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Carl Hagelin's Return A Warning For Current Cap Situation

The Rangers are right up against the cap ceiling, and Hagelin's return marks a reminder of the ugly decisions that often come with that reality.

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

Carl Hagelin will make his return to Broadway tonight, facing off against the Rangers with his new Anaheim Ducks -- and a shiny four-year, $16-million deal. He returns mentally, ironically, right where he would have been had he not been traded; on a team with high expectations that's struggling mightily and looking for answers.

It's too soon to sift through the debris of that trade, especially since half of the return is WHL forward Ryan Gropp -- who is currently having a nice year in Seattle with 18 goals and 32 points in 30 games. It's still too soon to judge the impact of Emerson Etem's acquisition, as well, since the Rangers haven't really utilized him until recently. Although it should be noted Etem has seen marked improvement when he's actually a consistent presence in the lineup.

The Rangers, smartly, moved Hagelin this summer in a deal designed to save the Rangers cap space. It hurt at the time because Hagelin was a fan favorite, but as Adam reminded us over the summer it was a necessary decision:

Remove all emotional attachment to Carl Hagelin. Wipe your mind clear of his history with the Rangers, and just look at him for what he is as a hockey player. Right now, Hagelin is a very good third liner who can hold his own in the top-six, and he is justifiably asking to be paid as such. For the Rangers, that's just not a frugal investment. They just recently had to lock up some key players like Henrik Lundqvist, Marc Staal, Derick Brassard, Mats Zuccarello. Both Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider are going to be on that list in the next 12 months, and perhaps Keith Yandle as well. Hagelin is a good hockey player and was a fantastic servant to the organization and city, but dedicating $3.25M-$3.75M to a third-liner with other more important players to sign would be shooting themselves in the foot.

Glen Sather and Jeff Gorton did what they had to do, even if they had to pinch their noses while doing so.

This pressing reality continues to resonate as the Rangers inch forward towards difficult free agency decisions this summer. Again. Stepan has already been locked up but Kevin Hayes, Kreider and Yandle are going to be the focus on this summer's open season deadline -- as will J.T. Miller and Etem.

While Dan Boyle will be coming off the cap at the end of the year ($4.5-million), Dan Girardi ($5.5-million cap hit for four more years after this one) and Staal ($5.7-million cap hit for five years after this one) can pretty easily be traced as the Rangers biggest cap issues. For declining defenseman (especially Girardi at 31) the future is not forecasted to hold good things.

And since the Rangers are going to have to make some tough decisions come the end of the year, Hagelin should be a gentle reminder of why today's mess can become tomorrow's problem. I loved Hagelin, but also fully supported his move from New York. I thought the Rangers had a suitable replacement for him in Jesper Fast (I still do) and also have younger players in the pipelines (Oscar Lindberg and eventually Pavel Buchnevich) who will need space to play, too. This doesn't even take into account Etem.

Basically, Hagelin needed to be traded. Not just because the Rangers were right up against the cap with decisions to make but also because in today's day and age general managers need to be more careful than ever with their investments. I've said it a million times but will say it again: paying a player for tomorrow based off what he did yesterday is a mistake. And sometimes that means moving a guy a year or two too soon rather than a year or two too late.

Once the NHL roster freeze ends the Rangers will most likely be heaped into every trade rumor possible. In part because speculating a move to New York generates more page views than you can count, but also because the Rangers are struggling and need to do something to change what's going on.

Another motivation should be to pick the pieces that aren't fitting (both on the ice and in the cap chart) and get them to teams who want their services. It won't just make the Rangers better today, but it will make this summer easier to handle, too.

And it might help avoid trading away a guy like Hagelin.

Unless moving him is the right decision, of course.