When the 2018-19 NHL regular season got underway, Carl Hagelin couldn't have envisioned what the next several months held for him. Heading into the last year of a four-year contract as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins, Hagelin was dealt to the Los Angeles Kings in a surprise swap some six weeks into the season. Ten days later, he was on injured reserve with a knee injury that cost him a quarter of the campaign.
By the time Hagelin returned to the Los Angeles lineup in early January, the Kings' playoff hopes had evaporated, and they were shopping the left winger around to interested parties. That's where the Caps entered the picture.
Hagelin came to Washington in a Feb. 21 trade with L.A., and he made his debut in a Caps sweater two days later when they finished a marathon six-game road trip with a Saturday matinee match against the Sabres in Buffalo.
Hagelin played well for the Caps over the next two months, putting up terrific possession numbers while producing better than half a point per game in 20 contests, the virtual equivalent of a quarter of a season. He managed more goals (three) and points (11) in those 20 games than the two goals and eight points he totaled in 38 games earlier in the season, a stint that was split between Pittsburgh and the Kings.
On Sunday, less than two months after the Caps' 2018-19 season came to an end, Hagelin signed a four-year contract extension to stay in the District. The 30-year-old Swedish left wing will earn $11 million over the life of that extension, a salary cap dent of $2.75 million per season.
"I think I've done a lot of good things in my career," says Hagelin. "I've been able to make the playoffs every single year. This was a year where I started in [Pittsburgh] and felt pretty good early on, and then I got traded. They wanted to make a change, and L.A. wanted to make a change as well. I got there and got hurt after five games, and all of a sudden that team is out of the playoffs.
"I was fortunate to come to a good organization and a good team that was looking to win the Stanley Cup and was trying to go back-to-back. I was able to play 20 games here, and felt good going into the playoffs. I thought the team was playing well, and then we came into the playoffs. We were playing good but not good enough, obviously. We were one goal away from going to the second round."
Ending the season on a hgh note in D.C. gave Hagelin hope after a difficult campaign. The 30-year-old Swede enjoyed his two months on the ice in Washington, so much so that he wanted to remain here.
"This organization was great to me," said Hagelin, two days after the Caps were ousted from the Stanley Cup playoffs in late April. "I think it was a really good fit. I think I filled a void. I was getting good ice time and getting to play with good players. So I obviously liked it a lot here, and now the team has got to make a decision and I've got to make a decision. We will sit down and see what their thoughts are, but it's definitely a team I'm interested in playing for."
And obviously the Caps were interested in having Hagelin return, too. Friday's deal that sent defenseman Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia for blueliner Radko Gudas cleared more than enough salary cap space for Hagelin's new deal, and Washington has cemented another significant piece into its lineup for the foreseeable future.
Caps general manager Brian MacLellan has made a habit of obtaining players in mostly low-key signings or trades, and later signing them to multi-year contract extensions. Those trades and signings and the subsequent extensions have helped the Capitals remain in the mix for Cup contention year in and year out; Washington has made the playoffs in 10 of the last 11 seasons, and it finally broke through to win the coveted chalice in 2018.
Prior to Hagelin, MacLellan went the same route with forwards T.J. Oshie, Lars Eller, Brett Connolly and Nic Dowd, and with defensemen Michal Kempny and Nick Jensen. All are still with the team, although Connolly will become an unrestricted free agent at the end of this month. Connolly and Dowd were the only two of the seven players who were signed as a free agent; the other five came via the trade route. The total cost to the Caps for those five players: winger Troy Brouwer, goalie Pheonix Copley (whom the Caps later re-acquired in another swap), defenseman Madison Bowey, three second-round draft picks, three third-round picks, and a sixth-rounder. The Caps also got a fifth-round pick back in that group of deals.
With Hagelin back in the fold, the Caps now have somewhere in the neighborhood of $10 million of cap space remaining; we will learn the exact salary cap limit for 2019-20 later this week. The Caps now turn their attention to Connolly and restricted free agents Jakub Vrana, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos. They're unlikely to be able to get all four players signed without exceeding $10 million in cap space.
Vrana is the lone unsigned member of Washington's top six forward group, and the signing of Hagelin gives the Caps a trio of bottom six forwards under contract for 2019-20: Dowd, Eller and Hagelin.
In the summer of 2007, Hagelin was a sixth-round pick (168th overall) of the New York Rangers in the NHL Draft. After a successful four-year collegiate career at Michigan, Hagelin broke into the NHL with the Rangers in November of 2011. He has also skated for Anaheim, Pittsburgh and Los Angeles before landing here in D.C., totaling 93 goals and 241 points in 546 regular season games, spread over eight seasons.
His 2018-19 season had a rocky start, but he finished with a flourish and can now settle in here in the DMV for the foreseeable future. As a two-time Stanley Cup champ with the Penguins in 2016 and 2017, Hagelin knows what it takes to get to the pinnacle. He has played 128 playoff games since entering the league in 2011, more than any other player in the NHL over that span.
"It's a good feeling today to know that I am going to be a part of the Washington Capitals for the upcoming four years," he says. "It's a credit to the organization, [MacLellan] and the coaching staff and obviously all of the players, I think.
"When I got traded to [Washington], I didn't really know what to expect. In those 30 games I was able to play there gave me a better understanding of how good a team it is and how much fun it is to play for the Caps.
"I'm just extremely happy to sign this deal, and me and my family look forward to the upcoming season."