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Penguins

Mark Madden: Penguins' trade of Carl Hagelin sends message

| Friday, Nov. 16, 2018, 7:33 p.m.
Carl Hagelin had one goal in 16 games for the Penguins this season before being traded.
Chaz Palla | Tribune-Review
Carl Hagelin had one goal in 16 games for the Penguins this season before being traded.

Trading Carl Hagelin to the Los Angeles Kings for Tanner Pearson wasn’t just about the talent involved as far as the Pittsburgh Penguins are concerned.

Hagelin is a little faster, Pearson a little bigger. Each is a borderline top-six left wing or a very solid third-liner.

Hagelin’s salary cap hit is higher: $4 million to Pearson’ s $3.75 million. But the Penguins will keep a bit of Hagelin’s ticket to even that out. Hagelin is a free agent at season’s end. Pearson is signed through 2020-21.

Right now, neither can score. Pearson had zero goals in 17 games with the Kings, Hagelin one goal in 16 games as a Penguin. Pearson failed to scored in his first game with Pittsburgh.

To be blunt, each stunk with his prior team this season. A change of scenery might help.

But for Penguins general manager Jim Rutherford, it was mostly about jolting his team’s dressing room.

Winger Daniel Sprong and center Derick Brassard seemed most likely to be traded. Each may yet be.

But neither is that invested in the room, nor it in either of them. Swapping a relative stranger sends no message.

But Hagelin helped a big percentage of the current group win two Stanley Cups. He was an extremely well-liked member of the Penguins core.

Dealing Hagelin got the room’s attention.

A trade was required to do that, because nothing else is working. That’s how you lose six of seven. (Now seven of eight. Yikes.)

The Penguins have been stuck somewhere between complacent and confused. Motivation even seems lacking in many of the younger players. Some arrived in Pittsburgh, won right away, and have known little adversity at the NHL level.

Rutherford will try to fix that. That’s not all he has to fix.

But, locker-room impact duly noted, losing Hagelin is no big deal.

When a team wins championships, any participant is romanticized.

But Hagelin hasn’t been a prominent factor since the “HBK line” (Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel) ripped apart the 2016 playoffs.

Hagelin had 10 goals in 37 regular-season games after joining the Penguins that season, then six goals and 10 assists in 24 playoff games.

But since then, Hagelin had 17 goals in 158 regular-season games, and that’s despite skating quite a few shifts with Kessel and Evgeni Malkin. In the last two playoffs, Hagelin had four goals in 24 games.

Besides the “HBK line” running amok, Hagelin will be remembered for scoring the second goal in the Cup-clinching 2-0 victory in Game 6 at Nashville in 2017.

The goaltender was pulled. Hagelin got a breakaway. That was too often what Hagelin needed to score.

Mostly, Hagelin was a forechecker and a penalty-killer. Those abilities provided great value. He set the tempo for coach Mike Sullivan’s high-octane style.

But players such as Hagelin come and go. As evidenced by him playing for four teams since 2014.

Hagelin contributed. But he’s the kind of player you can’t fall in love with and not move for old times’ sake.

If Hagelin’s departure rattles the room’s cage, he will help the Penguins more via departing than he did in the 16 games he played for them this season.

Rutherford isn’t done dealing. Who’s next?

Sprong is frequently rumored, mostly because he’s on Sullivan’s pay-no-mind list.

But how can an aging team trade a 21-year-old winger with a knack for scoring without having given him a proper chance?

The Penguins’ window won’t be open much longer. (It might already be closed. Probably not, but that possibility can’t be dismissed. Chicago’s certainly slammed shut without much notice.)

But even when the Penguins cease being legit Cup contenders, the NHL will still keep them on the schedule.

Sprong will help then. He could help now, given the chance. Playing Sprong in place of Bryan Rust (one goal in 17 games) wouldn’t cause a cataclysmic defensive breakdown, and Sprong might even score. Rust won’t.

Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

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