With the Capitals’ 2015-16 season now in the rearview mirror, we continue with our numerical player-by-player roster analysis.
No. 83 Jay Beagle
Age: 30 (turns 31 on Oct. 16)
Penalty minutes: 24
Time on ice: 14:00
Playoff stats: 12 games, 3 goals, 0 assists, plus-1, 2 PIM, 16 shots, 13:12
Contract status: Two years remaining on a 3-year, $5.25 million contract. ($1.75 million cap hit, $1.75 million salary).
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One of the biggest questions facing the Capitals as they consider draft day trades and July 1 free agency is whether they envision Jay Beagle as a center on the third line or fourth line.
If the Caps believe they can win a Stanley Cup with Beagle as their third-line center, they will look to improve their bottom nine with speed and offense on the wing. If not, they’ll look to strengthen themselves down the middle, where, if the Caps see Marcus Johansson as a winger, their organizational depth chart reads:
If the Caps see Beagle as a fourth-line center, they may target the Islanders’ Frans Nielsen as a free-agent possibility. If they see Beagle as their third-line center, they may lean toward a winger like Andrew Ladd, Milan Lucic or Teddy Purcell, each of whom would require more salary space than the Caps are likely to have on July 1.
“I think speed needs to be a factor for us considering any players,” Caps general manager Brian MacLellan said. “Overall, I don’t think we’re a slow team, but I think at times, we get exposed with the really fast teams. Dallas and Pittsburgh, we did struggle sometimes with the pace of the game.
“I think at different points of the season guys did well (at third-line center). We put Marcus there and he did well for a period of time. I thought Beagle did well for a period of time. (Mike) Richards did well in a defensive role for a period time. I don't think we found the permanent solution throughout the year. It seemed to keep changing on us. But we seemed to fill a hole through the year with different guys.”
Beagle said he thought he was playing some of his best hockey when he fractured his wrist on Dec. 30 against the Buffalo Sabres. At that time Jason Chimera and Tom Wilson were his linemates and the Capitals were establishing themselves as the best team in the Eastern Conference.
Beagle said his grip strength was about 70 percent when he returned to the lineup on Feb. 28. Still, he finished the season with eight goals and nine assists, which would have equaled a career-high 12 goals and 24 points over an 82-game season.
In the playoffs, Beagle netted three goals in 12 games and was the only bottom nine forward for the Capitals who produced more than two points. By comparison, Pittsburgh Penguins third-line center Nick Bonino recorded nine goals and 20 assists in 63 games in the regular season, and has four goals and 14 assists in 23 playoff games.
“I want to be a third-line center, that’s what I want to be,” Beagle stressed after the season. “That’s up to the coaching staff and the coaches, but coming into this year, that was my goal, to make that third line stronger. I felt like the coaches gave me that opportunity and when I had that opportunity I did my best with it. Playing with a guy like Chimmer and Willie, it was awesome and it was a lot of fun.”
Beagle’s value went beyond his contributions at even strength. In the playoffs he led all Capitals forwards in average shorthanded ice time (2:36), blocked shots (nine) and led all centers in faceoff winning percentage (54 percent, including 56.4 percent in the defensive zone).
Still, Beagle was left with an empty feeling after the Caps’ six-game playoff exit, which marked the fifth straight time Beagle has failed to get to a conference final with the Caps. Asked if he thought the Caps might have peaked in the regular season instead of the playoffs, Beagle paused.
“That’s a tough question,” he said. “I don’t know. I think so. I think Pitt obviously elevated their game towards the end of the season, going into the playoffs they had their game at the top. Having the lead that we had, we tried not to let off the gas, but going into the playoffs we felt good, we felt confident and we were playing good hockey. It’s just tough to compare Game 40 to a game in the playoffs.
“This (playoff exit) is by far the toughest, for sure,” he said. “We’ve had great teams in the past and the expectation is always to win the Cup. But this year, mentally, it was going all the way. We weren’t expecting to leave. It hurts.”
With 17 players under contract for next season, Beagle said he’s hoping the Capitals can take all of the positives from this 120-point regular season and go into next season on a mission to go deeper in the post-season.
“It is going to be a lot of us coming back,” Beagle said. “That’s exciting. Even from last year to this year, we hit the ground running. We had a good start to the year, we knew what to expect from the coaching staff and it was a fun year because we knew what to expect and a lot of us, the core group came back and we’ll expect that again for next year. It’s tough to get excited for next year right now, but that is the positive looking forward.
“Obviously, the team has grown a lot. You guys see it. It was a great year, we had a great year, it was a great group of guys, a great team, a fun group of guys to be a part of and so what I can take away from that is that I’m excited for next year. That’s the only thing you can take away from it once you’re out and the dust settles.
“I’m motivated and I think everyone is motivated to go into the summer and get stronger, work hard, come back better individually and that will make the team stronger. “I wasn’t ready to be done. The body feels good and I feel like I should get back to getting ready for next season. I’ll take time off, obviously, and let the body completely heal, but I’m motivated. I want to win a Cup. We saw how good we can be this year and that gives me a lot of motivation and I’m sure it gives a lot of other guys motivation, too.”
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