Hagelin’s return seems more likely; What does that mean for capitals

ARLINGTON, VA – As Karl Hagelin waits for an upcoming practice in casual skating at the Washington Capitals on Monday, he hoists a disc on a stick blade. Looking through his oversized pilot’s visor, he watches the disc as he maneuvers it alongside the panels. He runs six in a row before he falls on the ice, and when the whistle blows for his turn in the drill, he jumps straight, full speed ahead, and doesn’t fall back.

Going back a few months, getting to that point seemed unlikely for a number 62. It’s not impossible, but it’s improbable. On March 1, Hagelin was taking part in final competition drills when a stick caught him aloft. It went under his then-controversial slanting eyebrow and through his left eye, tearing the choroid. Although it did not affect the retina, it did lead to permanent loss of some of his vision and removed his depth perception.

Hagelin underwent two eye operations and did not return to play or other practice, although he skated on his own. A devastating injury threatened his career, but he remained hopeful and eager to continue his career in the National Hockey League. So, during the summer, he engaged in eye training and focused on his recovery, and when the casual skates began, he took the ice in a contactless shirt. He has since been allowed to call in and engage in board fights, score goals in melees and display his speed and aggressiveness on the front check.

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“He has a very positive attitude. I think in a situation it would be easy to get down on himself a little and stuff. But he’s been there for a while, he knows the game, and it’s very good for me as a young player to see that. This guy is fighting through it and hoping for Recover. Same with all the injured men… They are all working very hard to respond to this, and it’s something I don’t take for granted.”

From the looks of it, Hagelin is a complete participant, and if he passes what he has, he could be on the ice for training camp and even play sooner rather than later. And while the story of his comeback is impressive, it will have huge repercussions for the capitals and will force their hands a little.

At the moment, there are a lot of chefs in the kitchen and there are hardly any vacancies on the main menu. With Hagelin back, he’s sure to be back alongside Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway and reclaim the penalty kick lead. However, this would lead to questions about the team’s lowest 6 and placement for some players.

Washington re-signed Marcus Johansson for a one-year deal this off-season, and it was an option to take Hagelin’s place in that fourth line or even be a third-line player. All the while, Lars Eller and Conor McMichael are battling for the third line midfield role, and whoever loses can also move to the fourth line winger if Johansson actually moves to the third line winger. However, with Hagelin’s return, it would eliminate a pivotal role there and leave Johansson, Eller or McMichael as an outsider.

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It’s hard to imagine Eller being a healthy scratcher, let alone Johansson. McMichael is still young and on the cusp, although the team wants to see him get more ice time and a bigger role this year, so scratching him wouldn’t be the best idea. With that in mind, a move may be required.

To get out of that, Hagelin will come out of the injured long-term reserve, where he, Niklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson currently sit. That means his $2.75 million salary will be back on the books, leaving capital above the salary cap. This, in turn, may also lead to movement. Who will go, though, remains unclear.

Given the situation, Eller’s trade might make the most sense. He’s coming out of a challenging season that has seen him struggle with adversity, coronavirus and consistency, and with Washington wanting McMichael to have more of that icy time and also need to clear space, charging his $3.5 million salary may be the right choice.

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