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The Sideline Observer

Sports and Culture Commentary

Capitals Add Defense, Speed in Pair of Trades

The Washington Capitals acquired winger Carl Hagelin from the LA Kings on Feb. 21, and defenseman Nick Jensen from the Detroit Red Wings on Feb. 22.

In exchange, they sent a 2019 third round pick and a conditional 2020 sixth-round pick to the Kings for Hagelin and Madison Bowey and a 2020 second round pick to the Red Wings. The Kings will retain 50 percent of Hagelin’s salary, with an additional six percent already retained by the Pittsburgh Penguins from a previous trade.

Hagelin, a 30-year-old Swede, is in his eighth NHL season and has posted 230 points in 526 career games. He has eight points in 38 games this season.

Jensen, a 28-year-old native of Minnesota, is in his third NHL season. He has 15 points and a +1 rating in 60 games played this season. Just hours after trading him, the Caps signed Jensen to a four-year, $10 million extension. It’s not a coincidence that this contract is identical to the one Michal Kempny signed this past offseason.

To put it bluntly, Hagelin is really fast. He broke a 16-year-old record to win the 2012 fastest skater competition. He’s also an excellent defensive forward, having received votes for the Selke award as the NHL’s best defensive forward three times, who will take on duties for the 22nd-ranked Capitals penalty kill.

Jensen adds a needed right shot to the defensive depth. He’s a mobile skater who logs nearly 21 minutes (including tons of penalty killing) per night for the Red Wings as a reliable two-way defenseman.

The most important thing to know about these two trades are that they make the Capitals a better team, and they do so relatively cheaply. The draft picks aren’t much to worry about. At best, they’ll turn out to be NHL players in a few years.

Bowey is a little bit harder to part with, but he’s struggled this season and never turned into the player we hoped he could be. At 23, he still has time to figure it out on a younger team where he’ll hopefully get more opportunity. It’s not impossible for him to turn into a good NHL defenseman, but that wasn’t happening here, so the Caps didn’t give up much by sending him to a better situation.

Neither Jensen nor Hagelin will contribute significantly to the Caps’ offense. But the Caps aren’t struggling to score goals this year. They’re struggling to keep pucks out of their own net. They needed upgrades to their team defense, and that’s what GM Brian MacLellan got.

Hagelin’s offensive upside is limited, but advanced statistics indicate a player whose team drives play when he’s on the ice, despite his low point production. His career Corsi for percentage is an impressive 53.4. Only one Caps player is even above 50 percent this season. It should be noted that he has played sheltered even strength minutes (62 percent offensive zone starts) this season, but the numbers are still impressive.

Jensen has similarly impressive advanced stats. His CF% of 49.7 is better than any Caps defenseman, and he’s earned that despite relatively difficult minutes. He’s also blocked 79 shots, which would rank him fifth on the Caps.

This is impressive work from GMBM. The Caps have an identical record to this point one year ago, and many said he didn’t do enough at the deadline then. But it was two subtle trades that finally carried the Caps to the Stanley Cup, and these two similarly under-the-radar trades just might bring us back.

-Tiger Bjornlund

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