First and foremost, it needs to be stated. Carl Hagelin has been a significant asset for the Washington Capitals over the last few years. He catches a lot of guff from certain segments of the Capitals fan base, likely because his role on the team and the work he does goes mostly unnoticed.
Hagelin’s play on the fourth line, arguably the Capitals’ best line all of last season, has been solid. The fourth line is tasked with shutting down the opposition’s top line, night in and night out, and they have been very successful in doing just that. The mere notion of messing with the line is one that probably makes Capitals’ head coach Peter Laviolette cringe.
In short, Hagelin has been a valuable asset to the Capitals. However, there are two aspects of Carl Hagelin that require some extra thought. His paycheck and his age. Hagelin, 33, will make $2,750,000 this season and next. In an era of little-to-no fiscal growth within the league, that’s a fairly big price tag for a fourth line winger.
Enter Beck Malenstyn. Beck, a decade younger than Hagelin, will make $750,000 this season and become a restricted free agent next summer. By switching Hgelin for Malenstyn, the Capitals would get younger and generate $2 million in much-needed salary cap space. But can Malenstyn do what Hagelin does? That’s the more important question.
Malenstyn is a different type of player than Hagelin. He’s a 6’-2”, physicial forward, who loves to hit opposing players. In fact he led the team in hits in each of the three preseason games he played in this fall. Hagelin, on the other hand, is a winger who generates problems for the opposing team with his speed.
Hagelin has been a stalwart on the penalty kill for the Caps, but Malenstyn is also very good on the penalty kill. He was a leader on the Hershey Bears’ penalty kill during his last season in the AHL, as the Bears finished the 2019-20 season with the league’s best penalty kill at 87.3%.
Yes, Malenstyn differs from Hagelin with regards to style of play, but it could be argued Malenstyn is a perfect fit with Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway, and the style of game they play. Malenstyn expanded on his own perception of his game in an interview with NoVa Caps in 2019.
“I think for me, that’s the base of my identity. It may not be the prettiest plays in the world, but getting the puck off the wall, getting right out of the zone, being good on the penalty kill. You know, get on the forecheck, physical. Then from there, I need to develop the offensive side of my game. How can I use that platform to then create offense, create opportunities? I just need to grow that way. Not change the way I play, just develop the way I play and creating more and more as a player.”
Malenstyn plays the game with a relentless intensity. Here are a couple of plays from 2019 that standout to me as good descriptors for Malenstyn’s game. The first, Malenstyn jumps on the ice after a line change, skates straight for the puck, steals the puck and feeds Garrett Pilon for the score. He simply dominates the play.
Here Malenstyn once again takes the puck from the opposition and dishes to an open Steve Whitney for the score.
With the departure of Brenden Dillon and Zdeno Chara, it could be argued that the Capitals lost a significant part of their team “grit” in the offseason. Malenstyn will also drop the gloves.
It’s easy to see why former Bears head coach Spencer Carbery labeled Malenstyn as Herhsey’s Tom Wilson.
It’s not easy to jettison someone with the experience of a Carl Hagelin. He’s too good at what he does. But one can argue that in economic times like these, it may make fiscal sense to make a change. Two million dollars could be used to help address other team shortcomings as the 2021-22 season unfolds.
It won’t be an easy decision, regardless of which way the Capitals decide to go. We could very likely see Malenstyn return to Hershey for one more season, and the fourth line stay the way it is. It’s hard to mess with success.
However, switching Hagelin out for a player 10 years younger, that brings comparable value and more grit to an already gritty fourth line, at a savings of $2 million bucks, just might be the right move at this point in time.
We will find out in the next day or two which way Brian MacLellan and the Capitals decide to go. All NHL teams need to have their final 23-man rosters set by 5:00 PM on Monday.
By Jon Sorensen