WASHINGTON — Washington Capitals right winger Carl Hagelin is a two-time Stanley Cup champion and has appeared in more playoff games than any other N.H.L. player since his postseason debut seven years ago.
It’s a whopping 125 games — the same number as his teammate Alex Ovechkin, who entered the league six years before him.
Yet this season, Hagelin, 30, has taken on an unusual label: journeyman.
With his type of accomplishments, who would have expected Hagelin to be on three teams in one season?
Hagelin went through a season of extremes over four months as he shuttled from the Pittsburgh Penguins to the Western Conference’s last-place Los Angeles Kings before being dealt to the defending Stanley Cup champion Capitals.
“Like any person at a job, you are thinking you can be there as long as you can,” said Hagelin, one of the league’s top defensive forwards.
Before coming to Washington at the trade deadline, his 8 points in 38 games with Pittsburgh and Los Angeles suggested to a wasted season.
But the old Hagelin returned to form with the Capitals, amassing 11 points in 20 games to heat up just before the Stanley Cup playoffs start.
“A lot of years, I’ve had really good second halves, but coming here helped a lot,” Hagelin said. “I got my swagger back.”
But he has been held without a point in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Capitals lead the series, 3-2, after rolling to a 6-0 victory on Saturday night.
The Capitals’ uneven play has resulted in Coach Todd Reirden’s shuffling lines, sending Hagelin on just about every line. He is now on the fourth line and the team is waiting for him to create a spark.
Hagelin’s teams have eliminated the Capitals five times. He did it with the Rangers (2012, 2013, 2015) and the Penguins (2016, 2017).
For Hagelin, it was difficult adjusting to Los Angeles, where he missed 20 games from a knee injury. For a player who spent the majority of his career in the Eastern Conference, he wasn’t nearly as familiar with the Kings’ roster as he was with the Capitals’ players.
In Washington, Hagelin found three fellow Swedes he knew in Nicklas Backstrom, Andre Burakovsky and Christian Djoos and group of veterans he faced again and again in the playoffs: Ovechkin, John Carlson, Braden Holtby and Tom Wilson.
Thus, it’s not a surprise that when Hagelin joined the Capitals, he felt an immediate connection.
“It felt like I already knew the guys on a personal level,” Hagelin said.
That started off with his fellow countrymen, who texted him and called him right away. They also took him out to lunch on his first day with the team.
“Backstrom welcomed me in right away, and I knew the other Swedes,” Hagelin said. “And there is a mutual respect here between me and a lot of guys because I have played against them so many times in the playoffs.”
He first became acquainted with the Capitals as a rookie during the 2012 playoffs with the Rangers. He had two assists in Game 7 to eliminate Washington in the second round.
Two years later, Hagelin helped guide the Rangers to the Stanley Cup finals, with 12 points in 25 games. They lost in five games to the Kings.
The Capitals felt more frustration with Hagelin as a Penguin. He totaled seven points in six games in the 2016 second-round victory en route to a Stanley Cup, and finished that postseason with 16 points in 24 games.
When recovering from a broken fibula in 2017, he returned just in time to help eliminate the Capitals again in a second-round series before Pittsburgh won its second consecutive Cup.
After all of that bad blood, Hagelin likes the Capitals now.
“They actually have good guys on the team,” he said.
Brett Connolly feels the same sentiment toward Hagelin.
“Off the ice, he has been great,” Connolly said. “He came in and fit in right away. He is a very likable guy. Everybody respects the way he plays. He has won Cups, which helps.”
The Capitals coaches are also pleased with Hagelin’s leadership.
“We wanted him for a number of reasons,” Reirden said. “One of them was for him to show our younger guys how to execute in those high-pressure situations.”
The Capitals also brought Hagelin in to do what they had hoped many of the organization’s players should have been doing before last year’s Stanley Cup run. He gets it done in the playoffs with an attitude.
Whether or not Hagelin piles up a lot of points in the playoffs, the Capitals know he will still have the sort of impact that could swing a series.
“You want to go out there and bring your A-game every night,” Hagelin said. “If you don’t do it, the other team is going to do it and the other team is going to win the battle. You just want to play your best game of the season that next playoff game.”
He potentially could be on the move again. Hagelin will be an unrestricted free agent in July.
But no one on the Capitals will call him a journeyman. “For whatever reason, it didn’t work out in Pittsburgh and L.A.,” Connolly said. “Everyone knows why he was traded here. He was traded for this moment right now.”