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Rapid Reaction: I think I’m gonna like Brandon Hagel

Like, really, really like.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Hooooooooooo, boy. You get sucked into an emergency at work and Julien BriseBois picks exactly that time to make a trade for the Tampa Bay Lightning. And this is a spicy one bringing Brandon Hagel to the Sunshine State from the Windy City that included three players and four picks changing hands. So let’s dig in for a rapid reaction, covering the player, the players leaving, the pick exchanges, and a little bit of salary cap forecasting.

The Trade

Lightning acquire forward Brandon Hagel, a 2022 4th round pick, and 2024 4th round pick from the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for forwards Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, a 2023 1st round pick, and 2024 1st round pick.

The Player

Brandon Hagel is a 23-year-old, left winger from Saskatoon, Saskatchewan who was originally drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the 2016 NHL Entry Draft out of the WHL where he played with the Red Deer Rebels. In his draft season, Hagel scored 13 goals and 47 points. He followed that up with 71 and 59 point seasons. The Sabres ultimately decided not to sign him and he re-entered the 2018 NHL Entry Draft where he went unpicked. He returned to the Rebels for an overage season and recorded 41 goals and 102 points in 66 games, earning an entry-level contract with Chicago.

Hagel made his debut in 2019-20 with Chicago playing one game, but spent the rest of the season in the AHL with 31 points in 59 games. During the pandemic shortened 2020-21 season, Hagel played in the Swiss league posting 15 points in 14 games and showed enough to Chicago for them to put him on the NHL roster when the NHL season got underway. Last season, he recorded 9 goals and 24 points in 52 games. So far this season, he has recorded 21 goals and 37 points in 55 games.

Hagel has seen his goal scoring take a major step forward doubling his G60 rate this season compared to last year. If I’m being completely honest, I believe that this is unlikely to continue as he is well outperforming expected goals and through much of his junior and professional career, he’s been a playmaker that has racked up more assists than goals. Maybe he’s found more of a shooting stroke over the past season, but it is unlikely to continue and I would expect to see his goal scoring dry up a bit.

From the possession stats, it’s a bit hard to really get a good gauge of how good Hagel is and can be. Chicago has been dreadful the past two seasons and his possession stats have followed. However, relative to his teammates, according to Evolving-Hockey.com’s data, he has performed quite well compared to the rest of the team, especially in the area of driving offense this season, though his defense has left a bit to be desired. We’ll see if a change in scenery and a different system will help his game in that regard.

In the short term, Hagel is a direct replacement for Taylor Raddysh in the line-up. He’s an immediate upgrade on the offensive end of things and can slide into the third line immediately next to Ross Colton and Corey Perry. He also provides depth to the top six in the event that Ondrej Palat or Alex Killorn miss time for an injury or any other reason.

I’ll touch on this a bit more in the Salary Cap section, but Hagel is also giving the Lightning some cost certainty for two more years, as he’s under contract with a salary cap hit of $1.5 million for not only this year but for two more years after this season. Like when the Lightning acquired Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow, the cost was higher by acquiring a young player, with not only term, but team control beyond the contract as he’ll be a restricted free agent in the summer of 2024.

For the number nerds, Hagel has been wearing #38 for Chicago. In the past, he wore #22 with Red Deer, #42 with the Rockford Icehogs in the AHL during his debut and then switched to #22 in his first full year, and #22 in Switzerland. I would bet on him going back to #22, which is currently available with the Lightning with Kevin Shattenkirk in 2019-20 being the last player to wear it. If he wears #22, he’d be the 13th player to wear the number for the Lightning. If he wants to stick with #38, he’d have to kick Remi Elie off the number who wore it earlier this season. My guess is he goes back to #22.

Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk

For both Raddysh and Katchouk, they both have a similar story. Both were second round picks by the Lightning in 2016. They came up together in the AHL after playing in the OHL together briefly. Both players have appeared to have stalled out in their development with the Lightning. Both made it to the NHL this season mostly because the Lightning needed some cheap roster players and they were no longer waiver exempt. Neither of them lived up to their pre-draft projections and neither could find the next gear to really grab a hold of the opportunity given to them in Tampa Bay.

Ultimately, both of them had to go in this trade because of the salary cap. Their combined salary cap hits allowed the Lightning to acquire Hagel.

The Draft Picks

Honestly, I’m not that worried about them. The Lightning kept their first round pick this year. They got a couple 4th round picks back. You can almost look at the trade as being two parts; Hagel for two first round picks, and Katchouk and Raddysh for two fourth round picks. The value in both parts of that trade make sense. And the reality of the NHL is you have to give up something to get something, especially something of value. A player like Hagel that is producing and performing on the kind of contract he has is extremely valuable to a team like the Lightning who are pressed by the cap.

The Salary Cap

The full salary cap implication of the deal can generate a full 2,000 word post in its own right, but to sum up quickly this is a really good addition for the Lightning just in terms of the salary cap. While Raddysh and Katchouk were poised to present the Lightning some value at the bottom end of the roster with their low cap hits over the next two seasons, the team really needed for them to take a bigger step up and provide a lot more excess value than they’ve shown they can do so far.

The team was also looking at needing to address the loss of Ondrej Palat in the summer. They just may have done that with Hagel. I would not be at all surprised to see him get an opportunity next season on the left wing of the top line with Brayden Point and Nikita Kucherov. Point is a high level shooter and Kucherov isn’t far behind him. Kucherov is certainly the better playmaker of the two.

The Lightning do not have a prospect in the pipeline that could step into that spot with any certainty. The Lightning already tried with Alex Barre-Boulet and he wasn’t able to prove he was a player worth playing that high in the Lightning line-up. So, Hagel would be the most apparent fix for losing Palat.

Before all of these moves, I was projecting the Lightning to have something like $4 million to try and address some weaknesses next season. Whether that was a middle six winger that could potentially move up into the top six, or another right-handed defenseman to shore up that side behind Erik Cernak. The problem with that though is that the Lightning would really need for that player to sign for one-year, because...

..the year after, Hagel will be even more valuable if he can play in the top six with his low cap hit because the Lightning are going to be even more squeezed by the salary cap going into the 2023-24 season. Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, Erik Cernak, Ross Colton, and Cal Foote will all be restricted free agents that summer. And all of theme will be due for some raises, and some of those raises will be big. So big in fact that I’ve had my doubts about if the Lightning will be able to keep all of them.

The addition of Hagel and his low-cap hit/high value potentially gives the team the ability to make things work and still be a Stanley Cup contender.

Conclusions

It’s a big trade and big price to give up the two first round picks. As Julien BriseBois has said, it’s all about dealing in probabilities. Will this move increase your chances of winning a Stanley Cup in a given year and is that probability change more so than what you’re giving up? The reality of those first round picks is that they’re 3, 4, 5 years away from moving the probability needle. While the Lightning are certainly lowering the probability in some future years, the uncertainty factor is much greater that far out in the future. On the other hand, Hagel has improved the probabilities of the Lightning winning a Stanley Cup in each of the next three playoffs.

Eventually, all of these trades and moving of assets will come back to haunt the Lightning. Much like it has for Chicago who are finally going through a full rebuild. With luck, the Lightning can be more like the Pittsburgh Penguins who have managed to stay relevant and stay contenders over a long stretch of time riding two generational talents. Well the Lightning have at least three generational talents on their roster, and ones that will be here for a while longer.

Welcome to Tampa, Hagel. I’m excited to see what you can do. Let’s Go Bolts!