On Monday, the Capitals pulled off one of the bigger trades of the day when they acquired Jason Arnott from the New Jersey Devils. He was a player that was in most discussions as someone who could really help the Caps both on the ice in the second-line center position, and off the ice with his veteran experience and leadership.
The Caps clearly had to give something up for a player like this, and Lou Lamoriello’s asking price was center David Steckel. Steckel is one of the best faceoff men in the league, winning 63.7% of his draws, and is a defensive role player and penalty killer. These are skills a team generally doesn’t want to give up, but the Capitals have two players who can fill that role: Byod Gordon and Jay Beagle.
Boyd Gordon is the longest tenured Capital on the club. He was the Capitals 1st round draft pick in 2002, 17th overall. Gordon debuted with the Caps in the 2003-2004 season and has with them (with some AHL stints mixed in) ever since. He has spent most of his career playing the exact same role as Steckel: tough at the dot, defensive forward who will eat up a lot of PK minutes. While not as skilled at faceoffs as Steckel, Gordon is likely the better overall player.
Gordon doesn’t come without his faults. He has not once played a full NHL season. His high is 71 games he played during the 2006-2007 season. Plagued by what seem like constant back problems, Gordon has averaged only 59 games in the 4 seasons he has spent entirely with the Capitals (without AHL demotions). This season, he has played on 42 of the Caps’ 64 games, tallying one goal and five assists.
Injuries have always gotten in Gordon’s way, and that was why it was always good to have both him and Steckel around for Washington. When Gordon was hurt (which was often) Steckel could fill the void. Gordon can’t be depended on for an entire season, so the there needs to be a backup plan in place for when he inevitably goes down. That’s where Jay Beagle comes in.
Beagle was never drafted out of college, but was rather signed as a free agent in the minors. In a typical underdog story, he worked his way up and is finally getting regular ice time for the Capitals this season. He has played 23 games for the Caps, with 2 goals and 1 assist. This is his first season with extended time with the Capitals. He has spent the last 3 seasons playing mainly for Hershey of the AHL.
Beagle is scrappy and hard-working. He has speed and a desire to play a simple game that likens him to players such as Brooks Laich. Beagle is injured at the moment and hasn’t fully established himself on the Capitals roster, but without Steckel, he can fill in for Gordon when he get injured.
With two able-bodied replacements, the question becomes: who will step up? Will it be the experienced Gordon, who may be the best man for the job but can’t seem to stay healthy? Or will it be the fresh-faced youngster Beagle, who is faster and has proven to be more durable? With options like these, it’s no wonder the Capitals felt okay parting with David Steckel.