Blackhawks Benefiting From Hagel Trade Despite Lightning’s Success

The Chicago Blackhawks and Tampa Bay Lightning are in two vastly different situations. The former is beginning what will likely be a multi-year rebuild, while the latter just reached their third straight Stanley Cup Final. While it’s no doubt the Lightning are where the Blackhawks hope to be, now feels like the perfect time to revisit the trade both clubs made a little less than three months ago.

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On March 18, Blackhawks general manager (GM) Kyle Davidson traded forward Brandon Hagel to the Lightning along with two fourth-round picks for forwards Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, and Tampa Bay’s 2023 and 2024 first-round picks. At the time, the trade felt a little unexpected because of Hagel’s potential, but it showed Davidson’s commitment to a full-scale rebuild. Furthermore, it seemed like a win-win for both sides: the Lightning were getting an energetic middle-six forward, while the Blackhawks were building for the future through picks and young players.

Thus far, Tampa Bay has benefited from this deal; Hagel has given the Lightning decent depth over their playoff run. However, it also looks like a win for Chicago.

Hagel Adapting to Lightning

When the Blackhawks dealt Hagel, he was thriving in his second NHL season. He had 37 points in 55 games at the time of the trade, so seeing him leave was a tough pill for some Blackhawks fans to swallow. Finishing his sophomore campaign with the Lightning, Hagel then recorded seven points (four goals, three assists) in 22 games. Though his production noticeably dropped off from his Chicago tenure, he was also playing in a reduced role for Tampa Bay compared to the top-six minutes he often received with the Blackhawks.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Hagel, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

Offensively, it’s been a mixed postseason for Hagel. After recording four points (one goal, three assists) in Tampa Bay’s first-round matchup – a seven-game defeat of the Toronto Maple Leafs – Hagel then endured a nine-game pointless drought. He finally snapped out of it last Thursday when he notched an empty-net winner in Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers, a 3-1 Lightning win.

Now, it’s worth noting a few things. In Game 2 of Tampa Bay’s second-round matchup against the Florida Panthers, Hagel suffered a left leg injury off a blocked shot. Yet, he continued playing through it even after missing a few practices between Tampa Bay’s second and third-round series. He’s now a game-time decision for Wednesday’s Game 1 against the Colorado Avalanche. Despite these concerns, though, he’s played an important role on the team’s second line with Alex Killorn and Anthony Cirelli, which found a successful shutdown-based identity against the Rangers.

Because he’s just 23, it’s still a little too soon to determine what type of player Hagel could become. He’s shown signs of becoming a relentless power forward, and you could argue that’s who he already is. Since making his NHL debut in January 2021, he’s also stepped up his two-way game, as evident this postseason. I’m just not sure when we’ll see the best of Hagel, so to speak. Is he capable of scoring at a 55-60-point pace like he was in Chicago, or is he more of a decent third-line, two-way forward reflective of his Lightning tenure?

Hagel was a great piece for the Blackhawks, but three months later, I think Davidson made the right move. Albeit with a little less offense, he’s doing exactly what many thought he would at the time of the trade: giving the Lightning a solid two-way, middle-six forward reminiscent of players like Barclay Goodrow and Blake Coleman from their last two playoff runs.

Raddysh & Katchouk Continue Growing

Raddysh and Katchouk, both 2016 second-round picks by the Lightning, have experienced similar career paths. They both made their NHL debut in 2021-22 after spending time in the American Hockey League (AHL) and struggled to find full-time roles in Tampa Bay before coming to Chicago in March.

After recording 12 points (five goals, seven assists) in 53 games with the Lightning, Raddysh instantly shined in Chicago. In 21 games, he ended the regular season with 10 points (six goals, four assists). His ice time rose as he developed chemistry with forwards Philipp Kurashev and Sam Lafferty, both of whom should be back in Chicago next season.

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Much like Hagel, though, it’s too early to tell what type of player Raddysh could become, given that his performance and role drastically increased in Chicago compared to Tampa Bay. So far, however, the results look promising, and a fresh start could’ve been what he needed. He still has a lot to prove to find a long-term role in the top-six, but he brings plenty of versatility, size, and even a little bit of grit like Hagel.

Katchouk, on the other hand, isn’t exactly an offensive machine. In 38 games with the Lightning, he recorded seven points (three goals, four assists) before scoring one goal in 21 games with Chicago. Now, the Blackhawks have no shortage of options when it comes to filling out their bottom-six forward group for 2022-23, but Katchouk should get a spot as he’s young and still has promise. He also brings size and is an effective puck-handler – traits you want in any bottom-six forward.

Boris Katchouk Chicago Blackhawks
Boris Katchouk, Chicago Blackhawks (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Like Hagel, both players are set to become restricted free agents in 2024, giving Davidson plenty of time to assess their play and what impact they might have when Chicago contends again. For now, they’ve both been productive in their respective roles. For Raddysh, specifically, his late-season performance was nothing but encouraging. He could easily remain a bright spot next season if he continues making the most of the opportunities he wasn’t necessarily getting with the Bolts.

A Risk Worth Taking for Chicago

Because all three players involved in this trade are in their mid-20s and still have time to blossom, it’s too early to declare a clear-cut winner. Now, is it possible the Lightning overpaid for Hagel? Yes, but if he helps them win a third straight championship, that probably won’t matter as much. Despite a decrease in production and ice time since the deal, he’s a player who can help Tampa Bay win now.

With that said, this trade is slowly paying off for the Blackhawks. The great thing about getting Raddysh and Katchouk is while they still have a long way to go in their careers, they’ve shown potential when placed in the right situations and are NHL-caliber players. Between them and two first-rounders, this was incredible value for Hagel, who has brought a solid two-way presence to the Lightning but has become more of a role player compared to his Chicago tenure.

Furthermore, while Hagel was the most well-rounded player involved in this trade — and arguably still is — it’s hard not to be optimistic about Raddysh and his future. With increased minutes, he slowly found a scoring touch and thrived in the middle-six down the stretch. Since he’s just 24 and has a long time to prove himself, he’s not a player you rebuild around, but one you can rebuild with and who can slowly make an impact on a young club.

It was a bit of a shock to see Hagel go, but to get assets, you have to give up assets. That’s what Davidson did, and it seems successful so far. Looking back on it, while it may have not been a popular move at the time, it was a smart decision and one that could foreshadow what might come for the Blackhawks this offseason.

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