Since this past offseason, many wondered how the Tampa Bay Lightning would replace the dynamic players that made up their third line of Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman and Yanni Gourde from their Stanley Cup runs. On Friday, they traded for a player who might be part of the answer to those ponderings.
The Chicago Blackhawks traded forward Brandon Hagel, a 2022 fourth-round pick, and a 2024 fourth-round pick to the Lightning, in exchange for forwards Boris Katchouk and Taylor Raddysh, along with conditional first-round picks in 2023 and 2024.
While the move may not be the last for either team, it’s good to check in on how each GM did in this swap. Here are the grades for each:
The NHL is, more than anything, a copycat league. When the Lightning aggressively added Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow at the 2020 trade deadline, there was pushback from skeptics that didn’t believe they were worth the first-round picks that Tampa sent to New Jersey and San Jose, respectively.
Two Stanley Cups later, and everyone is looking for their “Blake Coleman,” and willing to ante up considerably more than they would have previously for talented depth forwards. What we didn’t expect: That the Lightning themselves would be one of them, paying what they did for Goodrow and Coleman for the services of one player: 23-year-old winger Brandon Hagel.
The first thing to love about this trade is his contract, which is the primary reason the rest of the league started taking notice of Hagel this season. He has 21 goals and 37 points in 55 games, and he’s signed to just $1.5 million against the salary cap through the 2023-24 season, after which he becomes a restricted free agent.
The Lightning are notoriously capped out — please recall the Nikita Kucherov long-term injured reserve gambit — to the point where they don’t have any available cap space next season at the moment. Provided Hagel’s breakout season is a harbinger of things to come, that’s a ridiculous amount of cap advantage and control for GM Julien BriseBois over a talented young forward.
There are things beyond Hagel’s traditional stats that are impressive. His ability to retrieve pucks fits well into the kind of system coach Jon Cooper plays. He’s tied for seventh in the NHL in goals scored from the slot this season, with 16 of his 21 tallies coming from that spot. He outpaced his teammates in puck possession and scoring chances.
But there are a couple of reasons for concern here about Hagel. His 22.3% shooting percentage is the third highest in the NHL this season for players with at least 50 appearances. He shot 9.9% last season. His power-play shooting percentage this season is 26.7%. Sustainability is a legitimate concern. Is this the start of a burgeoning offensive star’s run, or an anomaly?
The Blake Coleman comparisons are in spirit only. Coleman helped create a dominant checking line in Tampa because he was well above average defensively. While Hagel isn’t a liability, he’s just slightly below-average defensively this season, even in comparison to his teammates. But that’s less of a concern if they cast him with defensively responsible players — like Ross Colton and Corey Perry — or in a scoring role.
Heck, we might never talk about it again if he’s averaging a point per game riding shotgun with Steven Stamkos and Kucherov.
As for cost of acquisition, here are the draft positions of the Lightning’s last six first-round picks: Nos. 32, 31, 27, 28, 14, 27. These are basically two high second-rounders going to the Blackhawks, along with Taylor Raddysh and Boris Katchouk, neither of whom has shown the promise that Hagel has. The Lightning also pulled back two fourth-round picks.
Best of all, the picks are top-10-protected in case things go sideways for the Lightning in 2023 or 2024. And if they do, well, there are plenty of options on this roster for recovering a few first-round picks in desperation.
“I said a few weeks ago that we are rebuilding, and this is clearly the start of that,” said Blackhawks general manager Kyle Davidson.
The Blackhawks skip this season and grab the Lightning’s first-round pick in a deep 2023 draft and in the 2024 draft. Should Tampa Bay’s 2023 first-round pick be in the top 10, Tampa will instead transfer their own, unprotected first-round pick in 2025 to Chicago. In the event both of Tampa Bay’s 2023 and 2024 picks are in the top 10, then Tampa Bay will transfer their unprotected first-round picks in 2025 and 2026 to Chicago.
I know, I know: These are likely to be low first-round picks. But they’re still first-round picks. They’re still a foot in the door, allowing Davidson to trade up rather than trade in if he desires to do so. And there are two of them, going to the Blackhawks for a player with one season of proof of concept.
Davidson had some nice things to say about Hagel. “We know that Brandon Hagel was a fan favorite — our fans loved him for all the reasons we loved him — and we know he will be successful with the Lightning,” he said, perhaps making heart hands. But if Hagel’s shooting percentage isn’t sustainable, and he ends up being just a very good offensive player with an enviable cap hit, then this trade is going to end up lopsided in Chicago’s favor.
Raddysh is a more complete player than Katchouk at this point. The former has had a strong rookie season offensively, and is seventh on the team is goals scored above average. The latter is a bit ahead defensively. Both will help as the Blackhawks rebuild.
I think there’s an argument to be made that Hagel is a “part of the solution, not the problem” guy. That keeping him in Chicago in the rebuild could have been beneficial. That he moved is an indication that the package going back was just too enticing, and that the scope of this rebuild is so immense that Hagel doesn’t fit the timeline.
Finally, let’s talk about why this is an ‘A,’ and that’s asset management.
As our own Emily Kaplan noted, Hagel was drafted by the Buffalo Sabres in the sixth round, but after two years, they didn’t sign him to an entry-level contract. Hagel had already been to three NHL training camps — two in Buffalo, one in Montreal — but he never got as far as exhibition games. The Blackhawks signed him in 2018 and extended him on this desirable contract in 2021. And now they’ve flipped him for two first-rounders and two NHL prospects.
Now this is how you rebuild.