“Simplicity is the glory of expression."
-- Walt Whitman
Jay Beagle did not come to the NHL the easy way. He was not drafted by any NHL team, and he did not play his first professional hockey game until the age of 21, that with the Idaho Steelheads of the ECHL. He did not crack an NHL lineup until the age of 23, and he did not play in at least half of an NHL regular season until the age of 26, when he played in exactly half of the Washington Capitals’ 82 games of the 2011-2012 season.
Nevertheless, Beagle, entering his tenth season with the Caps, has 392 regular season games of experience (all with the Caps), 40th all-time in franchise history. He has done it by simplifying his game, staying within his lane, not going outside his comfort zone. He is a bottom-six forward who plays defense, kills penalties, wins more than he loses in the faceoff circle, and chips in the odd goal from time to time.
All of that was on display in 2016-2017 when he appeared in a career-high 81 games. He was tenth among forwards in even strength ice time per game (10:46), but he led all forwards in shorthanded ice time (2:45). Of 150 players taking at least 250 draws last season, Beagle finished ninth in winning percentage (56.4). And, he posted career highs in goals (13) and points (30), while going plus-20, by far his best such number in nine NHL seasons.
And it was not that Beagle had a sudden (“lucky,” if you will) surge in goals that inflated his total. As we noted at season’s end, Beagle had at least one goal in each of his eight ten-game splits for the season. And, he had a tight cluster of points among those splits, none below three for any ten-game split and none more than five.
Odd Beagle Fact… Over the past five seasons, four players have had at least four seasons winning more than 56 percent of their faceoffs (minimum: 250 faceoffs per season): Patrice Bergeron (five times), Jonathan Toews, Ryan Kesler, and Jay Beagle. This is not a bad neighborhood in which to reside.
Caps fans might look at Jay Beagle’s production last season and think it modest, even if it was a career year. On the other hand, Beagle was one of just 15 players in the league to appear in at least 75 games, average less than 14 minutes per game, and post at least 13 goals and 30 points. Here is another odd Beagle fact. As a penalty killer last season he was credited with almost as many shots on goal while shorthanded (19) as he accumulated over his entire career preceding last season (20). Overall, he has averaged almost 13 goals per 82 games over the last three seasons (12.7). And last season was the first in his career in which he earned votes for the Selke Trophy as the league’s top defensive forward (24 votes, tied for 21st with Joe Thornton, Brandon Dubinsky, and Jean-Gabriel Pageau).
Here’s another odd Beagle fact. Of the 12 forwards who dressed for at least half the Caps’ games last season, Jay Beagle had the worst shot attempt percentage (Corsi-for) at 5-on-5 and was the only Capitals forward under 50 percent (47.16 percent, numbers from NHL.com). He has never finished any of his eight seasons at 50 percent or higher. And last spring was the first time since 2009 (when he appeared in just four postseason games and a total of barely 13 minutes) that he did not record a playoff point (13 games).
Potential Milestones to Reach in 2017-2018:
- 400 games played (currently has 392)
- 50 goals (currently has 44)
- 100 points (currently has 94)
- 2,000 faceoff wins (currently has 1,960)
The Big Question…Will Jay Beagle feel the loss of teammates from last season more than any other Capital?
This might strike you as an odd question. But consider that the nominal fourth line of Beagle, Daniel Winnik, and Tom Wilson from last season combined for 32 goals. In 2017-2018, Winnik will be a former teammate, and Wilson could be a former linemate (if he can hold onto a third, or even second line spot on the right side as a result of Justin Williams leaving). Beagle could be centering a line with wingers who have never skated with him. Among them include Devante Smith-Pelly, Riley Barber, Nathan Walker, Chandler Stephenson, Tyler Graovac (some of whom can play center); perhaps others. Smith-Pelly, a six-year veteran, has only one double-digit goal scoring season (14, split between Montreal and New Jersey in 2015-2016). Graovac is the only other member of the group to have recorded an NHL goal (seven, all of them last season with Minnesota).
This is a situation Beagle has not had to encounter in his career with the Caps. Although at 31 years old (he will be 32 in October) he is the second-oldest forward (Alex Ovechkin is a month older) and third oldest player on the current roster (defenseman Brooks Orpik will be 37 at the end of September), Beagle has largely skated with veterans – Winnik, Matt Hendricks, Brooks Laich, and Jason Chimera among them. He has not had to carry a line, even one with lesser responsibilities such as the fourth line. Carry might be too far a reach, given the expectations for a fourth line, but Beagle will have a task ahead of him of the sort he hasn’t had in previous seasons.
In the end…
Jay Beagle is one of four players currently on the roster who is in a walk year. His contract with the Caps expires at the end of the 2017-2018 season (as do those of Lars Eller, John Carlson, and Taylor Chorney). The situation in which he finds himself is not one that is conducive to putting up numbers that would cause folks to reflexively say, “re-sign this guy!” But how he manages his own game with new teammates, how he leads the trio, how he can deal with the mixing and matching he is likely to see among linemates between call-ups and injuries, and how he produces in that turbulent environment can provide a different kind of evidence to support bringing him back (salary cap limits aside).
What argues for Beagle being successful in an old role with new responsibilities is that he has displayed consistent improvement in production over his career, and he has done a good job of staying in his lane in terms of ability and effort. He’s a grinder, not a sniper, and even when he had first line minutes (in some of the odder experiments in Caps’ recent history) he played more like the fourth-liner he was than trying to be a big finisher. This season, it will be his maturity and the simplicity of his game that will be more on display.
Projection: 75 games, 10-12-22, plus-13
Photo: Patrick Smith/Getty Images North America