Sometimes, the best contracts are the ones that one doesn’t sign. That truism is especially prescient on July 1st when a new league year begins and with it comes the dawn of free agency.
The Canucks, it seems, couldn’t resist the temptation, though. They’ve signed unrestricted free agent centre Jay Beagle to a four-year, $12-million contract, valued at $3-million annually.
It’s hardly surprising that the Canucks and Beagle came to terms. Sportsnet 650’s Rick Dhaliwal reported the Canucks interest in signing Beagle on June 15th. In the week ahead of free agency, when teams and players are allowed to have preliminary contract discussions without talking term and cash value (though nobody seems to play by those rules), Dhaliwal followed up on those reports, suggesting the two sides were discussing the framework for a contract.
The original figures that Dhaliwal put forth suggested a framework was in place for a three-year contract for $7.5-million, with a cap hit of $2.5-million annually. That was on Friday. In the time since, the competition had driven the term, and apparently the cap hit, from that position. The Canucks, undeterred, didn’t balk.
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For better or worse, when the Canucks have wanted a player in the Jim Benning era, they’ve stopped at nothing to get that player. Count Beagle’s contract among the many examples.
This contract seems like one of their more ill-advised bets in that vein, though. Beagle, 32, turns 33-years-old in October — he’ll be 37 at the expiration of this deal. For someone who’s already a fourth-line centre, and one of dubious quality at that, there isn’t much room for his play to fall off before he’s sub-replacement level. Knowing what we do about how players age, that’s the most likely outcome — especially given Beagle’s rough-and-tumble style.
It’s not really a question of whether Beagle will add value to the Canucks’ lineup. He’s a fine NHL player, who just centred a fourth-line on a Stanley Cup-winning team. Beagle can kill penalties, win faceoffs and has those intangibles that the Canucks so covet.
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If the Canucks signed Beagle to the two-year contract valued at $1.5-million that Hockey-Graphs Editor Matt Cane’s highly-predictive model suggested he would (or should) get, that would be perfectly acceptable — even if it’s not the course of action I would suggest.
Instead, the Canucks have one of the most expensive fourth-line centres in the NHL in Beagle. A player who won’t even be able to carry-on in that role until the expiration of this contract. It’s a needless risk for a contract that, even in the best-case scenario, won’t provide a significant return on investment.
The list of NHL regulars last season who enjoyed a lower ratio of shot control at 5-on-5 than Beagle is a short one — there’s no one on it. Beagle is about a 20-point producer per 82 games, coming off of a 22-point season, and when he was on the ice for the Capitals last season, they scored a grim 1.75 goals per hour.
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If not for the additional context of the brutally difficult minutes that then-Capitals head coach Barry Trotz played Beagle in, it would be hard to even view him as an NHL-quality player.
The hope is that Beagle’s play won’t deteriorate any further and that playing on a team with Brandon Sutter will mean that he won’t be thrown to the wolves by his coaching staff on a shift-by-shift basis. In that scenario, he might be of some use to the Canucks in years three and four of his contract. That’s the hope, anyway.