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