Jay Beagle: Another Questionable Decision By Capitals’ GM MacLellan

Brian MacLellan has been the general manager of the Washington Capitals for roughly over a year and has altered much of the team’s personnel, both on the ice and behind the bench. He earned his GM title after a non-playoff 2013-14 season by George McPhee and Adam Oates, which concluded with the exit of the former GM/head coach duo.

MacLellan went on to add an established coaching staff beginning with head coach Barry Trotz , followed by the addition of two big name free agents in defensemen Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik. There was much excitement around the team, deservedly so.

Brian MacLellan awarded Brooks Orpik with a five year contract last summer (Tom Turk/THW)
Brian MacLellan awarded Brooks Orpik with a five-year contract last summer (Tom Turk/THW)

Washington had a good year, topped the Islanders in the playoffs, but fell in seven games to the New York Rangers in the Eastern Conference semi-finals. However, moves were made that forfeited a small but important part of Washington’s long-term future.

Along with the Brooks Orpik contract (five years) which will cause damage sooner than people think, MacLellan traded away three draft picks in two deals near the NHL trade deadline last March. The idea of improving your team isn’t problematic when trading draft picks, but acquiring players such as defenseman Tim Gleason and forward Curtis Glencross when it doesn’t turn you into a Stanley Cup contender is rather pointless. Washington wasn’t in a position to make a run at a championship, and that fact was clearly known, yet they still added players who did not make a substantial impact on the ice.

The Capitals aren’t in a position to win a Stanley Cup right now either. However, Brian MacLellan inked 29-year-old center Jay Beagle, who has posted above four goals just once in his NHL career, a three-year contract worth $5.75 million, an average of $1.75 million annually. The Calgary native has played all 254 of his NHL contests with the Capitals, who signed Beagle as an undrafted free agent. Beagle played two seasons at the University of Alaska-Anchorage in the WCHA before turning pro.

“We are pleased to re-sign Jay to a new three-year contract,” MacLellan said in a statement. “Jay is a hard-working player who plays multiple positions and is an excellent face-off man and penalty killer. Jay has improved steadily since joining our organization and has always brought his game to a different level in the playoffs.”

There are caveats to MacLellan’s statement, following Jay Beagle’s best career season. He netted 10 goals on just 84 shots, a shooting percentage of 11.9, compared to his 7.9% career clip. The 2014-15 campaign was the first time Beagle recorded over 10 points in a season. He’s yet to play a full season either, playing 62 games each of the last two years.

“Beagle, 29, set career highs in goals (10), assists (10) and points (20) in 2014-15 and tied his career high in games played (62). The 6’3”, 212-pound center earned a career-high three points (2g, 1a) on Feb. 11 at San Jose and recorded three of his four career multi-point games last season. The Capitals are 17-0-4 all-time when Beagle scores a goal and were 15-0-1 in 204-15 when he earned a point. In 254 career NHL games with Washington (2008-15), Beagle has registered 47 points (23g, 24a) and 97 penalty minutes.” – Capitals PR

There is nothing wrong with using Beagle as a fourth-line player, but shelving out three years is ill-advised. There are players that Washington should utilize as alternatives to a three-year pact with Beagle, including unrestricted free agent Eric Fehr and young center Michael Latta. Even Liam O’Brien held down a fourth-line role for Washington last season, albeit in 13 games, but he’s still a part of the organization and is an option if there are injuries to the Capitals bottom-six forwards.

In terms of being a solid penalty killer, MacLellan’s claim is overstated. Beagle ranked last in shots allowed per sixty minutes during four-on-five penalty killing for the Capitals last season according to puckalytics.com, allowing 53.7 shots against, trailing Eric Fehr (43.6/60), Joel Ward (50.7), Brooks Laich (52.6), Troy Brouwer (53.4) and Jason Chimera (53.6). Out of the six players named above, Beagle started in the defensive zone 69.4% of the time, lower than all of the players listed above with the exception of Eric Fehr (43.6%).

He’s a versatile forward, but Washington overpaid for his services, and that’s certainly not a strong method for building a solid four-line team. This is just the start of a strenuous offseason for MacLellan; the team has amble cap room to fit in their restricted free agents, but overpaying for marginal pieces is not an ideal philosophy for a team on the rise.