“Power and speed be hands and feet.”
-- Ralph Waldo Emerson
By the time Carl Hagelin arrived in Washington in February 2019 from Los Angeles for a pair of draft picks, he has assembled a rather unremarkable record in the regular season against the Caps: 29 games, 4-6-10, minus-4 in about 15 minutes a game. The playoffs were a quite different matter. Hagelin actually appeared in more postseason games against the Caps (35) than he did in the regular season in his pre-Caps career and posted a scoring line of 6-9-15, plus-5, with one game-winning goal, that coming in a 3-2 Pittsburgh Penguin win over the Caps in Game 3 of the 2016 Eastern Conference semi-final. Coming to the Caps, the club was hoping his speed and ability to fill in as a capable penalty killer would bear dividends, but there was also the experience of facing him in high-stakes games that suggested a clutch player, too.
In 78 regular season games as a Capital, Hagelin has been a somewhat surprising contributor on offense, going 11-25-36, plus-19, although his 0.46 points per game is roughly consistent with what he posted in 266 games as a New York Ranger (0.49) and as a Penguin (0.43).
This season, his first with the Caps, Hagelin got off to a bumpy start, opening the season without a point in his first four games and only going 0-7-7 in his first 27 contests, going without a goal on 39 shots over that span. It was not until his 28th game of the year that he posted his first goal. But starting with that game against Columbus, a 2-1 Caps win on December 27th, Hagelin went 8-10-18, plus-7, over his last 31 games of the season a 21-goal/48-point pace per 82 games.
Hagelin’s home/road consistency this season was almost spooky:
- Home: 4-8-12, plus-4, 8 PIMs, 4 even strength goals, 1 game-winning goal, 14:21 in ice time per game
- Road: 4-9-13, plus-8, 8 PIMs, 3 even strength goals, 1 game-winning goal, 14:18 in ice time per game
He was the go-to penalty killing forward for the Caps, and he was quite adept at it. There were 55 forwards in the NHL who appeared in at least 50 games this season and averaged more than two minutes of shorthanded ice time per game. Only four of them were on ice for fewer power play goals against than Hagelin (as it turned out, teammate Nic Dowd was one of them), who was on ice for 13 power play goals against in 58 games, averaging 2:55 in shorthanded ice time per game.
And, Hagelin really came on over the latter part of the season offensively. In his last 22 games, he had consecutive games without a point only once, and he went 7-9-16 (tied for fourth on the team in points over that span), plus-7.
Hagelin might not be expected to be an offensive contributor, although he was at times this season. One thing he could not do that might affect his offensive contributions is draw penalties. He drew only five penalties in 58 games while averaging over 14 minutes per game.
Odd Hagelin Fact… “Three” seemed to be a magic number with Hagelin. In 17 games in which he recorded three of more shots on goal, the Caps were 13-2-2.
Odd Hagelin Fact II… You would expect a player with a minus rating generally is on the losing team in most games. In 12 games this season when Hagelin finished minus-1 or worse, the Caps were 6-5-1.
Odd Hagelin Fact III… Three Capitals registered at least one shot on goal in each of the last 18 games of the season – John Carlson, Jakub Vrana, and Hagelin.
Game to Remember… February 23, 2020. Scoring goals is nice, scoring them against a former team is nicer. Carl Hagelin experienced that in late February when the Caps hosted the Pittsburgh Penguins at Capital One Arena in a Sunday matinee game. The visitors had the better of it over the first two periods, taking a 2-1 lead into the second intermission. But just 76 seconds into the third period, Tom Wilson tied the game. Three minutes later the Caps had the lead, thanks to Hagelin. Richard Panik started the play by moving the puck from below the Penguins’ goal line to John Carlson at the right point. Carlson’s drive was gloved down by goalie Matt Murray, but not controlled. Lars Eller got a whack at the loose puck, but he was foiled. The puck rested at the top of the paint, where Hagelin jumped on it, poking it past Murray to give the Caps a 3-2 lead 4:41 into the period.
After Evgeni Malkin tied the game once more, T.J. Oshie put the Caps ahead one last time at the 10:40 mark. Hagelin put the icing on the cake in the last minute. Nicklas Backstrom blocked a Penguin shot and fed the puck to Oshie, who banked it off the left wing boards to Backstrom exiting the zone. Backstrom fed the puck ahead to Hagelin on a breakaway to an empty net, and Hagelin did the rest, sealing a 5-3 Caps win. It was Hagelin’s first and only two-goal game of the season.
Game to Forget… January 11, 2020. Some games are just one’s you aren’t in. Such was the case when the Caps hosted the New Jersey Devils in mid-January. It was an odd game, one that had the Caps putting 12 shots on Devils’ goalie Louis Domingue in the first period, but trailing on a Nico Hischier goal. Then, things got worse. New Jersey scored three times in the second period – a pair at even strength and a shorthanded goal – rendering a Jakub Vrana goal largely irrelevant. The Devils added an empty net goal for a 5-1 win. As for Carl Hagelin, he was on ice for three Devil goals, managed a single shot on goal himself, and finished minus-3 in less than 13 minutes of work. It was his worst plus-minus rating of the season.
Hagelin had a poor postseason for the second year in a row with the Caps. Last year, he was 0-1-1, minus-1, in the Caps’ opening round loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. This season, things were arguably worse. Hagelin managed a single assist in eight games of the round robin and first round loss to the New York Islanders, recorded only four shots on goal, and averaged only 12:40 in ice time per game, almost four fewer minutes than last season (16:33). The minus-4 rating tied his career worst for a single postseason, the other instance coming in 2015, when he was minus-4 in 19 games for the New York Rangers. His average ice time was second lowest in his career for a postseason, topping only 2017 when he averaged 12:09 in ice time for the Penguins. At least in that instance he had the pleasure of winning a Stanley Cup in the process.
The 2019-2020 season was the first year of a four-year/$11 million contract ($2.75 million salary cap hit) Hagelin has with the Caps. His season-plus in Washington has been a matter of very different regular season and postseason results. He has shown a little regular season offensive punch than might have been expected, but his postseason contributions have been meager. When the Caps have been most successful, getting production from the bottom six in the postseason has been essential. If the Caps are going to be making any more deep runs in the playoffs, Hagelin is likely to have to improve on his postseason numbers.
In the end…
Among players in his age cohort (30-35) and salary cap range ($2.0-$3.5 million), Carl Hagelin looks like a bit of a bargain, based on this past year’s results. He is what the Caps need, especially since Jay Beagle departed for Vancouver after the 2017-2018 season, a reliable penalty killer. Those numbers do not show up in individual statistics very clearly, but the Caps having had a successful year on the penalty kill point to his success in that role. Now, if those playoff scoring numbers could just come up a bit.
Photo: Patrick Smith / Getty Images