Brandon Hagel, Tampa Bay Lightning

Lightning Hagel Signing Allows Team to Still Focus on the Future

The Tampa Bay Lightning are not going to rest on their laurels. As the team continues to deal with a tight salary cap, they have not only developed a roster to compete for another Stanley Cup in 2023-24, but they are also making sure that the Lightning will be a contender. Their latest move to make sure that happens is the recent announcement of extending the contract of 24-year-old Brandon Hagel.

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The team recently announced that the former sixth-round draft pick of the Buffalo Sabres agreed to an eight-year contract extension worth an average annual value of $6.5 million. The extension begins in the 2024-25 season. The Lightning acquired Hagel and a pair of fourth-rounders from the Chicago Blackhawks at the 2022 Trade Deadline in exchange for two first-round picks, Boris Katchouk, and Taylor Raddysh.

What Hagel Brings to the Lightning

The left-shot winger established career highs for goals (30), assists (34), and points (64) last season, which was his first full season with the Lightning. He finished tied for third on the team for goals and fourth in scoring. For those into metrics, Hagel posted strong underlying numbers offensively and on special teams. One of the other career marks he established last season was average time on ice (18:39) while also leading the Lightning in that category in the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Brandon Hagel Tampa Bay Lightning
Brandon Hagel, Tampa Bay Lightning (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

His style of play, along with the many things he can do for the Lightning, has certainly caught the attention of head coach Jon Cooper. “You can put him anywhere,” he said after a game in March when Hagel netted a hat trick against the Montreal Canadiens. “He’s like a Swiss army knife. You can put him on different lines, and he blossoms in different roles. This year he’s showing all sides of how versatile he is, and so it’s good for him.”

Lightning Build for the Future

Hagel becomes the latest member of the Lightning to sign a maximum-term eight-year extension, joining Brayden Point, Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev, and Erik Cernak, who are also all signed through at least 2029-30. All-world netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy is signed through 2027-28, while the Lightning recently re-signed restricted free agent Tanner Jeannot to a two-year contract.

Andrei Vasilevskiy Tampa Bay Lightning
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay Lightning (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

According to Elliotte Friedman and Rory Boylen of Sportsnet, the salary cap is projected to rise to $87.5 million for 2024-25. The Lightning are set to have $12.6 million in cap space next offseason, with captain Steven Stamkos as the only notable unrestricted free agent. No matter when Stamkos and the other two franchise players who are 30 and over, Nikita Kucherov and Victor Hedman, are no longer on the team, the Lightning have a solid core of young and developing players who will give them playoff-caliber talent for years to come.

Prospects Are the Only Uncertainty

Ideally, a team’s most direct route to providing roster talent is through their system’s prospects. For the Lightning, their prospect pool is a little shallower than other teams, as they have traded many draft picks in recent years to help them reach three consecutive Stanley Cup Finals. The Lightning gave up three first-round picks and a second, third, and fourth-round pick in future drafts for just Hagel and Jeannot. This led the Lightning to have only three late-round draft picks in the most recent entry draft, leading them to make a trade with the Colorado Avalanche in which they gave up Ross Colton in exchange for a second-round pick. This cap-cutting move did allow them to select Ethan Gauthier to bolster their prospect system.

Ethan Gauthier Sherbrooke Phoenix
Ethan Gauthier of the Sherbrooke Phoenix was drafted 37th overall by the Lightning (Vincent-L Rousseau/Phoenix de Sherbrooke)

Despite the selection of a player that most experts felt would go in the first round, The Athletic recently ranked the Lightning’s prospect pipeline 31st out of 32 NHL clubs (from ‘Tampa Bay Lightning rank No. 31 in NHL Pipeline Rankings for 2023, The Athletic, Aug. 19, 2023). Despite the lack of depth in the prospect pipeline, what the Lightning have done well is develop the talent that they have selected in the mid to later rounds. Current and former Lightning who are examples of the Lightning’s development include current Lightning Nick Perbix (sixth round), Anthony Cirelli (third round), and Brayden Point (third round), as well as former Lightning standouts such as Ondrej Palat (seventh round) and Ross Colton (fourth round)

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Knowing that they have a system that can develop mid to later-round talent gives Lightning management the flexibility to trade away draft picks and prospects to address current needs. General manager Julien BriseBois spoke on this after eyebrows were raised after giving up so many picks to acquire Jeannot. “When we look at what that’s worth to us, based on the odds of those picks turning into good NHL players down the road, I’d rather have the good player right now for this season and next and help this group win right now. Because I know what the odds are of those picks turning into players.”

Related: Lightning’s Top 4 Prospects for the 2023-24 Season

Due to a tight salary cap, the Lightning have had significant roster turnover following back-to-back Stanley Cup wins and three straight trips to the Final. With the signing of Hagel, the Lightning have now added another piece and have locked up the team’s young core for the long haul in the hopes their strategy of acquiring talent will allow the franchise to remain Cup contenders for years to come.

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