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Puck Daddy Bag of Mail: Hoffman, Kovalchuk and underappreciated UFAs

Ilya Kovalchuk has many potential suitors, but none as good as the Bruins. (Photo by Jean Catuffe/Getty Images)

The offseason is here, and with it comes a lot more intrigue than we’ve seen in the past few months.

Sure there’s drama in the playoffs, because it’s baked into every game. But there’s not a lot of time spent thinking about the “what ifs” that June and July provide. Trades are looming just beyond the horizon like gathering stormclouds, the draft follows soon after, and then the biggest laughs of the summer when we see what some team gives a third-pair defenseman on July 1.

So obviously all those potentially massive changes to the hockey landscape leave people wondering what the hell is about to happen. I’m happy to offer some guidance.

Let’s begin:

Kyle asks: “Now that the Hoffman news is out, does that tank his trade value? Or does he still get Ottawa a first-round pick plus a prospect?”

Can’t recall who at this point, but an insider-type reporter got a quote from a player who basically said, “Hoffman’s career is over.” I’m pretty sure that’s a little dramatic because Hoffman can play and teams are apparently clamoring to get Slava Voynov, but does this tank his trade value? Significantly. To the point where, if the Senators are maybe thinking about trading Karlsson, they might as well keep Hoffman because they’ll never get a return of even remotely equivalent value.

I mean, this is just a nightmare for the team. From the responses among teammates’ wives, it seems that this was a known thing, and while Hoffman and his people are putting up all the right protestations here, it’s the perception of what’s going on that’s going to be the problem here.

Let’s put it this way: If you’re another club, why do you even consider bringing this kind of potential time bomb into your room? There’s no way to sell it to your Extremely Online fans, probably. There’s almost certainly no way to sell it to your players and their wives or girlfriends. Just absolutely toxic.

A first and a prospect? Not a chance.

Matt asks: “It sounds like the Bruins, Sharks, Kings, and Rangers are the leading contenders to sign Kovalchuk — where do you think he slots in on those teams and which team do you think makes the most sense for both sides?”

On any of those teams besides the Bruins, he is their first-line left wing, easily. He certainly seems like a better player than Evander Kane (who would be a phenomenal No. 2 winger), Chris Kreider (same) and … god, who’s the Kings’ best left wing, Alex Iafallo or Tanner Pearson? Yikes! Either way, it would be Kovalchuk as the No. 1.

The Bruins, however, have the benefit of having a top-three left wing alive in Brad Marchand and you simply can’t break up the Marchand-Bergeron-Pastrnak line. It’s probably the best in hockey.

So then you get to slot Kovalchuk in as Rick Nash’s replacement on the David Krejci line, and boy that’s an awesome depth addition, isn’t it? Keep him away from the toughest assignments and he’s your fourth forward on the first power-play unit. That would probably net the Bruins a hell of a lot of goals on both fronts. Maybe Kovalchuk would want to play more than 18 minutes a night or whatever, but it’s tough to argue with Boston’s bona fides as a legit Cup contender that could use him to his maximum effectiveness.

Those other teams, and particularly the Kings and Rangers? Not so much.

Speaking of Kovalchuk…

John asks: “Why on earth would the Red Wings even have a conversation with Kovalchuk?”

It doesn’t make any sense for either side except to say that he’s a really good hockey player and this is an organization that has had a fair amount of success with highly skilled Russians.

Again, Kovalchuk’s stated goal is playing for a Cup and he sure as hell won’t be doing that in Detroit, but if you’re the Red Wings, sure, kick the tires on him, right? He’s great!

That would be antithetical to what should be the Red Wings’ mission (tanking) but when was the last time Ken Holland had his head on straight with what he “should be” doing?

David asks: “St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas all heavily underperformed from internal expectations last year. Which of these teams is in the best position entering the offseason in terms of returning to playoff contender status come the start of next year?”

It’s probably the Stars. They have a lot of talent and that’s what you need to get ahead in this league, first and foremost. I’m obviously curious to see what Jim Montgomery — whom I absolutely loved as a coach at the college level but is obviously untested in the pro game, let alone the NHL — brings to the table too, but you can bet the defense is going to be up in the play more.

Say what you want about the job Lindy Ruff did with more or less this same group (it wasn’t great!) but getting everyone involved in the offense got them deepish into the playoffs that one time, y’know?

As for the other two, I think St. Louis can bounce back easily if guys stay healthy and Jake Allen doesn’t go .906 for 59 games. I mean, the latter was their real issue, but this is a .913 goalie who has been, let’s be nice here, wildly inconsistent throughout his career. And that was playing a lot of years in a Ken Hitchcock system that has been proven to dramatically inflate goaltenders’ numbers. If this guy’s not a player — and look, he’s 28 in August, so there’s no more development to be done — then this might be “it” for the Blues.

I think we all know where I stand on Chicago as an organization. Barring a sizable overhaul of the roster, or a fully healthy .925 season from Corey Crawford (which I guess is feasible), I don’t see a path forward for them.

Stephen asks: “Is it smart for Buffalo to trade Ryan O’Reilly? And if so what is an appropriate return?”

Yeah I mean O’Reilly is a really good, if overpaid, No. 2 center. If that money is the concern for the Sabres, it shouldn’t be, because they have a ton of cap space and he would be difficult, if not impossible, to replace via trade or free agency unless they’re, like, pretty confident they can get John Tavares.

Not knowing the inner workings of the Sabres’ room, it’s tough to know where this rumor comes from (the media there loves him) except to say Jason Botterill might feel like he needs to do something so the Pegulas don’t come and yell at him every hour on the hour, but this is not the guy to move.

If you want someone to trade, as a name player, Rasmus Ristolainen has been connected (tenuously) to Edmonton in a potential trade for Oscar Klefbom and the Sabres should move heaven and earth to make that happen if it’s actually an option.

Put another way, if you have two legit top-six NHL centers who aren’t on ELCs and you trade one of them, that’s probably not a good idea.

Segs asks: “Carolina reportedly asked for Saad to be included in a trade involving Faulk/Darling/Hossa’s cap hit. Seems like too much to ask given his underlying numbers. Am I wrong?”

Yeah, you’re wrong. That potential swap is probably is a little “low” but you have to remember Saad is coming off a dismal shooting percentage year and there are plenty of GMs dumb enough to make that trade because of the money and the opportunity to get Hossa’s cap hit off the books (though at this point I’m not sure I see a reason for them to do so since they can just LTIR him).

I’m not sure Stan Bowman is among those dumb GMs, but he has to be desperate to improve that defense and Faulk is a player pretty much every team in the league would covet. I’d say it’s pretty close in terms of expected value for whether Saad or Faulk is the best player in the trade, and it’s also fair to argue Carolina would probably be selling low on Darling as well.

I think this is probably a reasonable trade. Not sure it’ll happen but all the pieces make enough sense for me.

Nick asks: “We all know a bunch of guys are going to get overpaid in free agency, but who are some underappreciated UFAs that will end up being great value additions?”

Just a quick list of value UFA guys I’d like for my team here:

Toby Enstrom seems pretty underrated to me. David Perron would be if he weren’t coming off 60 points (I’m real interested to see what he gets). Lee Stempniak is a classic “guy who can give you solid fourth-line minutes.” Ian Cole can be an effective bottom-pair defender I think. Thomas Vanek probably still gives you something on the power play. Anton Khudobin and Carter Hutton are basically the platonic ideal of perfectly fine backups. I’m still onboard for Jussi Jokinen as a depth guy and I’m never gonna quit Cody Franson until someone uses him right.

One guy I’m really interested in here is Riley Nash, who had a nice season for himself at age 29 at less than a million bucks AAV. Maybe he gives you something, maybe he doesn’t, but no one’s gonna break the bank on him and he’s very reliable on a good team.

Vin asks: “If the Isles trade for Grubauer for say, a second-round pick, should I be excited or nervous?”

You’re not getting Grubauer for a second. He’s a career .923 goalie (OK, it’s as a backup on a mostly good team and in just 101 games) but he’ll cost you a first-round pick in all likelihood. The Islanders are probably gonna need those for a while.

I like Gruabauer and he would help this team, but to what end? I dunno.

Ryan Lambert is a Puck Daddy columnist. His email is here and his Twitter is here.

All stats via Corsica unless noted otherwise. Some questions in the mailbag are edited for clarity or to remove swear words, which are illegal to use.