Penguins trade for Hagelin in hopes he is long-term answer for left-wing woes
Like most people in sports, Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford prefers to use the term “anchor” as a positive metaphor, one reserved for the most reliable members of a team.
Left-handed winger Carl Hagelin, acquired in an early-morning trade Saturday that sent winger David Perron and defenseman Adam Clendening to Anaheim, possesses the speed and two-way skills to become a staple in the Penguins lineup, Rutherford said. But Hagelin’s contract, signed in August and worth $16 million over four seasons, could turn his “anchor” candidacy into a punch line if he underachieves and becomes little more than a $4 million-a-year salary-cap burden.
Combined, Perron ($3,812,500) and Clendening ($761,250) had a slightly greater cap hit than Hagelin, who traveled early Saturday in order to arrive in Pittsburgh in time for a 3 p.m. Sunday home game against Carolina.
“We know what we’ve got (in Hagelin),” Rutherford said. “David Perron was going to be an (unrestricted free agent). In Carl’s case, we’ve got him locked up for a few years, so that was appealing to us.
“It’s a little bit different type of player. You look at David Perron, and historically he’s roughly about a 20-goal scorer. And you look at Hagelin. He’s roughly a 15-goal scorer, with Hagelin’s plus-minus being a little bit better. So from that point of view, it all evens out. But adding that speed (from Hagelin) is going to be important for us.”
Referencing the superior career plus-minus (plus-47 in 266 games over four-plus seasons) of the 27-year-old Swede might draw snickers from some fans in the age of advanced metrics. Perron, also 27, is a minus-9 in 542 games over eight-plus seasons, but his five-on-five career rate of 1.8 points per 60 minutes trumps Hagelin’s 1.7, and both have possession numbers that indicate their teams take more than 50 percent of the shot attempts when they’re on the ice, according to war-on-ice.com.
Neither impressed with their contributions through the first half of the 2015-16 season: Perron had four goals and 12 assists in 665 minutes, while Hagelin had four goals and eight assists in 645 minutes of ice time with the Ducks.
So Hagelin’s value, more than a statistical matter, comes down to his versatility. Rutherford and coach Mike Sullivan lauded Hagelin’s talents as a penalty killer and his ability to blend with high-scoring forwards and grinder lines.
Hagelin’s debut as a Penguin likely will come on a line with Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel.
“I think he’s going to track pucks down,” said Sullivan, who worked with the 5-foot-11, 186-pound Hagelin while both were with the New York Rangers. “He’s going to help those guys keep the puck longer. He’s going to force turnovers, put teams in vulnerable circumstances. He’s got good enough hockey sense that he can play with those guys that think the game at that level.”
Far from an oft-discussed player among the Penguins, Hagelin nonetheless joins the organization with familiarity. His 313 minutes of ice time against the Penguins is second most among his totals against all opponents, and he tallied three points with the Rangers in last season’s playoff series against the Penguins, including the series-clinching goal in overtime of Game 5.
“It’ll be nice to see him in practice a little bit and stop him,” Marc-Andre Fleury said with a chuckle.
Added winger Chris Kunitz: “I look forward to playing with him and finally having that speed on our side instead of trying to chase him down when he’s carrying the puck for other teams.”
The lack of left-handed scoring wingers beyond Kunitz — no other lefty winger had more than two goals — compelled Rutherford to look for a new weapon on the trade market. Just days before the trade, he spoke of the need for more depth at left wing.
Sergei Plotnikov, a lefty signed to a one-year deal in July, provided the promise of a scoring touch. He was just months removed from a career year in Russia’s Kontinental Hockey League, where he had 21 assists and 15 goals in 56 games.
With just two assists and no goals in 32 games, Plotnikov emerged as a bigger question mark than an answer for the Penguins’ scoring woes. Under Sullivan, he became a regular healthy scratch.
And Rutherford believes Conor Sheary, Scott Wilson and Tom Kuhnhackl, all left-handed forwards who’ve bounced between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, aren’t ready to fill the role that now belongs to Hagelin.
“It’s just a matter of time before (Wilson) is a regular here,” Rutherford said of the Baby Pens’ and American Hockey League’s goals leader (19). “But when you look at our left side, we don’t have a lot of experience. (Hagelin) is a guy that should be able to kind of anchor the left side.”
While the addition of Hagelin might minimize opportunities for some of Baby Pens wingers to learn where they stand in the NHL, the departure of Clendening created an opportunity for defenseman Derrick Pouliot, who turned 22 on Saturday, to possibly ascend to the big-league club sooner than later.
Pouliot, the No. 8 pick overall in the 2012 draft, had six goals and 17 assists in 36 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
“It doesn’t mean he’ll come immediately, but certainly it opens the door that he gets here quicker,” Rutherford said of Pouliot, who appeared in 34 games with the Penguins last season. “His play has been good. His development, what he’s been going through has been good for him. It’s just a matter of time before we get him back up here.”