Sifting through the Carl Hagelin/Emerson Etem swap
In case you missed it, the New York Rangers traded both Cam Talbot and Carl Hagelin during the 2015 NHL Draft. The return for Hagelin was Emerson Etem and the #41 pick on Saturday. The return for Talbot was three picks on Saturday. While most of this post is going to analyze the Hagelin/Etem swap, I’d be remiss if I didn’t at least first cover the Talbot trade.
While many rumors pointed to the Rangers getting a much bigger haul for Talbot, it’s not surprising that the Rangers landed what they did. Rumors went from a top-15 pick to a 1st round pick to a pair of seconds and a prospect to just about anything. This is why they are rumors and not reported facts. In the end, Talbot is a 27 year old pending UFA with just 57 games under his belt. Yes, he played very well, but goalies are weird. He could be great, he may not be. Without certainty, both on the ice and with his contract, the value was going to take a hit.
The Talbot trade comes off as a disappointment not because of the return, but because of the rumors heading into the draft. The reaction on the Hagelin trade was entirely different.
Hagelin was a very solid complementary piece for the Rangers throughout his stay in New York. One of the better third liners in the game, Hagelin has been a pretty consistent 15-goal, 35-point player (all at even strength)who killed penalties regularly. He is also one of the fastest guys in the league. But speed alone does not mean Hagelin is an irreplaceable asset on this team.
That said, Hagelin was one of the better possession players on the Rangers. His production is pretty up there:
Hagelin is due a pretty hefty raise, coming off his two-year bridge deal that paid him $2.4 million last season ($2.25 million cap hit). I had him ballparked at $4 million, which could be on the high end, but even at $3.5 million, fitting Hagelin in was always going to be a challenge.
Paying that much money for a third liner who kills penalties is tough for people to swallow, so Hagelin was dealt for Etem, who doesn’t compare as favorably to Hagelin, at least in the short term:
Make no mistake, Hagelin is the better player at this juncture of their respective careers. Hagelin’s numbers at even strength are better across the board. That said, Hagelin’s effect on possession, one of the biggest reasons why fans love him, is actually diminishing. Zachary Ellenthal did some work on this, and the result is pretty interesting (Side note: I find that chart to be a bit confusing).
Here’s Hagelin’s usage throughout his career. Notice how the bubble gets lighter and lighter as the years progress? That means Hagelin is getting closer and closer to 50% possession, after starting around 54%. That’s a significant drop.
So while Hagelin, at the current moment, is the better player, the Rangers are starting to see diminishing returns on their investment. There is cause for concern there, especially when he is due that raise. Etem, on the other hand, brings a lot of potential positives.
First, Etem is three years younger than Hagelin at 23 years old. Second, he was bounced around the lineup a lot by Bruce Boudreau last year, spending the majority of his time on the fourth line. His primary linemates: Nate Thompson and Tim Jackman. These guys aren’t exactly scoring monsters. When it comes to scoring, quality of teammates matters. Only the Crosby’s of the world can score at will. Etem is not Crosby. Here’s how Etem was used in Anaheim:
Etem got the most offensive zone starts, but he also didn’t exactly play with the best teammates (this chart shows players that played at least 500 minutes last season). He was still a solid driver of possession (53.58%, 2.58% relative). So while his scoring numbers are pedestrian, he still does the little things well.
When it comes to raw skill, Etem has loads of it. He is very talented, with solid hands and quick feet. He’s no Hagelin when it comes to speed (no one is, to be honest), but he’s still very capable.
Considering his skill set and his apparent misuse, there can be a comparison made to J.T. Miller. Miller bounced around the lineup a lot, and played a lot on the fourth line before finally sticking with the top-nine this season. Miller was miscast as a fourth liner. And like Etem need to, Miller had to put it all together before solidifying his role in the lineup. Since then, he’s been solid.
Etem is in the same boat. He has the tools. He needs to put it all together. Playing with better teammates –probably slated to slide into the 3LW slot with Kevin Hayes as his center and potentially Jesper Fast as his RW– will certainly help accelerate that. He’s not going to be helpful in the defensive zone, but deployment and usage are key here. Sheltering that third line in primary offensive zone starts, while drawing weaker defensive pairings, should help maximize his output.
The Rangers put themselves in a tough spot financially, and with a cap crunch looming, dealing Hagelin was always a possibility. The Rangers got a solid roster player with plenty of upside in return. We wish Hagelin (and Talbot) well with their respective clubs. They were great to watch while in New York.