Mike Hoffman is on his way to St. Louis. But it’s not what you think — at least not at the moment.
The high-scoring winger has signed a PTO, or professional tryout contract, with the Blues and is expected to be on the ice practicing with the team when training camp starts Jan. 3.
“Not really more to say than we have invited Hoffman to our camp on a PTO,” general manager Doug Armstrong told the Post-Dispatch via text Sunday night. “He will arrive as soon as he can, start his quarantine and be ready for camp.”
Hoffman, 31, is able to negotiate with other teams while with the Blues on a tryout basis. But it seems difficult to imagine him wasting his time on a tryout in St. Louis if that wasn’t going to be his final destination. Armstrong added that he did not wish to get more specific on Hoffman or how any future deal might affect the team’s salary cap.
A professional tryout contract normally is used by teams to get a look at fringe players trying to make an NHL roster. Hoffman, of course, is anything but a fringe player. He has scored 20-plus goals in each of his last six seasons with the Ottawa Senators and Florida Panthers — 169 total over that span — including 29 last season in 69 games for the Panthers.
He rates as the marquee unrestricted free agent still available in a market that has been depressed by revenue losses and a flat salary cap during the coronavirus pandemic. With training camp scheduled to start a week from Monday, 121 unrestricted free agents remained unsigned according to CapFriendly.com.
By having Hoffman join the team now on a tryout basis, it gives the Blues time to get their salary cap in order by deciding when to place Vladimir Tarasenko and Alexander Steen on the long-term injured reserve list. Waiting until the start of the regular season to place Tarasenko and Steen on it lets the Blues maximize the money that will be available via that movement.
Tarasenko, in the rehab/recovery process from another left shoulder surgery, has a cap hit of $7.5 million. Steen, who announced his retirement last week because of degenerative discs in his back, counts $5.75 million against the cap.
There is a difference in the cap relief for Tarasenko and Steen. In the case of Tarasenko, his $7.5 million counts against the cap again when he returns to the lineup. So if the Blues spend any of that money while Tarasenko is on the long-term injury list, they must replace it when he returns.
Not so with Steen. The Blues get $5.75 million of cap relief no matter what, but how they use it depends on when he is designated for LTIR. If Steen goes on the list before the regular season, $1.175 million of his $5.75 million must be used to wipe out the amount the Blues are currently over the cap.
Additionally, if they designate Steen for the list before the regular-season starts, any money they don’t use disappears once the regular season starts.
By waiting to designate Steen for the list once the regular season starts, they get the full benefit of the $5.75 million and can use it at any time throughout the regular season. But in order to use the long-term injury list this way, they must be cap compliant at the time — meaning they must make the $1.175 million they are over the cap go away via trade or releasing players.
So it’s complicated, but the Blues have until Jan. 12 to set their regular-season roster, so they have two weeks to play out their strategy and make any related moves. Also keep in mind, they are trying to get defenseman Vince Dunn, a restricted free agent, under contract.
Armstrong said Sunday night there was nothing new to report on Dunn.