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Key Caps questions: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Capitals?

Key Caps questions: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the Capitals?

The dog days of summer are officially here, but it's never too hot to talk some hockey.

Capitals Insider Tarik El-Bashir and Capitals correspondent JJ Regan are here to help you through the offseason doldrums. They will discuss key questions facing the Caps for the upcoming season as Washington prepares to defend its title for the first time in franchise history.

Today's question: How much will the loss of Jay Beagle impact the team?

Tarik: Jay Beagle’s absence will be felt in a number of areas. Among the most obvious ones:

  • On draws, where he boasted the fourth best faceoff win percentage (58.5) in the NHL last season. When the Caps absolutely needed to win a D-zone draw in recent years, Beags was the guy and he often delivered.
  • On the penalty kill, where he accrued more shorthanded ice time per game than any other Caps’ forward by nearly 45 seconds. The coaches’ trusted Beagle to win draws, make the right read and, when necessary, eat a point blast. It’s not a glorious job, but it’s one Beagle embraced.
  • Off the ice, where his folksy charm made him extremely popular among his teammates, fans and the media. Beagle is a self-made man, having taken the circuitous route to a full-time NHL job, and his work ethic is contagious.

All that said, letting him walk was absolutely the decision that had to be made when you factor in the big raises due to John Carlson, Tom Wilson and Michal Kempny and the smaller salary bumps required for Devante Smith-Pelly, Madison Bowey and Travis Boyd.

Beagle, who turns 33 in October, ended up signing in Vancouver, where he’ll earn $3 million per over the next four years. That math simply wasn’t doable in Washington given the team’s star-laden lineup and the fourth line role he plays.

To overcome Beagle’s loss, the Caps’ centers, as a collective, will need to step up their efficiency in the faceoff circle as there likely won’t be a go-to in critical situations next season. Meanwhile, Wilson, Lars Eller, Chandler Stephenson and others will need to fill the void on the penalty kill.

My prediction? Losing Beags is going to hurt a bit, particularly early on as the bottom-six and penalty kill roles get sorted out. But, by midseason, a younger, cheaper, more offensive-minded option (think: Boyd, Stephenson or Nic Dowd) will be making his mark as the fourth line pivot.

JJ: Beagle may be a fourth line center, but one aspect of his game in which he was among the best in the league was the face-off. Tarik quoted the stats above, but he finished fourth in the NHL winning 58.5-percent of the draws he took. The Caps are going to miss that aspect of his game dearly.

Lars Eller (49.3) and Evgeny Kuznetsov (44.2) both finished with win percentages below .500. Backstrom had a winning percentage, but with only 51.2-percent, there's no clear go-to guy on the face-off anymore.

When you go back and watch last season, Beagle was taking almost every critical draw. He would even start 3-on-3 overtime and quickly make his way to the bench after winning possession.

Face-offs are a critical aspect of the game and if the Caps cannot get possession of the puck at critical moments, that is going to cost them some points this season.

From a personal level, Beagle was a joy in the locker room for both teammates and media alike. For several years now you always hear the players talk about how much they love playing with this team, how much the players enjoy being around one another. Beagle was a big part of that.

Beagle was not shy on breakdown day about his desire to stay in Washington, but when you see what he ultimately signed for in Vancouver there's no question the Caps made the right move in letting him go. The Caps have only about $1 million left under the cap ceiling. Had Washington kept Beagle, one would assume the team would not have signed Nic Dowd. If you add Dowd's $650k back to the cap, that's still less than $2 million of cap space to work with. Beagle's new deal is worth $3 million per year.

Who would you be willing to lose to keep Beagle? That's a really tough question to answer.

Other key Caps questions:

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Projecting the Caps’ opening night roster after first round of cuts

Projecting the Caps’ opening night roster after first round of cuts

The Capitals are a week into training camp and the opening roster is starting to come into focus. The first round of cuts was made on Thursday and while none of the names were all that shocking, it does tell us that the team does not intend to get cute with its roster makeup with Evgeny Kuznetsov out.

Here’s a projection of the Caps’ opening night roster through the first cuts and first week of camp.


Alex Ovechkin - Nicklas Backstrom - Tom Wilson
Jakub Vrana - Lars Eller - T.J. Oshie
Carl Hagelin - Travis Boyd - Richard Panik
Brendan Leipsic - Nic Dowd - Garnett Hathaway
Chandler Stephenson

Suspended: Evgeny Kuznetsov

The top two lines are all but set. They have been practicing this way for much of camp and it seems unlikely that Todd Reirden will start that way and then randomly shuffle his top six.

Stephenson did little to help his stock on Monday with an underwhelming performance in the preseason opener against a pretty bad Chicago lineup. I see him in Washington the first week but sent down to Hershey once Kuznetsov returns. He is someone who could probably clear waivers even if it not done on the traditional waiver dump right before the league season officially starts. Boyd did a little better than Stephenson on Monday and I think he will ultimately get to stick around this season in case the team wants to boost the offense of the fourth line. For now, he can be inserted in on the third line at center.


Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitry Orlov - Nick Jensen
Jonas Siegenthaler - Radko Gudas
Christian Djoos

The conversation around Kempny shifted a bit on Wednesday. The sense I was getting prior to that was that the team was all-in on Kempny being ready for the first game of the regular season. Reirden reiterated that on Wednesday, but also said he would like to get him into a preseason game if possible. To me, that may be a sign that Kempny is progressing. Even if he is not ready for the preseason, I do believe he is on pace for the start of the regular season at this point.

I felt Jensen looked pretty comfortable in the preseason opener on Monday. Granted that was against a bad roster, but he red plays well, jumped up into the offense and, critically, he was able to hold his own on the left side which is something he was really dreadful at last season.

Gudas scored a goal on Wednesday, but I thought he looked a bit slow in his own end. As of now, I still give Jensen the edge in that race and I think Gudas will be better off on the third pair anyway.

Djoos was better than Siegenthaler on Monday, but I feel Siegenthaler bought himself some time with his performance in the playoffs last year. It is going to be really hard for the Caps to justify Djoos’ salary as $1.25 million is too much for a No. 6-7 defenseman. Ultimately, the onus is on him to show the team he is someone they simply cannot afford to lose.

There is a way for the team to keep Djoos, but it depends on who backs up Braden Holtby.


Braden Holtby
Vitek Vanecek

Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov played well enough on Wednesday that replacing Pheonix Copley seems like a real possibility. You need to see more from them than simply half a preseason game, but we will get that chance as the preseason rolls along. The problem here is Copley’s $1.1 million cap hit. If Vanecek and Samsonov can get the job done for less money -- and it looked like they could against St. Louis -- then Copley is likely headed to waivers.

Why Vanecek over Samsonov? First off, with this roster projection, the team could afford to keep Djoos with Vanecek as a backup with his $716,667 cap hit, but not with Samsonov's $925,000 cap hit. The cap is that tight. Getting Samsonov consistent playing time is also important for his development. He will get that in Hershey, but not in Washington. Vanecek is waiver exempt so the team will still be able to shuffle Samsonov and Vanecek to make sure they both get NHL playing time. That added flexibility is a plus as well. Otherwise, it would mean putting Copley on waivers in the middle of the season when he is probably more likely to get claimed.


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Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

Capitals roster cuts: Draft picks Connor McMichael, Aliaksei Protas headline initial round

The Capitals made their first round of training camp cuts on Thursday, trimming 18 players from the team’s roster including preseason standouts Connor McMichael and Aliaksei Protas.

McMichael was Washington’s first-round draft pick in 2019. He tallied an incredible assist in Monday’s preseason opener, backhanding a no-look pass to a wide-open Damien Riat. His solid performance earned him another game on Wednesday where he moved up to the third line. The highlight of the night was McMichael attempting a between-the-legs shot on Stanley Cup champion goalie Jordan Binnington.

“It’s a pretty good goalie he was trying that move on,” head coach Todd Reirden said. “He has some swagger to him, he has some confidence. He’s not afraid to try plays. That’s some of the stuff that pushes guys into the first round.”

McMichael’s strong play in camp and in the preseason opened the door perhaps for him to compete to stay in Washington for the start of the season.

With the suspension to Evgeny Kuznetsov, Washington finds itself down a center for the first three games. With Lars Eller moving up to the second line, that leaves an opening on the third between Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik, where McMichael played on Wednesday.

That, however, does not appear to be in the cards as McMichael is headed back to his junior team, the London Knights.

Protas, who scored a goal and two assists on Monday, was also among the players cut. A third-round draft pick in 2019, Protas was extremely impressive in the preseason for his all-around game. He showed good awareness, vision and speed. His skating form needs work, but this is a player who looks like he has an NHL future ahead of him which is not always the case for mid-round draft picks.

The fact that McMichael and Protas were among the first cuts should not be seen as an indictment of their play by the team. Junior players are usually among the first cuts so they can return to their teams during training camp. The only reason this was a question was because of Kuznetsov’s suspension, but ultimately the team has other candidates to turn to at third-line center. With a brutal October schedule, the first week of the season may not be the best time to get cute or creative with roster choices.

Here are all of the cuts the Caps made on Thursday:

Loaned to their junior teams:

Eric Flrochuk (Saskatoon, WHL)
Alex Kannok-Leipert (Vancouver, WHL)
Connor McMichael (London, OHL)
Aliaksei Protas (Prince Albert, WHL)

Released from their ATOs:

Hayden Hawkey
Beck Warm

Assigned to Hershey:

Casey Bailey
Erik Burgdoerfer
Tommy Hughes
Kale Kessy
Chris McCarthy
Matt Moulson
Logan Thompson
Matthew Weis
Steven Whitney

Kody Clark and Riley Sutter, who are both dealing with upper-body injuries, were reassigned to Hershey as well to continue rehab.

In addition, Damie Riat has been returned to his European team EHC Biel-Bienne of the NLA in Switzerland.