“Accept the challenges so that you can feel the exhilaration
-- George S. Patton
“I'm doing everything I can to be back next year. Still, I had two procedures so far and the second one was almost a month ago. A month on Friday, so it's still in that time zone of healing and kind of not sure where it's going to end up, but I'm staying positive and I'm optimistic that I'm going to come back next year. It'll be a grind, of course. I'll do everything I can this summer to be ready for camp."
That was Carl Hagelin earlier this month providing an update on his progress and the road ahead after he underwent two surgeries to treat an injury to his left eye suffered when he took a stick to his eye in the last drill of a practice on March 1st. The injury nearly cost him his eye, which makes even just the possibility of his return to the ice quite amazing. But in the hockey context, he faces an uphill battle after a year of limited production and with younger players pushing him from below for a regular spot on the ice.
Fearless’ Take… Carl Hagelin’s best days as an offensive contributor are behind him, but good things to happen when he does contribute. The Caps were 8-2-1 in the 11 games in which Hagelin had points this season. He finished the season with a plus-10 rating, making him four-for-four seasons as a plus player for the Caps. His plus-36 over those four seasons is best among all Capitals forwards, while his plus-10 this season was tied for third among Capital forwards while playing in just 53 games. And despite being a limited contributor on offense in a fourth-line role, Hagelin is tied for third among active Caps forwards in even strength goal differential over his four seasons in Washington (plus-29). Then there is the penalty killing. Hagelin was second among the team’s forwards in shorthanded ice time per game (1:54), but he was on ice for only 11 power play goals against. There were only 14 forwards in the league to play in at least 50 games, average more than 1:45 in shorthanded ice time and were on ice for 12 of fewer power play goals against. Hagelin was one of them (so was Nic Dowd).
Cheerless’ Take… Hagelin has never been what you would call an elite offensive player, or a particularly dangerous one. But after going 90-140-230, plus-83, over 526 regular season games with four teams, a 14-22-36, plus-13 pace over 82 games, he is 20-46-66, plus-36, in 187 games in four seasons with the Caps, a 9-20-29, plus-16 pace per 82 games. And even that diminishing production is diminishing progressively. His goals per game with the Caps over four season – 0.15/0.14/0.11/0.06. His points per game – 0.55/0.43/0.29/0.26. The o.6 goals per game and 0.26 points per game this season were career lows in those categories. Then there is his efficiency as a shooter. There were 401 forwards this season who logged at least 50 shots on goal. Hagelin ranked 390th in that group in shooting percentage (4.2). His shooting efficiency, or lack of it, borders on the historic for this franchise. Among 135 forwards to have recorded at least 100 shots as a Capital, Hagelin ranks 129th in shooting percentage (6.7).
Odd Hagelin Fact... That plus-29 even strength goal differential has an odd twist. Hagelin is tied for third among active Caps forwards in that statistic (plus-29). He is tied with fellow fourth liner Nic Dowd, and the third member of that group – Garnet Hathaway – is second (plus-30). Evgeny Kuznetsov leads at plus-34 over that span.
Odd Hagelin Fact II… Hagelin had three goals this season, one against each of the Atlantic, Central, and Pacfic Divisions. None against a Metropolitan Division opponent.
Odd Hagelin Fact III… Over his career, Hagelin has participated in 65 games that went to a Gimmick. He was called upon only once to shoot. He missed. In 13 games going to the freestyle competition with the Caps, he has yet to take the ice.
Game to Remember… February 17th at Philadelphia. When the Caps headed to South Philly for a Metro Matchup against the Flyers, Carl Hagelin was in the midst of perhaps his hottest stretch of the season. He took the ice for this game having gone 1-4-5, plus-3, over his previous six games. Hagelin was quiet over the first two periods, but after the Flyers took a 3-2 lead in the 17th minute of the third period, he figured prominently in a fourth-line fueled comeback. Less than a minute after the Flyers took that lead, Hagelin pried the puck loose from two Flyers in the right wing corner and fed it to John Carlson at the point. Carlson fired, his shot ricocheting off Garnet Hathaway and past goalie Martin Jones to tie the game. Less than two minutes later, Hagelin took advantage of sloppy Flyer play beneath their goal line to grab a loose puck and feed Hathaway for a one timer from between the hash marks that Jones had no chance to stop. John Carlson added an empty net goal for the 5-3 win. For his part, Hagelin had his third two-point game of the year and second in the space of five games. He also finished a season high plus-4, the second plus-4 game of his career and first with the Caps.
Game to Forget… January 7th at St. Louis. What made this early January game so forgettable for Carl Hagelin was the absence of any crooked marks in his line of the score sheet. In 11:11 of ice time (his second lowest of the season), Hagelin had no shot attempts, no hits, no giveaways, no blocked shots, one takeaway. He was not on ice for any goals for or against. He took one penalty (one of only nine he took all season). The Caps scored first, but they then allowed five unanswered goals in a 5-1 loss.
Postseason… Having suffered a season-ending injury in the regular season, Hagelin missed the Caps’ six-game series loss to Florida.
Looking Ahead… Hagelin is on the brink of passing a number of career milestones – 200 career assists (he has 186), 300 career points (296), 300 penalty minutes (293), 1,500 shots on goal (1,429). The question is, will he be reaching these milestones as a Capital. There is the matter of whether he can return to the ice after suffering a horrific eye injury. Even if he can, he has one year at $2.75 million on his current contract. And, he will be 34 years old on Opening Night of the 2022-2023 season. The Caps have players waiting in the wings to assume fourth line duties who are younger and cheaper. Hagelin might be too much of a niche player (penalty killer) to merit a regular spot in the lineup, especially for a team that wants to get younger and more affordable.
In the End… There times, it seems, that Hagelin’s lack of offense overshadows other elements of his game. Offense is but one part of a player’s repertoire, and Hagelin’s strengths lie on the other side of the puck. One hopes Hagelin can return to the ice and contribute in ways that play to his strengths, but time being a phenomenon that runs in one direction, his age and declining production could spell an end to his tenure with the Caps. Nevertheless, one hopes he can meet the challenges ahead and find a place, either here in Washington or in another locale.