Carl Hagelin began his season in Pittsburgh, spent three months in Los Angeles and ended it with the Capitals. Where he will be next year is anyone’s guess.
The Capitals benefited from the veteran winger’s speed when they acquired him just before the NHL trade deadline. They needed his versatility when T.J. Oshie broke his collar bone in Game 4 of the first-round Stanley Cup playoffs series against the Carolina Hurricanes. And scoring depth on the third line is an admitted primary need for 2019-20 on a team with its top two forward lines locked in place.
Hagelin and Brett Connolly are both unrestricted free agents and forward Andre Burakovsky is a restricted free agent. A tight salary cap could prevent two - or even all three - from returning.
“I liked the fact that I got a good look from the coaches,” Hagelin said. “I got to play with good players. I got to play in key situations and I felt comfortable here [in Washington].”
Hagelin played in 20 regular-season games for the Capitals and was on the ice for 14 goals for and just six goals against at even strength. His speed is an asset on the penalty kill even if the overall penalty-kill numbers didn’t change much after his arrival.
Washington was at 78.6 percent before the Hagelin trade and killed 43-of-54 in the 20 regular-season games he played (79.6 percent). But in 47 minutes, 6 seconds short-handed Hagelin was on the ice for just five goals against and he helped kill 25 of 28 power plays against Carolina in the playoffs.
"[Hagelin] was a good fit. I thought he fit seamlessly from day one,” general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Really liked him on the third line, the way we used him, we bumped him up obviously with the Oshie injury. Our PK got a lot better. Fits in well with his teammates. It's a really good fit for us, yes."
Hagelin is coming to the end of a four-year, $16 million contract. He knows how to deal with instability. Hagelin left the New York Rangers in 2015 to sign with the Anaheim Ducks. He lasted just 43 games before they traded him to the Pittsburgh Penguins, where Hagelin won the Stanley Cup – and eliminated the Capitals in the process – twice.
This year was more chaotic. The Penguins traded Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 14. He missed 20 games there with a sprained knee , but returned for 17 games before the Capitals made a bid on Feb. 21 for a third-round pick and a conditional 2020 draft pick.
But with the NHL salary cap likely to be around $83 million next season and some overage bonuses due other players, the Capitals might struggle to re-sign Hagelin, Connolly, who scored a career-high 22 goals, and Burakovsky, a restricted free agent due at least $3.25 million if given a qualifying offer.
Hagelin is 31 on Aug. 23, Connolly turned 27 last week and Burakovsky enters his age 24/25 season after posting the exact same stats – 12 goals, 13 assists – in 20 more games this season than last. There’s an argument to be made for bringing back any of the three - and a few decent ones against - but it’s hard to see more than one returning barring a trade to clear room somewhere else on the roster.
Hagelin liked it in Pittsburgh, where he remains good friends with former teammate and fellow Swede Patric Hornqvist. But the Penguins lost in the first round, too, and it’s unclear what direction that franchise is going after a disappointing season.
With plenty of playoff experience and that noted versatility, he should find a home. Whether that’s in Washington remains to be seen, but Hagelin has had too much success over the years to sign with a non-contender. The Capitals, one year after winning the Stanley Cup, still consider themselves one.
“I think I’ve proven that throughout my career that I’ve been pretty successful whatever line I’ve been put on, especially the second half of the season a lot of the times,” Hagelin said. “And I’ve been fortunate to have a lot of playoff experience, play on good teams, and had a lot of success in the playoffs. That’s why this one stings a little more. I’ve never not made it to the second round. It’s a tough one.”
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