On June 7, 2018, Jay Beagle skated around T-Mobile Arena in Vegas with the Stanley Cup held high above his head. Less than a month later, Beagle was an ex-Capital—having traded in his champion franchise for a four-year, $12 million deal with the Vancouver Canucks.
The contract was—to put it mildly—poorly received by the Vancouver fanbase, and the world of NHL punditry in general. At the age of 32, Beagle wasn’t just exiting his prime as an NHL forward—he was well beyond it. After ten seasons with the Capitals—rarely, if ever, advancing higher than the fourth line—both the salary and the term seemed excessive for a player of Beagle’s caliber.
It’s impossible to discuss Beagle’s performance in his debut season for the Canucks without placing it in the context of his exorbitant contract. But, for now, we’ll put the financial numbers to the side and take a look at how he performed in the boxscores.
Beagle By The Books
Before getting to the concrete figures, the fractured forearm that Jay Beagle received five games into his Canuck career bears mentioning. Beagle suffered the injury when he blocked a shot in an October 13 matchup with the Florida Panthers—the same game in which Mike Matheson infamously zangiefed Elias Pettersson to the ice. It was a testament to Beagle’s reputation as a player willing to make sacrifices for his team—but it also cost him 24 games.
Being that Beagle’s injury occurred so early in his season and that there’s no discernable difference between his performance in those first five games—a single assist—and his play during the rest of the year, we won’t worry too much about splitting up the analysis. With that said, let’s get to the numbers.
Offensively, Beagle had his worst season in five years. While his move from a high-octane offense in Washington to a team of lesser ability was likely a factor, his points-per-game average dipped from 0.28 in 2017/18 to 0.23—a significant drop, and way down from his career high of 0.37 in 2016/17. Of course, such drops in production are to be expected from a player of Beagle’s age—and he was never signed to be a scorer.
Fans took issue with a number of Travis Green’s roster decisions in 2018/19, but his deployment of Beagle wasn’t really one of them.
Beagle ranked 26th on the team in average ice-time per game, but third overall when it came to shorthanded minutes—exactly the sort of numbers one would expect from a designated fourth-line center. The Canucks’ penalty kill—ranked 11th overall at 81.1%—was one of the few bright spots of the 2018/19 season, so Beagle’s focused contributions there weren’t for naught.
To put those minutes into perspective, Beagle spent nearly 20% of his ice-time on the penalty kill—by far the highest percentage of any Canuck.
From Dobber’s Frozen Tools
Beagle’s list of regular linemates looks like a who’s-who of borderline NHLers—which is again exactly what you would expect for someone signed to be a premium fourth-line piece on a team in transition.
Beagle started a ridiculous 81.5% of his shifts in the defensive zone, giving him by far the lowest zone-start ratio on the team—and the fifth-lowest in the entire league. His quality of linemates was significantly lower than his quality of competition.
All of this paints a pretty convincing picture of Jay Beagle as exactly what he was described as by followers of the Washington Capitals who rued his departure—a prototypical fourth-liner center ready and willing to take on all the most undesirable tasks. However, that still doesn’t answer the question of Beagle’s overall effectiveness.
Beagle For Your Buck
A quick glance at Jay Beagle’s fancy stats doesn’t yield positive results. His possession numbers are downright messy, with both his relative Corsi and Fenwick scores ranking among the lowest of the team—and right in line with the Erik Gudbransons, Tyler Mottes, and Brandon Sutters of the world.
Again, perspective is everything when discussing Beagle’s performance. His possession stats might look dicey, but they’re not nearly as bad when placed in the context of his deployment. A player that takes 4/5 of their faceoffs in the defensive zone is probably going to see more shots directed at their own net than their opponents’—that’s just science.
His PDO isn’t anything to write home about either, but it’s hardly the worst on the team—and, again, every other player on the team received greater offensive opportunity than Beagle did. These aren’t the numbers of a defensive specialist, but they’re also not the numbers of an incompetent player.
In looking at Micah Blake McCurdy’s shot-rate charts, an illustrative image of Beagle’s area of defensive expertise begins to emerge.
On the offensive end of shot-rates, Beagle is an absolute black hole—but we knew that already. Beagle didn’t play in offensive situations, didn’t play with offensive linemates, and isn’t an offensive difference-maker himself—so these particular charts were always destined to be blue.
His shooting percentage was down from his career average, so there is a bit of hope for an offensive bounceback next season—but the drop could also be a result of Beagle’s age, and the new norm moving forward.
A first glance at the defensive end may not look positive either—as the Canucks allow shots at their net just as frequently with Beagle on the ice as without him. However, McCurdy’s chart has a big blue splotch right in the middle of the slot—also known as the area of primary defensive responsibility for a center.
When Beagle is on the ice, the Canucks’ goaltenders face fewer shots from the slot—which means they face fewer dangerous shots. It appears that Beagle does a good job of locking down his specific area of the ice—but that his defensive abilities aren’t so spectacular that they can make up for the shortcomings of his linemates or overcome his abysmal deployment.
Plus/Minus is a horribly flawed stat, and is almost always meaningless. But the fact that Beagle was only a -8 on a struggling team playing some of the toughest minutes in the entire league definitely means something.
On that positive note, it’s time to return to the question of cash value. Did Jay Beagle play like a $3 million player for the Vancouver Canucks in 2018/19?
Absolutely not. He only got 13 points. There are a lot of players making $3 million a season—or less—and producing significantly more than that. Hell, the Canucks got 31 points out of Antoine Roussel for the exact same price-tag.
That being said, there’s a difference between Jay Beagle being overpaid and Jay Beagle being a bad player. As a dedicated fourth-line center, he’s performed about as well as could be expected—and he’s made a positive impact on the defensive end of the ice. Conveniently enough, that’s the end of the ice where Beagle spends most of his time—sopping up the least desirable minutes on the team so that young stars like Elias Pettersson can enjoy a more favourable deployment.
We’ve yet to mention Beagle’s intangible qualities—after all, they’re a lot harder to write about than his tangible ones—but there’s been no reason to believe that Beagle hasn’t delivered as promised in that regard, too. He brought Stanley Cup experience to the dressing room and was a frequent participant in scrums—always doing his level best to increase the intensity and passion of his teammates.
The Vancouver Canucks paid Jay Beagle too much—but he’s also made them a better team. If the Canucks make a run at the playoffs in 2019/20, he’ll be even more valuable—and still a year or two away from having any complicating effects on the salary cap.