TORONTO — What’s the trade value for a 28-year-old winger who averages 26 goals per season, has above-average speed and another two years remaining on a cap-friendly contract?
A week ago, it might have been a first-round draft pick and potentially more. But that was before Mike Hoffman’s fiancée was accused of waging a season-long online harassment campaign against Ottawa Senators captain Erik Karlsson and his wife, including messages sent after the death of their stillborn child.
True or not, it’s a bizarre and potentially ugly story.
It certainly goes a long way in explaining why the Senators, who went from reaching Game 7 of the Eastern Conference final to finishing with the second-worst record in the NHL, were such a hot mess this season. It could also explain why Hoffman — and Karlsson — have both been on the trading block.
At the same time, for a team that’s trying to move forward by parting ways with two of their best players, these latest accusations could seriously limit their ability to do so.
As they say in hockey, intangibles matter. And in this case, a fiancée’s off-ice etiquette far outweighs a player’s on-ice work ethic.
“He’ll have trouble finding work,” said former NHLer Jeff O’Neill, a TSN hockey analyst. “I don’t want him involved in my team. Everybody talks about it being a family. That includes wives, fiancées and girlfriends. They’re heavily involved.”
Indeed, it’s not necessarily that players on other teams wouldn’t want Hoffman and his offensive skill-set onto the roster. It’s that the players’ significant others probably wouldn’t want his girlfriend around the rink.
Kodette LaBarbera, who appeared on the reality TV show Hockey Wives and whose husband, Jason, is a retired NHL goalie, tweeted on Tuesday: “No team will welcome this girl to the (wives) room.”
“This person has no business going anywhere near the women in the hockey community ever again,” tweeted Taylor Winnik, whose husband, Daniel, plays for the Minnesota Wild, and who also appeared on Hockey Wives.
In some ways, a cohesive wives’ room can be just as important as having chemistry inside the dressing room. Often, the two go hand-in-hand.
“The wives’ lounge is a huge component. It really is,” said TSN hockey analyst and retired NHLer Dave Poulin.
Back when Poulin played for the Philadelphia Flyers, the wives’ room was still a relatively new concept. First and foremost, it was a place for significant others to hang out. watch the game and wait for their husbands or boyfriends. But it was — and continues to be — more than that.
You were made to feel a part of the team through charitable endeavours, such as the Flyers Wives Carnival, which began in 1977. But it went beyond that. In the early days, a player’s on-ice success was tied directly to a point system that allowed his wife to cash in for prizes. “The more points you got, the more points your wife received,” said Poulin. “You cashed them in for dinners and things.”
There are no longer point systems linking players to their wives, but competitiveness still exists in some cases.
There can be jealousy over ice time, power play usage and salaries. There can be resentment. It can sometimes get toxic.
“My second year in the league she was the captain’s wife,” said Poulin. “It’s like being the CEO of a company. You’re looked at differently. Others are asking, ‘Why didn’t my guy get it? Is he the coach’s favourite?’ All that kind of stuff.”
In some cases, the off-ice drama seeps into the dressing room.
One player, who did not want to be named, said he was a on a team that was forced into making a trade after two wives got into a fight in the lounge. If that wasn’t bad enough, the other wives made it known which wife had to go.
“We traded the really good player, because they wanted his wife out of the wives’ lounge,” he said. “We were like, ‘No! Don’t trade him. Trade the other guy.’”
Some Ottawa players might be saying the same thing about Hoffman.
After all, he has been one of the Senators’ most consistent goal-scorers in the last four years. And this is a team that, after ranking 25th in goals scored last season, could use all the offence it can get.
Is that enough to ignore all the alleged drama that has been going on behind the scenes?
That’s not only a question for Ottawa, but for any team interested in acquiring him — and whatever baggage he’s carrying.
“I feel bad for the kid,” said O’Neill. “I’m always a believer that guys need a second chance. But if his fiancée is guilty of this, then it’s a no-brainer. He has to go. It’s just not worth it.
“Even if he didn’t do it, it’s a black mark on his career.”
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