BUFFALO — On the same day they welcomed their newest player, veteran forward Carl Hagelin, from the Los Angeles Kings, the Washington Capitals added another piece. By trading defenseman Madison Bowey and a second-round pick in the 2020 draft to the Detroit Red Wings, Washington on Friday brought in blue-liner Nick Jensen.
This is the fifth straight year that Capitals General Manager Brian MacLellan has added depth to the blue line before the trade deadline, and just as with deadline addition Michal Kempny last season, Jensen will be part of the Capitals beyond this season. Jensen had been set to become an unrestricted free agent after this season, but the Capitals quickly signed him to a four-year, $10 million extension after consummating the trade.
Earlier this month, MacLellan said he had been disappointed with the pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen, but he noted at the time that he was comfortable enough with the team’s defensive depth that he didn’t feel a need to acquire a blue-liner before Monday’s trade deadline. But as Friday’s trade for the 28-year-old Jensen showed, that changed.
“Nick is a reliable, modern-day defenseman who we feel can defend well and log valuable minutes for our club,” MacLellan said in a statement. “We feel he is just entering his prime.”
In the trade, the Capitals also received a fifth-round pick in the 2019 draft that originally belonged to the Buffalo Sabres.
Jensen is in his third NHL season and was widely considered the best rental defenseman available, and he carries a $812,500 salary cap hit. On his new contract, that figure will increase to $2.5 million next season. Jensen has two goals and 13 assists and is playing a career high of nearly 21 minutes per game this season. A right-handed shot, he could slot into the lineup on the third defensive pairing, replacing Christian Djoos or Brooks Orpik. Both of those players are left-handed; Djoos has been playing on his off side.
Extending Jensen also gives the Capitals stability should Orpik, 38, retire after the season. Orpik is on a one-year contract and has said he will approach his future on a year-to-year basis.
“He’s a little bit of a late bloomer, we feel, and just think that his best hockey is ahead of him,” Capitals Coach Todd Reirden said of Jensen. “The way he competes, he defends, skates, kind of the way the NHL is going now, we think he is a really good fit for our team, and obviously the penalty-kill ability and willingness to block shots and be tough to play against. There is a lot to like about the player.”
Bowey was Washington’s second-round pick in 2013. In 84 games with the Capitals over the past two seasons, Bowey had 18 points (one goal, 17 assists). Jonas Siegenthaler had seemingly passed Bowey on the depth chart, and with a strong pool of defense prospects waiting in the wings, the team thought it could make a change to emphasize its current championship window.
The Capitals have the maximum of 23 players on their roster and remain tight against the salary cap, so another addition before Monday’s 3 p.m. trade deadline would require a corresponding move.
In adding Jensen and Hagelin, the Capitals placed extra emphasis on the penalty kill. Jensen led Red Wings skaters in penalty-killing ice time per game (2:46), and Hagelin has long been considered skilled in that situation. The Capitals have struggled with their penalty kill this season; they entered Friday’s action ranked 22nd in the NHL.
“We wanted to solidify some of the areas we’ve been deficient in," Reirden said. “The penalty kill has been something that has improved for us . . . but it is still not where we want to have it, so we have two guys that can move into that situation and help us.”
Hagelin, whom the Capitals acquired Thursday for a third-round draft pick this year and a conditional sixth-round pick in 2020, had his first skate with the team Friday in Buffalo. The winger is projected to play in Saturday’s afternoon bout with the Buffalo Sabres; he practiced on the fourth line Friday with center Nic Dowd and Chandler Stephenson.
“I had a sense that [a trade] was going to happen," Hagelin said. "All the other ones kind of shocked me. This one, I knew there was a big possibility of me getting traded because it was the last year of my deal, and obviously I am happy that I ended up here.”
Until the Capitals’ Stanley Cup run last year, Hagelin had been on the winning side of all of his handshake lines against the Capitals in the playoffs. He has faced Washington in his past six trips to the playoffs, with his teams going 5-1. Hagelin had 15 points (six goals and nine assists) in those series — three with the New York Rangers and three with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now the two-time Stanley Cup winner will transition from being one of the Capitals’ constant postseason pains to a catalyst for the team’s bottom-six forwards and penalty killers.
“I’m excited to be here right now," he said. “I know what Washington is all about. ... There is definitely a familiarity there, and they should know what they are getting."
With his speed, Hagelin believes he will seamlessly fit into the Capitals’ system, despite his struggles to produce this season. He had two goals and six assists in 38 games between Pittsburgh and Los Angeles.
“I’ve been fortunate to play on good teams my entire career and play playoff hockey every year, so I’m really excited to be here and have a shot at going all the way," he said. "Most important right now is just making the playoffs. I can see they have good swagger, good guys on this team, and they know what it takes to win.”
Read more on the Capitals: