“Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving.”
-- Albert Einstein
In a space of 1,335 days – less than four years – Carl Hagelin was traded from the New York Rangers to the Anaheim Ducks, then to the Pittsburgh Penguins, then to the Los Angeles Kings, and finally last February to the Washington Capitals. For those of you playing at home, that’s more than 10,000 miles in moving services. Nothing would prevent the Capitals from shipping Hagelin elsewhere at some point, but he did sign a four-year/$11.0 million deal with the club in June that would keep him in DC through the 2022-2023 season.
Hagelin had a very productive run of games for the Caps, albeit a small population (20 games). His 0.15 goals per game, 0.40 assists per game, and 0.55 points per game were his best for any club since he was 0.27-0.46-0.73 per game with the Penguins in 2015-2016. True, the totals were only 3-8-11 in those 20 games, but all 11 points came in his last 16 games after going his first four games as a Capital without a point. As one might expect, his scoring contributions went hand in hand with team success. The Caps were 8-0-1 in the nine games in which he recorded a point (6-5-0 when he did not).
On the other side of the ledger, Hagelin was on ice for the fourth-fewest even strength goals per game among the 15 Caps forwards dressing for at least 20 games (0.40). And, over the 20 games in which he played, he averaged more penalty killing ice time per game (2:21) than did any other Capital forward. It might not be mere coincidence that the Caps finished the last 21 games of the season (Hagelin was out for a 2-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild on March 22nd) tied for the third-best record in the league (14-6-1), one standings point behind Tampa Bay and St. Louis.
Odd Hagelin Fact…
Carl Hagelin made his first postseason appearance with the New York Rangers in 2012. Since then, no skater in the league has appeared in more playoff games (128).
Bonus Odd Hagelin Fact…
In 546 career NHL games, Carl Hagelin has never recorded a power play assist. He is one of 18 forwards in NHL history to have played at least 500 games and failed to record a power play assist.
The Capitals have not lacked for offensive skill in the post-2005-2006 era, but from time to time their forward defense has been thin or inconsistent. Carl Hagelin provided the strong own-end play in the last quarter of last season to allow the Caps to win games when their offense was sluggish. In the last 21 games, the Caps held opponents to two or fewer goals 12 times, going 11-1-0 in those contests. They held opponents to fewer than 30 shots 12 times in that span and went 9-2-1. His personal shot attempts-for percentage on ice at 5-on-5 (57.49 percent) was third best among forwards in the last 21 games, surpassed only by frequent linemates in that span, Lars Eller (59.53 percent) and Brett Connolly (58.82 percent).
Even with Hagelin being a newcomer, the old bugaboo of production drying up among the bottom six forwards in the postseason did not pass him by. In the seven-game opening round loss to Carolina, he had one point, an assist in Game 7 that the Caps lost in double-overtime. More troublesome, that personal shot attempts-for on ice at 5-on-5 percentage, which was so impressive down the stretch, was second-worst among forwards in the opening round loss (32.89 percent) and worst among the nine forwards playing in all seven games.
- 600 career NHL games (546, he needs 54)
- 100 games as a Capital (20, he needs 80)
- 100 career goals (93, he needs seven)
The Big Question… Can Carl Hagelin replace enough of the offense lost in the offseason?
Carl Hagelin is not known as a prolific scorer or playmaker, although his per-82 game scoring totals are respectable for a bottom-six forward (14-22-36, plus-14). The problem for Hagelin at that end of the ice has been that his recent production lags in comparison with those career per-82 game numbers, and his games played have dropped some, in part owing to missing 20 games last season to a sprained knee ligament and a lower body injury late in the 2016-2017 season that cost him the last 16 regular season games on the schedule.
The key for Hagelin, though, is not necessarily in his ability to replace the raw scoring numbers of, say, a Brett Connolly. That is highly unlikely to happen (his best goal-scoring season was 2013-2015 and 2014-2015 when he had 17 goals in each season; he has not had more than 14 in a season since). It will be the net effect of his ability to score at one end and to help prevent scoring at the other, especially killing penalties on a club that finished 24th in the league with Hagelin playing a quarter of the Capitals’ schedule.
In the end…
Carl Hagelin signed a four-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks in August 2015 but ended up playing for three more teams before that deal expired at the end of last season (Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and the Caps). But Hagelin provides things that a team like the Caps in “win now” mode can find valuable. He has all of that playoff experience, not to mention two Stanley Cups (with Pittsburgh in 2016 and 2017). He is a dependable defender who brings a speed dimension to the ice. And the pay cut he took in the new deal with the Capitals (his just-expired deal paid $4.0 million per year compared to the $2.75 million per year in the new deal) might be considered inexpensive compared to some of his salary comparables among forwards (Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel at $3.0 million; Ryan Reaves at 2.775 million; Joel Armia at $2.6 million).
In the perfect world, Hagelin is the sort of veteran who provides a reliable level of production and performance at both ends of the ice without drama or controversy, and one who will contribute a lot of experience in big games. He will be the type of whom it might be said, give him a sweater and let him provide solid, consistent, if unspectacular two-way play. He has had to keep moving on a city to city basis over the last three or four seasons. This season, his moving will likely be limited to the confines of the rink.
Projection: 74 games, 12-15-27, plus-5
Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images