ARLINGTON – Nick Jensen spent a decade with the Detroit Red Wings.
It was the team that drafted him out of St. Cloud State in 2009 and the team that nurtured him during a long four-year journey through the minors to the NHL. But at age 28, a pending unrestricted free agent on a bad team, Jensen’s life was upended last Friday when Detroit traded him to the Capitals just as he was about to take his pre-game nap. The Red Wings were playing at home that night.
Before he had a chance to catch his breath, Jensen promptly signed a four-year, $10 million contract extension with Washington. He found his new home before he’d even seen it.
“It’s a little overwhelming,” Jensen said.
That’s life at the NHL trade deadline. The Capitals acquired Jensen and veteran forward Carl Hagelin to bolster a lineup that needed fine tuning heading into the final 20 games of the regular season. Just like that a career arc changes.
The organization let Jensen gather himself while it played a road game at Buffalo on Saturday and he quickly packed some things – about what he’d take on a long road trip – said goodbye to his wife, Jenner, and his dog, went through a few quick video sessions and made his debut on Sunday against the New York Rangers.
It helped a bit that good friend and former St. Cloud State teammate Nic Dowd was already with the Capitals. He was actually in Jensen’s wedding. But there’s only so much one familiar face can do.
Jensen has no plans to stay in a hotel near the Capitals’ practice facility for long. He still needs to get his car here from Detroit. Jenner and the dog will join him. They don’t have any kids yet to complicate the move, but for now life is hectic enough.
Hagelin can empathize. He was drafted by the New York Rangers in 2007 and spent four years with that organization in the NHL. Hagelin played for a Stanley Cup with the Rangers in 2014 and almost made it back the next season. Then he signed a four-year contract with the Anaheim Ducks and thought the next phase of his career was set. They traded him after 43 games. So much for that.
But he went to Pittsburgh where he helped the Penguins win back-to-back Stanley Cups – at the expense of the Capitals both times, of course. Hagelin, 30, learned to go with the flow. He had to. It happened again last Thursday when he was traded for the second time this season. He'd already gone from Pittsburgh to the Los Angeles Kings on Nov. 14. Now he'd been shipped back to the East Coast after three months.
“[Washington] acquired me for a reason. They know what I’m all about and how I play hockey,” Hagelin said. “There’s a lot of good guys on this team. Just the fact that I’ve played against them so much, it makes me feel like I know them even if I don’t. It’s an easy transition for me.”
Hagelin has played in 35 playoff games alone against the Capitals dating to his days with the Rangers. He was on the winning side five times in those intense, emotional series in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016 and 2017. Four of the five went to seven games. He shook hands with Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom, among others, on the ice in four of those series and saw the life drained from them after crippling losses. The Caps finally got him back last spring when they beat the Penguins in the second round. Now they all share a locker room.
Hagelin noted that NHL teams do well to help traded players adjust quickly. They take care of travel arrangements and help get their families situated. His wife, Erica, remains back home in Sweden with his 10-month-old daughter, Blanche. They will join him later this month. For a while, at least, he’s on his own.
“But it’s always tough,” Hagelin said. “You still have some things in different places. You have cars and your buddy is going to have to figure a way to bring that car to the rink in L.A. and then ship it over here. There’s logistics you’re going to have to deal with. It comes with it.”
Jensen said he’s diligent about nutrition and it’s hard to eat healthy at restaurants all the time when you don’t have a place of your own. Off the ice, he and Jenner have to look at houses and decide if they’re going to rent or buy. As Hagelin’s situation in Anaheim proved, though, just because you sign a contract doesn’t mean that city will be your home for long. Ten years with one organization is an exception, not a rule, and change is always coming.
“It’s that feeling in your stomach – a little nervous, a little excited,” Jensen said. “It’s kind of weird hearing it. ‘You’re going to the Capitals.’ You try to take it all in. It’s hard leaving an organization you’ve been drafted to and been with so long. But at the same time I was super excited to come to another great organization and look at playing in some playoff games.”
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