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Penguins Predictions: How long will Carl Hagelin stay in black and gold?

September 27, 2018

Penguins left wing Carl Hagelin (62) races up ice toward an empty net against the Predators in the third period of Game 6 of the NHL Stanley Cup Finals on Sunday June 11, 2017 at Bridgestone Arena.

Editor’s note: Beat writer Jonathan Bombulie will make a series of Penguins predictions leading up to the start of training camp Sept. 14.

THE QUESTION

Carl Hagelin is entering the final year of his contract. When will his time with the Penguins end?

MULTIPLE CHOICE

A. He’ll re-sign with the Penguins.

When the Penguins acquired Hagelin in a December 2016 trade, there was concern that they would regret taking on his $4 million annual salary by the time his contract expired. That hasn’t happened. Hagelin’s arrival signaled the team’s philosophical shift toward speed as a competitive advantage, and two Stanley Cup championships followed. That success has created a salary cap environment where it will be difficult for the Penguins to re-sign Hagelin, but not impossible. Outside of a magical run on the HBK Line in 2016, he hasn’t scored much - 26 goals in 179 regular-season games. He does a lot of things well, but they’re not the things that get a free agent paid. For that reason, the Penguins might be able to keep him at a reasonable price.

B. He’ll move on in free agency.

Jake Guentzel is due a new contract after this season, as is Matt Murray the season after that. The team’s third- and fourth-line centers, Derick Brassard and Riley Sheahan, are entering the final year of their contracts. Those are priorities. When salary resources are scarce, it’s not wise to spend lavishly on luxury items like a 30-year-old middle-six winger who plays well away from the puck. The Penguins don’t have a deep farm system by any means, but even they can replace nine goals per season and a couple of shorthanded minutes per game from within. That means Hagelin will help the team try to win another championship, then seek his riches elsewhere on what could be his last big-dollar contract.

C. He’ll be traded this season.

If the Penguins keep 13 forwards, seven defensemen and two goalies on their opening-night roster, they’ll head into training camp with about $1.6 million in salary cap space. That’s a nice cushion to handle midseason injuries. It might be enough to make a pretty decent addition at the trade deadline, when prorated salaries make such transactions more feasible. It wouldn’t be enough for general manager Jim Rutherford to land a big fish for the left wing on his top two lines, however. Hagelin is by no means expendable, but the team would have at least a fighting chance at replacing what his brings to the table on the ice. And because of his talents, moving his salary probably wouldn’t prove too difficult.

THE PREDICTION

B. He’ll move on in free agency.

Unless trading Hagelin’s salary is the last hurdle standing between the Penguins and the addition of the perfect difference-making scorer on the wing, they’d be better off keeping him for one last season. If the Penguins are going to contend for another title, they’ll need more speed, not less. Then they’ll let him walk in free agency, which is what contending teams close to the salary cap do.

Keep up with the Pittsburgh Penguins all season long.

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