Carl Hagelin spent last season feeling more like an NHL employee than part of an actual team.
Traded twice in three months, dealing with a knee injury that cost him 20 games in Los Angeles before eventually landing with the Capitals, Hagelin was a vagabond. His car was in California. His wife and daughter were in Sweden. His mind was everywhere at once. It wasn’t until March, after the trade to Washington, that things finally began to feel normal again.
“When I got traded to Washington, I didn't really know what to expect,” Hagelin said. “But those  games I was able to play there gave me a better understanding of how good of a team it is and how much fun it is to play for the Caps. After the season, you're left with a bitter taste, obviously, not making it as far as we wanted in the playoffs. But in my exit meetings, I told them I wanted to stay if we could find something.”
That happened on Sunday. The trade of defenseman Matt Niskanen on Friday cleared some space under the salary cap and Hagelin, 30, signed a four-year, $11 million contract. That was far from guaranteed when the season ended with a disappointing first-round Stanley Cup Playoffs loss to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Capitals had another pending unrestricted free agent in Brett Connolly, and forward Jakub Vrana needs a new deal as an unrestricted free agent. The same goes for Andre Burakovsky. Niskanen was the first domino to fall with his trade to the Philadelphia Flyers. That saved $3.405 million on the cap and opened some breathing room.
All Hagelin could do was wait to see if that cap space actually materialized.
He spent time recovering his belongings left behind following trades from Pittsburgh to Los Angeles in November and to Washington in February. He then returned home to Sweden with his family and left it up to his agent and Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan to find common ground. Things came together quickly, and Hagelin and the team each got what they wanted: Term for him (four years) and a lower annual salary-cap number ($2.75 million) for them.
Like many of his teammates, watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs continue on with him left a sour taste in Hagelin’s mouth. This is a two-time Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh, a player who’s gone on deep runs – mostly at Washington’s expense – many times dating to his time with the New York Rangers. The Capitals fell short in 2019. Hagelin sees a team capable of making it back to that level. He wanted to be part of it.
“I’ve been fortunate to be in the playoffs every year since I got in the league, and I’ve been to five conference finals and three Stanley Cup Finals," Hagelin said. "And that’s what you love -- being in those situations."
“And every time around this time of year you watch all these other teams play in the playoffs and play in the finals, and it pisses you off a little bit. So that’s what I want to get back to, and if I didn’t think the Caps had a chance to play in the finals and win the Stanley Cup, I wouldn’t have signed with them.”
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