Lightning Need Hagel to Prove his Worth Against the Maple Leafs

In recent years, Tampa Bay Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois has shown that he is willing to pay a premium at the trade deadline if it means he is able to bring back the perfect player for his team. At the 2022 Deadline, he continued this trend when he acquired Brandon Hagel, a 2022 fourth-round pick and a 2024 fourth-rounder from the Chicago Blackhawks for Boris Katchouk, Taylor Raddysh, a 2023 first-round pick, and a 2024 first-round pick.

By all accounts, this was an unexpected blockbuster deal by BriseBois, but when you looked at the bigger picture, the pieces quickly lined up. Hagel is a young forward that plays a strong game both in the offensive and defensive zone who is signed to a reasonable contract that will give the Lightning a cost-controlled asset for years to come. These players have a lot of value in a cap-conscious league like the NHL, and when they come available on the trade market, it can make sense to sell the farm in order to acquire them.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
When the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired Brandon Hagel at the 2022 Trade Deadline, they paid a premium for a forward they believed would be a difference-maker for more than just one postseason appearance. (Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)

However, if you are BriseBois, you didn’t just acquire Hagel for his future potential. The Lightning believe that he can make a difference on the ice right now, and if they are going to make it through the postseason and win their third-straight Stanley Cup, he will have to be an X-factor for the organization from puck drop of Game 1 at Scotiabank Arena.

Hagel Can Be an X-Factor for the Lightning

Since joining the Lightning back in March, Hagel has seen a marked drop in his scoring output. In 55 games played with the Blackhawks, he scored 21 goals and 37 points while taking on roughly 17:30 of ice time each night. With Tampa Bay, he only posted four goals and seven points in roughly 13:30 of ice time each night.

Related: Lightning Are Still the Favorites Against the Maple Leafs

Now there are many reasons why this drop in scoring shouldn’t be much of a concern for the Lightning. First a foremost, Hagel went from being a top-six centerpiece for Chicago to an auxiliary depth player for Tampa Bay. His time on the powerplay has been limited, and he is no longer playing alongside the likes of Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat, which will naturally reduce his scoring opportunities.

That doesn’t mean that he hasn’t been a useful player for the Lightning, though. What the team is asking Hagel to do instead is embrace the defensive aspects of his game on their third-line while taking on a prominent role on the penalty kill. Since the trade, he has become a key penalty killer and has even chipped in a goal and two points shorthanded.

Brandon Hagel Chicago Blackhawks
While Hagel had a more prominent offensive role with the Chicago Blackhawks, his defensive game will be key for the Lightning throughout the 2022 Playoffs. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If you’re BriseBois, this is what you want to see from Hagel. Sure, points are always appreciated, but when you have a deep core of forwards who can score seemingly at will, defense becomes a much more impactful factor on the ice. Right now, they need those players who can break up passes, steal the puck, and shut down the opponent’s top scorers just as much if not more than they need secondary assists.

Hagel is a Retread for the Lightning

As the Lightning prepare to take on the Toronto Maple Leafs in Round 1, it’s important to set the expectations for a player like Hagel properly. He’s not going to be an offensive juggernaut whose scoring prowess drives the team forward. What he can be is that perfect third-liner who puts himself and the team in the right position to succeed.

Related: 5 Keys for a Long Maple Leafs’ Playoff Run

In 2020 and 2022, the Lightning had players like Blake Coleman, Yanni Gourde, and Barclay Goodrow take on that role on the third line. Sure, they could have contributed more to the scoring stat line if they played big minutes in the top-six, but once they settled into their defensive first game plan with scoring upside, it made the team significantly better overall.

Comparing Hagel to these proven Lightning winners is unfair, but there is a path forward where he can carve out a legacy with the team similar to their own. So, if Tampa Bay wants to win their third-straight Stanley Cup in 2022, they will need their trade deadline blockbuster acquisition to contribute meaningful defensive play on the ice above all else.