“The shovel is brother to the gun.”
-- Carl Sandburg
Carl Sandburg penned that line in his poem, “Iron,” a short verse about war and death. Hockey is not war, but it is a battle. Players do not die, but they do make physical sacrifices. And for every big scorer with a powerful shot, there is a teammate with a shovel of sorts doing his part.
Jay Beagle does not have a big gun in his arsenal. He carries a shovel. At 30 years of age, it appears he is and will remain a player whose top-end offensive numbers will be modest – he has 18 goals and 37 points in 119 games over his last two seasons, his best two seasons in the NHL, although his shooting percentage over those two seasons (11.4 percent) is far above his career mark (9.5 percent). He does two things not commonly showing up in the box score very well. For example, of 114 players taking at least 250 faceoffs last season, Beagle was third in winning percentage (58.1 percent), behind Jonathan Toews (58.6 percent) and Ryan Kesler (58.5 percent). If he had won three more of the 637 draws he took, he would have finished first. And, his goals against/60 (1.39) was second-best on the team (Nicklas Backstrom: 1.37). That might be as attributable to Beagle’s fourth line role as it might be to defensive skill, but it is still a good number.
Jay Beagle might be a fourth-liner, but he’s also sixth on the active roster list of Capitals skaters in games played (311). It would be more, but he has missed significant chunks of games to injury since he made his first appearance in the NHL in the 2008-2009 season. He missed seven games late in the 2010-2011 season to an upper-body injury. There were the 31 games missed at the start of the 2011-2012 injury due to a concussion suffered in a fight. He had two stretches (five games and 14 games) out of the lineup in 2014-2015 due to upper-body injuries. And there were the 24 games missed last season to a hand injury.
By now, most Caps fans know that Jay Beagle is something of a good luck charm. Until the Caps lost to the New York Rangers last March 4th, 3-2, the Caps had never lost a game in regulation time when Beagle scored a goal. As it is, the Caps are 23-1-5 in the 29 games in which Beagle scored a goal over his career. Think of it as the power of secondary (or tertiary…or quaternary, given his fourth-line role) scoring. More than that, though, is that perhaps the light has gone on over Beagle’s head on the matter of scoring at this level. Not that he is ever going to make anyone forget Alex Ovechkin as a goal scorer, but his goals and points per game over the last two seasons (0.15/0.31) are more than double his production over his first four seasons (0.07/0.14).
I think someone performed an exorcism on Beagle, because there’s no possession. Get it? Get it?? OK, but hey, he finished 10th of 13 forwards on the team with 250 or more 5-on-5 minutes in Corsi-for percentage last year (49.83; numbers from Corsica.hockey). And it might have been nice if he had more than one point in the Caps’ last nine playoff games last spring. Sure, he’s a fourth liner, but it’s a bit of a trend…two points in his last nine playoff games in 2015, one in seven games in 2013 (the Caps did not reach the postseason in 2014), two in 12 games in 2012. Just a little more would help.
The Big Question… Is Jay Beagle a potential 30-point player?
Don’t laugh. Well, don’t laugh too hard. Over his last two seasons, his per-82 game scoring pace is 12-13-25. If he stays healthy, perhaps he gets into and stays in a rhythm. Consider that last season he was 6-6-12 in his first 36 games before injuring his hand against Buffalo and missing almost two months. That’s a 14-14-28 pace over 82 games. Maintaining that kind of a scoring pace does depend on his being healthy and maintaining the shooting percentage he posted over the last two seasons. A healthy dose of skepticism with respect to the latter might be in order when one remembers that his 11.4 percent shooting percentage over the last two seasons dwarfs the 6.4 percent he posted over his first six seasons. Is it a new normal, or does he regress to a lower steady state? If it is the former, maybe he can be a 30-point player, or close to it.
In the end…
Jay Beagle is a decent fourth line forward. As far as value goes, if you look at average annual value, Beagle (31 years old, $1,750,000) sits squarely among a group of players of whom is might be said there are some you might rather have (Teddy Purcell) and others you might prefer Beagle to (Matt Hendricks; AAV information from generalfanager.com) as a Capital. If you turn that statement around a bit, though, you might conclude that Jay Beagle is a very replaceable player. Such is the case with fourth liners. Is there that much difference between Beagle and a Mark Letestu or a Ryan Garbutt, both of whom are also in that AAV neighborhood?
If you are thinking “production,” though, getting a handle on Beagle is not so easy. He has produced at a better-than-career level the past couple of years, but is that sustainable or a product of the randomness of better shooting percentages? He might be more effective with more consistent health, but he has missed at least 20 games in each of the last three seasons. The one thing that seems as certain as anything is that there will be no talk of Beagle as a potential third-line center. He has as well-defined a role as anyone on the team: fourth line minutes, winning faceoffs, and providing an energy lift in the 12-14 minutes of ice time he seems likely to get per game. It’s hard, but necessary work. Bring a shovel.
Projection: 62 games, 7-8-15, minus-1
Photo: Bruce Bennett/Getty Images North America