Look at this ink blot… what do you see?
Do you see a hardworking and lovable forward who can play up and down the lineup? Or a pricey fourth liner who is solid at his position but overvalued by his coach and easily replaceable? Jay Beagle has long been a Rorschach test, provoking debate among fans and pundits alike.
Fresh off his first career overtime winner and tenth goal of the season last week, Beagle has somewhat settled that argument. It’s clear he’s more than a replacement level fourth liner, and it’s worth investigating what he’s meant to the team this season and what we can expect from him going forward.
In offensive production, Beagle has been more than carrying his weight. In five-on-five score adjusted statistics, he is scoring goals at the fifth highest rate among Caps forwards (1.03 per sixty) and generating assists at the seventh highest rate (0.90 per sixty). He is also sixth in individual scoring chance production — better than Andre Burakovsky and Nick Backstrom.
|Goals/60||Primary Points/60||Scoring Chances/60||Shot Attempts/60||Shooting %|
And Beagle is producing that offense while starting in the defensive zone 44 percent of the time. That is nine percent higher than the next forward on the Caps, and 18th highest among all forwards in the league this season. His on-ice goals for percentage is 70.3, sixth best on the Caps (and very much helped by the .961 save percentage he’s seen in the net behind him).
And we haven’t mentioned that Beagle is winning 59.0 percent of his faceoffs, fourth best in the league and seventh best over the last three years (among forwards taking at least 100 draws).
But those numbers don’t tell the whole story. Jay Beagle is taking shot attempts at the lowest rate on the team, and he has scored on 18.2 percent of his shots on net this season. That is the highest of his career by six percent, although he has generally been an efficient shooter in recent years. His shot attempts are also second closest to the net among Caps forwards, on average.
As a team, the Caps generally fare worse when Beagle is on the ice. Adjusted for score, they are a 47.1-percent possession team with Beagle. That’s not good by any standard, and it’s more than seven percent below the team’s average (worst of any regular Caps player). He eats huge minutes on the penalty kill, but the team bleeds shots and is scored on more often when he’s on the PK.
So, the process while Beagle is on the ice continues to look mediocre at best. Over a huge sample size, the Caps allow more shots and take fewer of their own when Beagle is skating.
But the results are generally there. He’s shooting from in tight, getting scoring chances, and putting up respectable points (especially given that he truly has seen fourth line deployment this year, other than brief stints on higher lines). And even if his scoring drops off, it’s fair to expect him to continue to chip in the odd goal as he crashes the net. Chipping in the odd dirty goal come playoffs can make or break an entire series.
But aside from the stats there is Jay Beagle the person. As fans we see his persistent (no dog puns in this piece) forechecking and perpetual hustle. And the extent to which coaches praise him is almost comical.
In 2011, Bruce Boudreau said, “he works so hard… I’d like to see him have some success because he works so hard. He’s such a good teammate.” One year later Dale Hunter said, “he works too hard. You wouldn’t want to play against him because you know he’s going to work both ways – defensively, offensively, and he’s just a hard-working kid.”
Adam Oates famously played him on the top line to spur Alex Ovechkin, saying he paired him with Beagle because the Caps “needed something. We needed a spark.”
And just this year Barry Trotz put the cherry on top by saying, “you gotta love Jay Beagle. I mean, who doesn’t love Jay Beagle? As a player, as a person, because he works at his game.”
This serves as a reminder that a roster spot on an NHL team may be a very unusual form of employment, but it is employment nonetheless. Putting trust in Beagle to be more than an average grinder is a very understandable personnel decision. It’s important to limit our expectations, but it’s also clear that in this do-or-die year Beagle is a more critical component than he may have previously gotten credit for, and he’ll be relied on to contribute some vital depth scoring.
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