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Photo Credit: USA Today Sports

Jay Beagle Isn’t Likely to Bring Washington Penalty Killing Prowess to Vancouver

The Canucks made something of a splash on July 1st when they handed out 7.9 million dollars in average annual value (and 27.6 million dollars in total contract value) to the likes of Jay Beagle, Antoine Roussel, and Tim Schaller. Each of these players, in a vacuum, make fine additions. For two of them (Roussel and Schaller), I can rationalize the cap value, and for one (Schaller), I can get behind the term.

The Jay Beagle contract, however, is much tougher to swallow. He seems to be a great guy, and there are enough backers of his leadership abilities that I’m willing to buy into that, but I don’t see enough on-ice value to justify a multi-year contract at his age (he’ll be 33 at training camp), let alone one worth $12-million over four years.

One justification that has been put out there is the fact that Beagle kills penalties. A lot. The Canucks have generally been quite bad at killing penalties over the last few years, and the Washington Capitals, Beagle’s former squad, have been quite good. For a lot of people, this is enough to assume that Beagle is a catalyst for a good penalty kill. To me, this is frighteningly simplistic and lacks critical thinking, but there seems to be a persistent perception that there is a direct connection between getting a lot of penalty kill time and being good at it, especially if a good team is affording that time.

Over the last half decade, the Capitals have been a very good team, and accordingly they have had a very good penalty (you don’t often see teams win Presidents Trophies, as Washington did in 2015-16 and 2016-17, without some very good special teams). The Canucks have been the inverse, as their poor special teams have sunk them on so many nights. It is interesting however, that it has only been four seasons since Vancouver’s kill was markedly better than Washington’s.

Washington Vancouver
Rate Rank Rate Rank
2018 80.3 15 78.3 21
2017 83.8 7 76.7 28
2016 85.2 2 81.1 17
2015 81.2 14 85.7 2
2014 82.0 16 83.2 9

It’s also interesting that Washington’s PK took a substantial dip last season, with a kill rate in the middle of the league, and not that far above the Canucks as a matter of fact. As it happens, last season was also Jay Beagle’s worst unblocked shot rate of the past three seasons, coinciding with Washington’s faltering penalty kill rate. Whether he was a perpetrator or a victim of the Capitals’ diminishing kill rate is a matter of debate, but either way, it doesn’t exactly bode well. This is the first dent in the theory that Jay Beagle will bring penalty kill prowess with him, but there are many more to go.

Let’s move on to what is supposed to be his penalty killing calling card.

Faceoffs

Beyond the fact that Beagle has put in a lot of shorthanded minutes over the last several years, another purported feather in Beagle’s penalty killing cap is his strength in the faceoff dot. There are a lot of numbers out there in hockey analytics that can wash out to some extent with a number of confounding variables. Like shot metrics, faceoff numbers can be affected by quality of competition (who the draws are taken against) and zone starts, but the effect is comparatively minimal, and faceoff numbers are highly consistent. Consequently, when a player has a good faceoff percentage, we can usually safely assume that he is good at faceoffs. Beagle is undeniably good on the draw.

That said, being good at winning faceoffs does not automatically guarantee effectiveness in the aftermath. Much like there is very little correlation between winning faceoffs and shot shares (or puck possession), there isn’t much correlation between winning faceoffs and suppressing shots on the penalty kill. The underlying reasons are the same for each: the effects of a faceoff evaporate completely within 10-20 seconds.

Now, when it comes to killing penalties, I’d wager that there’s a higher degree of cost and benefit associated with faceoffs because of the ability to ice the puck. Even then though, within about 20 seconds, the opponent is attacking the blueline again, making the overall effect of the faceoff win valuable, but only to a certain extent. If a player can win a lot of faceoffs but struggles at the other aspects of penalty killing (eg, forechecking, zone entry defence, formation break ups), then their overall contribution to the PK may still be a net negative.

In order to assess the relationship between faceoffs and penalty kill suppression, I pitted 4-on-5 faceoff percentage against 4-on-5 unblocked shots against per hour for all players that spent at least 25 minutes at 4-on-5 last season and took at least 25 faceoffs in that situation. (Some people would prefer to look at goals against rather than a shot metric – I firmly believe this would be a mistake. For one, goals are a smaller sample than shots, which invites more volatility when considering rates; goals are also effected significantly by the quality of the goaltender, while shots given up are more indicative of the players defending on the ice. But, if it makes you feel any better, Beagle’s goals against per hour was also below average, and his expected goals against per hour was one of the worst on the Capitals last season.)

Data via Corsica.hockey.

So what does this chart show? First, the trendline shows that there is a relationship between winning faceoffs and suppressing shots at 4-on-5 (unblocked shot rates decrease on average when faceoff percentage increases), but it’s a very small relationship. The R² value of 0.0026 indicates quite a bit of variability along the trendline and a poor goodness of fit; in other words, while the averages show a slight relationship, there’s very little consistency on a player-by-player basis.

If you think about it logically, it makes sense. On average, teams take 1.68 defensive zone faceoffs for every two minutes at 4-on-5 (usually with a minimum of one, since almost all penalty kills start with a faceoff). That’s really a chance and a half per kill to win a faceoff on each kill. Even if the player had one of the league’s best percentages and one two-thirds of their draws on the kill, that’s about one win per kill, assuming they take all the draws (which they wouldn’t). Each of those wins leaves a large, but not perfect, likelihood of a zone clear (depending on how clean the win is, and the effectiveness of the teammate the next touches the puck), which would then lead to 15 to 20 seconds that the opponent then has to waste on regrouping.

A faceoff win on the kill is clearly a good thing, and I’d want to have a player who’s strong on the draw rather than weak when it comes to high leverage faceoffs. But they clearly make up only a small component of the overall penalty kill, and the player can easily still be a liability even with a high faceoff winning percentage, as even after a faceoff win, they still have to spend the rest of the time defending powerplays on the move.

Overall, the ability to win faceoffs has only a small effect on shorthanded shot suppression. So what does have a strong effect on shorthanded numbers?

Team Effects: Systems and Teammates

Two things you might often hear about penalty killing are that success therein is usually based on systems, and on teammates. I believe both of these things to be true.

Looking over the last four seasons, I plotted the unblocked shot against rates of players in consecutive years (year 1 on the x-axis and year 2 on the y-axis), separating the players that stayed on the same team (the left chart) from the players that changed teams from one year to the next (on the right), again with a minimum of 25 minutes at 4-on-5.

Data via Corsica.hockey.

The first thing that I found is that the slope for both was positive, and roughly identical. This indicates that powerplay shot rates have been rising steadily over the past few seasons, which isn’t really news. What’s more interesting is the correlations and goodness of fit between the first and second years of the data sets.

Correlation R-squared
Same Team 0.206 0.043
Different Team 0.129 0.017

For one thing, neither of the correlations are particularly strong, but players that stayed on the same team certainly had a higher correlation from one year to the next than players who moved from one team to another. The R² difference is just as significant. Both indicate that players that stay on the same team retain their unblocked shot rates better than players that move. To me, this provides further evidence that team effects (linemates and systems) play a noticeable role in the success of individual players.

This is terrible news for Jay Beagle, who, as mentioned, is moving from a good penalty killing team to a bad one. One possibility is that he brings improvement with him from the Capitals. But the much more likely possibility, as I see it, is the Canucks making a bad penalty killer out of Jay Beagle. They have, after all, spent the last couple of years making all of their penalty killers look pretty awful.

This will be a noticeable change for Beagle, as some digging reveals that the Washington Capitals were in fact making him look like a better penalty killer than he was, at least last season. Using data from the Line Tool at Natural Stat Trick, I put together this With-or-Without-You chart for Beagle’s unblocked shots against per hour rates with and without his most frequent teammates.

It’s not a flattering picture.

The red bubbles indicate Beagle’s rates without the above-noted teammates, while the green bubbles indicate teammates’ rates without Beagle, and the blue bubbles represent their rates together. These seven players represent all Capitals that spent at least 30 minutes with Beagle at 4-on-5 last year. In each and every case, the teammate showed reduced rates of unblocked-shots against when they weren’t on the ice with Beagle, sometimes by substantial margins.

Conclusion

The Canucks clearly paid a premium for Beagle’s off-ice intangibles. There’s little doubt that he would have garnered less interest from the Canucks and others if he hadn’t just won the Stanley Cup, and subsequently gotten praise from his teammates for his role in that run. It would be silly to argue that Beagle’s leadership and attitude won’t have a positive effect on the Canucks’ locker room and the young players therein.

That said, at 3.0 million dollars per season, he’s going to see some decent ice time (probably in the 12 minute range that he saw with Washington last year), and therein lies the issue. Beagle has been a substantial drag at even strength (both in terms of production and possession), and his penalty killing has now fallen off as well. His faceoff prowess is legitimate, but the ability of shorthanded faceoff wins to deter powerplay opportunities is very easy to overstate. Based off this and the above, it’s highly unlikely that Beagle brings any of Washington’s penalty killing acumen with him to the Canucks. Turning 33 later this calendar year, the standard age curve of professional athletes is working against him – it’s highly unlikely that he improves in 2018-19, and he’ll have three more years to go after that.

  • TheRealPB

    The Caps PK has gone from mediocre to elite to mediocre and the Canucks from elite to mediocre to abysmal in the five year stretch you’re mentioning.

    I do worry that the Canucks think their problem with the poor PK is the forwards. Yes, it’s true that we don’t have elite penalty killers like Kesler (at his best), Burrows, Higgins, or earlier the Malhotras and even Ryan Johnson. But I think that Horvat and Sutter and Eriksson and Granlund are good enough that you don’t really need a Beagle. The much bigger problem has been the defense. After Tanev and Edler and especially if they’re injured, you simply don’t have the luxury of a Bieksa, Hamhuis, or even a Garrison at their prime. Far too many times last season you see MDZ or Pouliot make the wrong read, or Gudbranson (and before him Sbisa) get trapped in no-man’s land, or just basically not manage to shut down opposing forwards. It is unclear to me what adding three hustling forwards is going to do about that problem when we are essentially bringing back the same d-corps.

      • TheRealPB

        There are many top line players who also play on special teams. And it’s not as though there aren’t others who are qualified beyond the ones I mentioned – Gaudette if he makes the team, Gaunce the same, and certainly any of the three new guys. But that wasn’t my point. It’s that if we’re investing money in improving the fourth line and the penalty kill, then I think we’re directing resources at the wrong part of the problem. There is no question that Roussell, Beagle and even Schaller are upgrades on Dowd, Molino, Labate, Megna, Chaput, and indeed most of the cast of characters that inhabited our bottom six the past few years. My point is that we’re not really addressing the main issues with the PK (lack of solid D) or forward group (lack of reliable offense). The reason we weren’t winning games wasn’t that forwards weren’t winning face-offs on the PK nor that we weren’t gritty or tough enough when the fourth line came out. It’s that the defense beyond Tanev, Edler and Stecher had abysmal gap control and an inability to clear the net (despite being big bodies) on the PK and most of the forwards we brought in to add scoring didn’t.

        • bobdaley44

          You want a rookie killing penalties? Gaudette will be in Utica. Thing with PK time is it usually goes to solid vets who’ve refined their kraft and play hard D. Not many rookies or young players qualify.

          • TheRealPB

            Horvat is 23, Granlund 25, Leipsic 24. Gaudette will be 21. The point is not the age of the player, it’s whether or not your going to solve the problem with the PK by signing these particular players. I really wish you’d address the specifics of my comment (which was about the d not the forwards)

          • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

            I want the most useless hockey player this side of the Rocky Mountains Loui Eriksson to be killing EVERY single penalty. The least Green can do is make his lazy entitled floater self look terrible with less players on the ice. If he’s going to bring the same uselessness as the last 2 seasons….why not throw him under the bus? What’s the worst that could happen? He gets annoyed and plays worse? He should be riding busses in upstate New York like Sheldon Souray….except for Mr. Dumpster Fire Jim Benning giving him a bulletproof contract. Clap clap clap

  • Tedchinook

    By your own rough estimate a faceoff win takes 20 seconds of zone time away from the opposition. If with Beagle and Sutter taking the faceoffs on the penalty kill they can win even one more draw, then 20 seconds less zone time for the opposition has got to be significant over the course of a season.

    • TD

      The problem is the variance between good face off guys and bad ones is relatively small, 4-6%. Over 100 draws, that only kills 80 to 120 seconds. That’s if you have a good faceoff guy (53%) against a bad faceoff guy (47%). Most power plays and penalty kills have their top or one of their top faceoff guys taking the draws. The percentage difference ends up being very minimal and it becomes statistically insignificant. One hundred faceoffs would be at least 30 penalty kills, maybe more.

      I think it is important situationally, but because most teams have people that are good on the draw, faceoffs aren’t statistically significant.

      • Bud Poile

        Beagle took 604 d-zone f/0’s over 79 games.
        7.6 d-zone f/o’s per game. 59.3% average.
        Ranked 2nd in the entire league.
        There’s no mystery that having the league’s best d-zone man in the circle when you’re short handed will help the team.
        For example,Henrik was 43.5% on d-zone draws.
        He only took 138 d-zone f/o’s and still lost 78.
        Beagle won 358.
        Offensive zone has Sutter ranked first @ 54.9%.
        Beagle is directly under him @ 54.7%.
        Henrik is at 43.8%.
        This team just became much better in the circle and that will translate into a better PK and compete level night in and night out.

        • TheRealPB

          I don’t understand this logic. I don’t think face-offs have no bearing on things like puck possession or competitiveness; there’s an intuitive sense that getting control of the puck will allow you to have more opportunities or clear the puck or whatever. But if the impact of Beagle with face-offs is as dominant as you suggest for the PK, why then was Washington still only 15th in the league? Why if Sutter was so high in the rankings, even if he missed 20 games why did the Canucks rank 21st? Aren’t you kind of making Jeremy’s point that there’s not a lot of correlation between face-off success and PK prowess?

          • TheRealPB

            I’m not saying that losing Horvat and Sutter for 20 games each doesn’t hurt. Our tailspin began with the loss of Horvat. However even with both of them in the lineup (and I give Sutter much more credit than most of CA does as a very useful player) our PK sucked. And it sucked mainly because of the D, not the forwards. You can win all the face-offs you want but if your d can’t clear the net or stop opposing players it will all go for naught.

          • Bud Poile

            I agree that the D was much less than we had hoped for last year with Guddy injured (and Huddy taking a sabbatical from his profession ) but losing Bo was critical to the team last year:

            When he went down in the third period against Carolina on Dec. 5, they were winning a game that left them with a 14-10-4 mark. Sans Horvat, they won precisely two of their next 15 games, going 2-11-2 and falling back into the NHL catacombs.

            When he went down, the former London Knight was averaging 18:36 of ice time a game, tops among forwards.

            As it happened, Brandon Sutter, who missed 21 games with a groin issue, was second at 17:03. Those two injuries left a black hole in the Canucks’ lineup that they’re now ready to fill.

            You don’t have to ask Travis Green how he feels about that development.

            “There’s no sense hiding it,” said the Canucks’ head coach. “Those guys play a lot of minutes and take a lot of big faceoffs (Green said when they were both in the lineup, Horvat and Sutter took 78 per cent of the team’s defensive zone faceoffs).

            “I feel comfortable putting them out against any line and they played against the top two lines on the other team for (over) 20 games. To replace those guys, it just doesn’t happen. I thought there were times our team did a good job and there were times where we missed those guys.”

            Ed Willes
            The Province
            Jan. 19, 2018

          • liqueur des fenetres

            Right, right, because beating the Flyers, Preds and Flames once naturally meant that all subsequent meetings would be Ws with Bo, Sutter and Guddy in the lineup.

  • Fred-65

    The best way to kill a penalty is to get possession ..that’s what Malhotra did and what Biegle does very well. Being 4th O/A in the league face offs is not to be sneezed at. He does not have any restriction on trades and so may be traded or in Seattle. Next season Vcr has 10 U/R FA’s To me the worse FA signing is not Biegle but remains Gagner. MDZ is gone at the end of this season

      • Beer Can Boyd

        Its the difference between being punched in the face or kicked in the balls. MDZ is terrible, but Gudbranson is far worse. Ericsson is terrible , but Gagner is far worse. Arrrghhh. All 4 of those are on Bennings watch. And now he’s signed 3 new chumps to be disappointed with. As a GM, he makes a great head scout.

        • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

          I’m genuinely shocked your comment only had 1 cheers. I completely agree with everything you said. When your head scout masquerades around as a GM and goes dumpster diving time and time again (now that his heart has been sufficiently burned by the “big game hunting” acquisition of free agent busy Loui Eriksson), a dumpster fire is bound to ensue.

  • Killer Marmot

    In the short time that Motte played for the Canucks, he not only looked impressive on the PK, but he allowed but one goal in 25 PK minutes. The sample size is tiny, but it was enough to show that he was capable. The bad news is that he might start in Utica next fall, although I think he’ll get called up soon enough.

  • Nuck16

    The big question for me is, what will be motivating Beagle? At his age, you need goals the keep the fire stoked…but now he has a Stanley Cup, Stanley Cup hangover, and a retirement contract…

    • Peachy

      So I was going to post something facetious, but I’m actually worried about this narrative.

      Beagle is my all accounts an awesome, dedicated team mate. I sincerely doubt that will change, even with the retirement contract he just got.

      But the reality is that his play is very likely to fall off hard, maybe as early as this season. At which point, to avoid copping to the egregious mistake of the contract, the “unmotivated” narrative may take hold.

      As in: it wasn’t a stupid contract to a player already near replacement level at at the point where pro athlete performance falls off hard, no, no, the player just got fat and lazy.

      Hands washed.

      • Nuck16

        What’s important to note is that motivation isn’t just a conscious thing, it’s also subconscious. I am fully confident that Beagle will give it 100%…but that extra 10% is not something that can be manufactured…it comes from things like a life long dream to win the Stanley Cup…or a desire to provide for ones family…

  • Kneedroptalbot

    Usually teams always over pay for UFA’s. Players who make the finals get a lot of exposure and usually Big contracts. (Horcoff, Clarkson, Beagle).
    Beagle brings a lot of good things, can play center, good at face off’s, used to shut down other teams…..Hmmm Brandon Sutter does all those things too and he’s 4 years younger. My thoughts.

  • Steamer

    Over-thinking. Team will be harder to play against but will struggle to score goals & will likely finish close to last, increasing chance of Jack Hughes – or reasonable facsimile. Coming season is about the draft & getting some experience for Pettersson, et al. Nothing more. Turn-around still 2 seasons – minimum- away.

    • Beer Can Boyd

      “However, and obviously, winning or losing a hockey game directly depends only on how many goals each team scores, not how many shots each takes. ” This flies directly in the face of CA’s mission statement. Also, isn’t CA supposed to be a site for Canucks fans? You’d never know it, based on the deluge of hyper critical articles about all things Canuck. Fair is fair, but lines like this one yesterday from JD Burke seem to be the norm, rather than the exception.”It’s difficult to understate how awful a team the Canucks have assembled. ” Even I choked on that one.

      • canuckfan

        I think the additions to Canucks will pay dividends and look for the Canucks to move up in the standings. All the players that would not make any other team such as Leipsic will not make the team out of training camp. Gaudette I think will make the team he had good chemistry with Jake and add someone like Eriksson who scores garbage goals can put in the rebound that Jake left from his stunning breakaway. We won’t make the playoffs unless the goalies stand out. Last year many of the losses were on the goalie letting in too many soft goals that most would have stopped easily. If goalies play lights out we could be fighting for a playoff spot after allstar break. The Sedin goals will come from others and keeping Bo off of penalty kill will keep him fresh for offensive role. Ellis Petterson will learn the NHL and be a dominant threat just as Bo became. Looking forward to a fun season. The haters will then jump on the bandwagon and others who kept the haters quotes from this summer will expose the haters for what they are.

    • DJ_44

      That’s a very interesting analysis. I quibble with your conclusion since it clearly does not state goal-based metrics are superior: it states that goal-based metrics should be considered, and shot-based metrics alone are not the be all and end all some here tend to portray.

      It also strongly points out that shot based metrics are especially poor at predicting defenceman’s contribution.

      Either way, thanks for providing the link. I recommend anyone take a look at it if interested.

      • truthseeker

        No problem. Since I posted several times on here for someone to show some proof of the effect of shot metrics in terms of a correlation between winning or point totals etc….and nobody did, I decided to look myself. Not only did I not find any proof, I found this article countering the whole claim of shot metrics. I’d be quite happy for someone to critique it and counter any points they disagree with in the article to prove it wrong. I’ll admit I’m pretty stupid when it comes to understanding all the calculations in regards to this, but what I do understand is a properly laid out logical argument that supports it’s thesis.

        As for your criticism I have to disagree.

        He says in the article;

        ” I predicted that goal-based metrics would consistently outperform shot-based metrics at explaining past success, and thus also be superior for predicting future success..”

        And then his findings say;

        “Goal-based models consistently outperformed their shot-based analogs. Models of team goal differential successfully predicted winning % during the 2015-16 season, while shot differential did not. Goal-based metrics (i.e. relative plus-minus/minute of ice time) were also better than shot-based metrics (i.e. relative Corsi/minute of ice time) for evaluating individual player contributions to team winning %. These results show that team and individual performance is not correlated with all shots, but only those shots effective enough to result in goals.”

        If “consistently out perform” does not equal “superior” I’m not sure what would.

        • DJ_44

          Reading the article, the author demonstrates the value of goal based metrics, however he clearly stated the reason why people looked at shots: they provide a much larger sample size. What I got out of the article was that metrics that take into account many factors will perform better.

          I think the biggest point was the fact that shot based metrics are next to useless for predicting defenceman’s contribution to wins.

  • LTFan

    Okay guys, at least let’s see him play. Some posters have already traded him, flipped him at the deadline etc. etc. IMO he will surprise the naysayers and some will probably take back their negative comments. No shortage of negativity on this site.

    • truthseeker

      No doubt. It should be appreciated and I say that with no sarcasm whatsoever.

      But just because great effort went into something doesn’t mean it should be immune from criticism. And by that I mean proper criticism…not insults.

  • Marvin101

    the main man on the penalty kill will be markstrom. when the goal tender plays lights out the guys in front of him look a lot better and are much more motivated than when the goal tender is on his knees looking for nickels.

    if beagle is overpaid, it’s not his fault, blame the guy who sanctioned the signing and the owner for hiring him with no previous experience.

  • mR_twiddleR

    The problem Davis and most Canucks fans suffer from is expectations.

    I think it’s pretty clear with Beagle that he’s a guy who is openly willing and accepting of being thrown to the wolves on a nightly basis. He is a sacrificial lamb. He will play hard dirty minutes that helps the coaching staff shelter the kids. He will do it honourably and set the bar for hardwork and grit.

    By the end of the year, what i don’t expect is glowing statistical reviews for a guy like Beagle. He is gonna get buried out there. However i do expect major growth and some very exciting numbers from future centre pieces like Bo, Brock & EP. And sincd hockey is a team game, that should reflect positively on Beagle, who again will be doing all the heavy lifting to allow those kids the opportunity.

    I fully expect Jay Beagle to do this for 2 years. The 3rd year may be a mixed bag, and by the 4th year he will in all likelihood be passed all together on the depth chart by the same kids he is sheltering today, and that is okay. It’s a team game and that would mean he has done his job.

    This is what i expect. I’ve listened to Benning, Linden & Green, and i think if you read the tea leaves it’s what they expect as well. Time now for fans to adjust expectations.

    • bobdaley44

      Then you’re just breeding a losing culture. Kids? Give me a break. It’s the NHL and to play you gotta earn it. To bad for the fans who know absolutely nothing about hockey but want to see the touted kids. Nothing like getting the crap kicked out of you every night.

  • Jim "Dumpster Fire" Benning

    “The Canucks paid a premium for a 30 something players off-ice intangibles?!?!?!? Say it ain’t so!

    The one positive thing I will say about Jim Benning is that he is ALWAYS ahead of the curve when it comes to overpaying players on dollar value and term. Clap clap clap JB!