Carl Hagelin, playoff hero. Carl Hagelin’s legend grew a little bit more Friday night as the Rangers speed skating Swede scored the overtime, series winner against the Pens. It’s probably not the time to look too far ahead (but instead, revel in the Penguins season ending early) however particularly Hagelin’s form will mean a series of difficult decisions are looming for Glen Sather this summer.
Luckily for Sather, these difficult decisions are the kind of problems a general manager wants. Hagelin’s strong, consistent regular season and yet more postseason success means Hagelin’s in line for a nice pay rise this summer. Hagelin has 24 points as a Ranger and 21 in his last 42 games – thus averaging a point every other game since his first playoff run in ’11/12 when he had 3 points in 17 games in a depth role.
Hagelin has grown tremendously as a player since breaking into the Rangers line-up and is a player that embodies this team’s speed orientated game. Although some people speculated Hagelin could have been the odd one out this summer – given the cap issues that the Rangers could face – barring obscene salary demands there is no way Hagelin goes anywhere. He’s quickly making himself indispensible to the line-up.
Hagelin was arguably the Rangers best forward against the Pens, finishing the series with a three game point streak and more than matching more physical forwards such as the Pens’ Patric Hornqvist. As you would imagine, Hagelin’s speed gave the Pens fits and if the Rangers are to go deep again this year Hagelin’s speed will continue to be a feature of the Rangers offense.
Hagelin’s continued development as a two-way force in both regular and post seasons could very well mean the end of the line for Marty St Louis who continues to be a passenger on a team that would benefit enormously from more secondary scoring from players such as St Louis. St Louis, is surely the obvious target for a cap casualty; a somewhat underperforming, aging star who’s contract is up for renewal and for whom there is also potential replacements within the organisation.
With the home-grown Hagelin (not to mention Derek Stepan) due a solid rise – even more so if the Rangers want to tie him down long term – the only way the Rangers keep St Louis is if he takes a substantial pay cut and even that may not be enough to make the Rangers bring him back. Hagelin alone could realistically double his current $2.4m salary if he continues his form deep into the playoffs. That essentially costs the Rangers the equivalent of a third line player just to retain Hagelin.
Re-upping Hagelin and Stepan is going to cost the Rangers a good chunk of cap space. The team will surely want to leave some room for a deserving – and crucially, cost controlled – prospect such as Oscar Lindberg or Pavel Buchnevich to make it next year so will the Rangers even want to bring back St Louis who has been invisible for most of the playoffs so far? Who knows (pure speculation on my part) but if the Rangers win it all this spring, maybe St Louis rides off into the sunset and retires, accelerating his need to plan for a hall of fame speech?
Hagelin doesn’t just stand out as an example of the Rangers’ speed and overall maturation, but also the looming cap issues. Hagelin and Stepan will get paid. Jesper Fast and JT Miller will require raises and the team will surely have interest in retaining Matt Hunwick which, if he did stay would cost more money as well. The Rangers will also have one eye on the following summer when Chris Kreider, Keith Yandle, Kevin Hayes and Dominic Moore’s situations will need attention and Dan Boyle will need replacing. There’s a lot of money already ticketed for players over the next two summers making St Louis a luxury the team may not be able to afford.
Starting this summer with Hagelin and Stepan, this team isn’t getting any cheaper. That’s the price of success. Success however will have its victims, which at this stage will start with Marty St Louis. Here’s hoping he at least gets to celebrate a Rangers Stanley Cup before any difficult decisions arrive.