“Nothing is certain except death and taxes”
-- Benjamin Franklin
He’s not dead, and he probably pays his taxes on time. But as for the near future on the ice, things are somewhat uncertain for Carl Hagelin. After nearly losing his left eye from taking a stick blade to that eye in practice last March, he has apparently been cleared for contact as the team conducts informal practices in advance of training camp that will start on September 22nd. Although he still has hurdles to clear.
Hagelin will be entering his 12th NHL season, and while he was once a player with some offensive pop from a bottom six forward role, he is not that player any longer, or at least at the moment. He has carved out a role that emphasizes speed, defense, and penalty killing. On a team with as much offensive depth as the Caps have, at least when healthy, having a defensive specialist is not to be underestimated or underappreciated.
Hagelin’s offense, however, has had a certain two-sided character to it. In his first seven years, split between the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins, he posted a scoring line of 88-134-222, plus 83, a per-82 game pace of 15-23-38, plus-14. In four seasons since then, his production fell to 22-52-74, plus-36, an 8-19-27, plus-13 pace per 82 games.
Odd Hagelin Fact… In 11 seasons in the NHL, Hagelin has never had a negative on-ice goal differential at even strength. His worst finish in this category was plus-6, which he recorded three times (2015-2016 split between Anaheim and Pittsburgh; 2018-2019 split among Pittsburgh, Los Angeles, and Washington; and 2020-2021 with the Caps). Bonus: Hagelin has played 713 NHL regular season games and never recorded a power play assist.
Fearless’ Take… His 0.34 goals against on-ice per game at even strength was the fewest of any season in his career, breaking his previous low (0.41) set the previous season with the Caps. It is unfortunate he did not produce more on offense; the Caps lost just twice in regulation when he recorded at least one point (8-2-1).
Cheerless’ Take… Those even strength on-ice goals against per game are nice, but there is also the penalty killing part of defense, and it bears noting that three of the five worst seasons of his career in on-ice power play goals per game have been spent with the Caps, including the 0.21 goals he recorded this past season (fifth worst of his career). That he was offensively challenged in 2021-2022 is not exactly news, but geez. His 1.13 points per 60 minutes was the worst of his career. His 0.19 goals per 60 minutes was worst of his career by a mile, less than half that of his next lowest (0.39 in 2020-2021 with the Caps). And then there was his shooting efficiency. He had three goals on 71 shots – 4.2 percent, the lowest of his career. But how low was that? There were 401 forwards with at least 50 shots on goal. Hagelin finished 390th in that group in shooting percentage.
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2022-2023
- 200 games as a Capital (he has 187)
- 300 career points (296)
- 300 career penalty minutes (293)
The Big Question… Can Hagelin do what he does as well and do what he doesn’t better?
The good news (if you are optimistic) or the hope (if you are uncertain) is that Hagelin cannot be as unproductive on offense as he was last season. Of course, improvement could depend on how well he recovers from one of the scariest injuries imaginable. Getting any improvement from him on that side of the puck is part of an “all hands” need for the Caps as they try to negotiate the early part of the season without some key components on the offensive side of the puck in Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson.
On the other side of the puck, Hagelin does not impress us as the sort of player for whom wear and tear is a big issue. He is not a physical defender, relying more on speed, opportunity, and experience to be an effective defender. And it will be important for him to maintain a level of effectiveness at even strength and, as a player who was second among forwards in shorthanded ice time per game last season, limit opponent’s scoring in those situations. That takes on added importance when one realizes Wilson averaged 1:36 in shorthanded ice time last season, and that is a big chunk of time that will not be available to start the season.
In the end…
Perhaps more than most of the players on the far side of 30 on this roster, Carl Hagelin, who turned 34 in August, can push back the calendar a bit. He does not play the sort of game that wears a player down. The freakish injury suffered in a practice session aside, Caps fans might expect Hagelin, if he has recovered fully by Opening Night, to log a lot of games and provide stability on the defensive side of the puck. His offense almost has to improve to give the Caps a more solid claim on a postseason spot. With the holes created by injuries elsewhere, there can’t be a gaping hole of ineffectiveness from a player logging 15 minutes or so a night. Hagelin being in the walk year of his current contract ($2.75 million cap hit), he has added incentive to produce on both sides of the puck, since the next contract he signs could very well be his last in the NHL. More than most Caps, it seems that the 2022-2023 season will be one of uncertainty for Carl Hagelin.
Projection: 5-12-17, plus-8