The Need For (Another) Swede? A Look At The Primary Factors In Replacing Carl Hagelin With Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

Photo: Hershey Bears

There has been some discussion outside of the Washington Capitals organization proposing the replacement of Carl Hagelin with fellow Swede, Axel Jonsson-Fjallby. And much of that discussion has been based on sound principles.
The skills of the two players are extremely similar, but Jonsson-Fjallby is a decade younger and costs two-million dollars less against the salary cap. So is the switch viable for the Capitals? and if so, when is the best time?

Hagelin, 33, has made his money in the NHL providing strong defense and stellar play on the penalty kill. Everyone wishes he would score more, but that’s simply not his role on the team. He’s also developed a very strong chemistry with his linemates, Nic Dowd and Garnet Hathaway. The fourth line has been arguably the Capitals best line over the past two seasons, all while often drawing the assignment of neutralizing opposing teams’ top lines.

Fellow countryman Jonsson-Fjallby, 23, is a near-mirror image of Carl Hagelin, with regards to his speed and defensive skills. He’s a very strong defensive player and was second on the Capitals in takeaways against the Bruins Thursday night, all while just playing a team-low 8:04. Jonsson-Fjallby has also been a stalwart on the Bears penalty kill in Hershey this season and has even garnered time on the Capitals penalty kill during his first callup with the team last fall.

Jonsson-Fjallby’s Other Advantage

In addition to being 10-years younger and costing $2 million less, Jonsson-Fjallby’s other significant advantage over Hagelin is his shot and ability to score goals. Former Bears head coach Spencer Carbery commented on Jonsson-Fjallby’s shot last season. His message to Axel was simple. Shoot the puck.

“He’s got a phenomenal shot. He doesn’t use it enough. And he loves to pass,” said Carbery. “He loves to try to make passes when he should be shoot first, shoot first, shoot first. Because it’s hard to pick up. His release is difficult to pick up.”

Carberry added, “our goaltending coach Alex Westlund and I have had conversations. His shot, it has movement on it. It’s like that fastball that moves. So we just continue, shoot, shoot, shoot.”

Jonsson-Fjallby has 10 goals and 11 assists in 26 games played for the Bears so far this season, including one short-handed goal.

So are the Capitals considering making a switch?

No Trial Runs As Of Yet

Its probably safe to assume that if the Capitals are looking to potentially replace Hagelin with Jonsson-Fjallby, they would give Jonsson-Fjallby trial minutes with his potential future 4th-linemates. That hasn’t happened to date. He has zero minutes with the two fourth-liners.

However, Johnson-Fjallby has logged significant minutes with Garnet Hathaway, playing with him in all nine games he’s played for the Capitals this season. So while no direct minutes with the full line have been played, he has started to develop some chemistry with one of the fourth liners.

Making A Switch?

Jonsson-Fjallby was recalled by the Capitals this week, coincidentally the day after Hagelin’s latest miss on a one-on-one breakaway against the Winnipeg Jets Tuesday night. However, it’s likely the recall and subsequent scratching of Daniel Sprong was more of a move to find additional defense for the Bruins.

Laviolette greatly values the play of his fourth line, as he has stated over the past two seasons. He’s given them tough assignments and the line has responded. He’s often praised the line and rightfully so, and completely trusts the line in the toughest of defensive situations.

It hard to move away from experience. Carl Hagelin will play his 700th NHL game on Saturday against the Ottawa Senators. Axel Jonsson-Fjallby has played just nine NHL games so far in his young career.

It’s also difficult to move away from existing chemistry. Quantifying chemistry can be nebulous at best, but there is no debate, chemistry is extremely important. The Capitals fourth line of Hagelin, Dowd and Hathaway has been excellent and Laviolette greatly appreciates he can rely on the line to shutdown opposing team’s superstars all while generating  occasional offensive. It hard to see him moving away from that, particularly mid-season.

Longer-term, the switch makes so much sense. Getting younger and less expensive is the current battle cry for Capitals’ general Manager Brian MacLellan. This move hits all the marks, and is likely to occur this fall.

However, the switch also makes sense, sooner, if the Capitals want to add a player before the trade deadline and need additional salary cap space. For a team with relatively scant cap space, two million dollars is hard to shake a stick at.

By Jon Sorensen

About Jon Sorensen

Jon has been a Caps fan since day one, attending his first game at the Capital Centre in 1974. His interest in the Caps has grown over the decades and included time as a season ticket holder. He has been a journalist covering the team for 10+ years, primarily focusing on analysis, analytics and prospect development.
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13 Responses to The Need For (Another) Swede? A Look At The Primary Factors In Replacing Carl Hagelin With Axel Jonsson-Fjallby

  1. Anonymous says:

    I say make the move now, give Axel time to gel with the 4th line. Put cap savings towards another goaltender.

  2. Anonymous says:

    The Hagelin, Dowd, and Hathaway line has NOT been excellent this year. Dowd and Hathaway take an inordinate amount of penalties at the worst times, including one by Dowd last night that cost us the game. Hagelin is not far behind them in PIM and has zero (and occasionally negative) offensive impact.

    • Anonymous says:

      Unfortunately, you couldn’t be more wrong, but it’s understandable. Recency bias is a real thing. And, again, offense is not what he’s paid to do. In addition, the pure nature of the roles and responsibilities of their line do include a few penalties, but that’s because they are facing the other teams best players. They were in the top 8 in PIMs last season as well and were no doubt the team’s best line then as well. Check the stats.

      • Anonymous says:

        And how did the team do last year, and the year before? That’s right, they folded in the playoffs under the weight of having to play OLD players who had no jump after a full season. Not to mention what we’re paying for this “excellent” 4th line. If I have recency bias, then you have red-colored glasses on and can see no wrong with this line.

        • Anonymous says:

          Now you’ve switched topics completely. Focus. We are talking about which line has been the best/favorite of Laviolette’s over past two seasons.

  3. Anonymous says:

    There is no way Laviolette breaks up the 4th line. They’ve been split up primarily assigned to fill holes in the lineup, and haven’t played many minutes together as of late. Look for that line to be reinstated first and foremost when players return.

  4. Joan Bomba says:

    Interesting he was waived early in the season.

    Also a question, he’s kinda at his game limit for the Caps , right? How does he move to the Caps permanently without going they waivers? Do you have to wait til the playoffs?

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      Greetings Joan. AJF has played 9 games for the Caps so far this season. One more game and he will need to clear waivers again. He can and will likely be called up for the postseason, if he is not needed sooner (emergency call-up or permanent call-up).

  5. steven says:

    I think it is time to realize that this team as it is constructed is NOT a Cup winning team. It may be a playoff team, this year, but with almost no secondary scoring and a terrible PP it will not advance. So why not start bringing up more of the younger guys to give them playing time. Axel would be a good replacement fo Hagelin so would Gercish. Maybe a guy like Alexeyev or Johansen for Carlson and Schultz. How about Snively, Pilon and Vacchione for Eller and backy. If we are going to get younger then lets make a total overhaul NOW!!
    Honestly you cant keep milking this group of players and expect something that is no longer there.

  6. Anonymous says:

    Like all Caps fans, I’d love for them to win another cup. But it’s not likely to happen, but not just due to their roster, but more so because of Carolina’s, the Lightning, Avalanche’s and Knight’s rosters. Even if the caps could magically obtain the best goalie in the league, they’d have maybe a 5% chance to win the cup. I’m a huge Caps fan that can certainly live with 5 years of being a very good playoff team with an outside shot to win the Cup. None of the changes mentioned above incrementally improve their chance to win the Cup.

    • Jon Sorensen says:

      All of your points regarding strength of opposition are certainly salient. I will counter that the team has yet to have a full roster and things could improve once the regulars get some time on ice together, Mantha returns, etc. then we can measure against the top teams.

  7. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. My thoughts exactly. AJF is NHL ready, having also played at a high level in Sweden. I love the smart play of Hags, but at this point, he’s an offensive liability and clearly not worth his cap hit number. AJF brings more speed, youth, size, grit and scoring to the bottom six. The cap savings would also be welcomed as the Caps head into the trade deadline perhaps looking to add a veteran goalie for the playoff run.

  8. Scottlew73 says:

    Well if your waiting for your GM to make intelligent hockey decision & based on future of/for team….. It ain’t going to happen!! He’s pissed away good “young talent,raised withen system!” For older “experienced” players that your paying way above current market value!
    Yes,AJF IS NHL READY,but managment would rather let him rot in Hershey than learn in Washington .
    Stephenson,Grubhaur,and many other young players have been sent off for little return for “win now” veterans that haven’t done just that!!

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