammates after
scoring a goal against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday.

"This team's a great hockey club. The way things are going as of late. There's ups and downs in a season, but it's obviously nice when things are going your way. You just try and hopefully keep working and have that good feeling last as long as you can."
If the Blues manage to keep this group together like Armstrong did in 2019 -- look how that turned out! -- and make the playoffs, who knows what can happen then.

But the clock's ticking, and we'll know soon enough if Hoffman will get to wear the Bluenote moving forward.

There are hard-working players in that locker room that can make it work. The question is, do the Blues want to make it work now and can the coaches fit into those manageable situations?

Hoffman threw his best feet -- and skates -- forward on Saturday to show that he's willing, and after being named the No. 1 star, Blues fans were hoping Hoffman wasn't waving and acknowledging them for the final time.

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