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:
- How will the Caps look different under Todd Reirden?
- Will the Caps suffer a Stanley Cup hangover?
- Can Alex Ovechkin still challenge for another Rocket Richard Trophy?
- Has Evgeny Kuznetsov made the jump from really good player to superstar?
- Will John Carlson repeat his career year after signing a long-term contract?
- Which Braden Holtby will we see this season?
- Will Tom Wilson make more headlines this season for his offense or physical play?
- Can Pheonix Copley handle the backup role?
- Can Jakub Vrana consistently play like a top-six forward?
- Will Devante Smith-Pelly's postseason performance translate into more production this season?