When the Capitals traded for a little-known defenseman from the Chicago Blackhawks at the trade deadline in 2018, it did not make many headlines. That player was Michal Kempny and that trade proved to be the most important trade of the NHL season.
For just a third-round draft pick, Washington acquired a player who would work his way onto the team’s top defensive pair with John Carlson. Without Kempny, it is fair to wonder if the Caps would still have been able to win the Cup.
General manager Brian MacLellan had made the flashy deadline move before, acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk in 2017. That move did not pan out and the Caps ended up giving up a king’s ransom for a rental player and still ended up losing in the second round to the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In 2019, MacLellan elected to go for the Kempny model of acquiring more low-cost, high-reward players to bolster the roster. For just a third-round draft pick and a conditional sixth-round pick, the Caps acquired a speedy, bottom-six forward in Carl Hagelin from the Los Angeles Kings. MacLellan even convinced the Kings to retain a portion of Hagelin’s salary. Washington also acquired defenseman Nick Jensen and a fifth-round pick from the Detroit Red Wings for Madison Bowey and a second-round draft pick. The price for Jensen seemed steep until it was announced soon afterward that Jensen had signed a four-year contract extension with the Caps.
The return so far has been promising.
Hagelin has become the team’s most important penalty killer and is an impact player whenever he is on the ice. The acquisition of Jensen now looms especially large following an injury to Kempny that will keep him out long-term.
Ultimately, however, these trades will be judged by how the players perform in the playoffs. The acquisition of Kempny helped get the Caps a Cup. How far will the team go with Hagelin and Jensen?
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