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Canucks frontrunners to sign Jay Beagle, according to reports

Bob McKenzie reports that the Canucks could sign the Cup-winning centre.
Jay Beagle of the Washington Capitals

A long playoff run elevates the status of even the lowliest role player. A Stanley Cup win, even moreso.

A clever team can use this to their advantage, trading away the fringes of a great team to keep the core intact. That’s what the Chicago Blackhawks did for years, though it’s less effective now that their core is getting older.

It’s natural to want to be like a championship team. There are a lot of positive lessons to learn from a team like the Washington Capitals, who just won the Stanley Cup. You could look at how they’ve acquired and developed their goaltenders. You can copy their emphasis on puck-moving defencemen. You can emulate how they’ve constructed their power play.

Of course, another way to be like a championship team is to literally just take their players.

Unfortunately, the best players on a championship team usually aren’t up for grabs. Alex Ovechkin and Evgeny Kuznetsov aren’t going anywhere, and the Capitals locked up John Carlson long term before he hit free agency this summer.

The fringes of the team, however, can be had for the right price. According to a report from Bob McKenzie, the Canucks are the frontrunners to acquire the Capitals’ fourth-line centre, Jay Beagle.



Rick Dhaliwal, following up on the report from McKenzie, reported that a potential contract could be 3 years with an Average Annual Value (AAV) of $2.5 million.



Until the start of free agency on Sunday, July 1st, none of this is certain. As McKenzie reports, there are other teams interested in signing Beagle and the situation could change before Sunday.

But acquiring Beagle would fit with what Trevor Linden and Jim Benning have said about free agency. They’ve made it clear that they aren’t interested in making a big splash, but want to add veteran free agents with experience to mentor the young players entering the lineup. Whether or not you agree with that strategy, that’s their intent.

A 3-year, $2.5 million contract would also fit with the value this regime places on defensively reliable fourth-line forwards with good character. Back in 2015, the Canucks re-signed Derek Dorsett to a 4-year contract with an AAV of $2.65 million.

It is an overpayment, to be sure. Matt Cane’s free agent contract predictions, which attempt to estimate the market value of players based on other contracts signed around the league, predicted a 2-year contract with an AAV of $1.47 million per year. A Stanley Cup ring adds another year and another million to his contract, it seems.

Beagle is also, in some ways, a redundant player. He and Brandon Sutter are remarkably similar, though Sutter has a little more offensive upside and has put up better possession numbers given similar usage. But both are defence-first centres that soak up defensive zone faceoffs and eat up minutes on the penalty kill.

Beagle led the playoffs in two categories: defensive zone starts and faceoff wins. He’s consistently been one of the best faceoff men in the league for years. The Canucks and head coach Travis Green have placed a lot of importance on faceoffs, even if analytics suggest that faceoffs make minimal difference over the course of a season.

The only centre in the NHL to start more shifts than Beagle in the defensive zone during the regular season was Sutter himself. According to Capitals blog Russian Machine Never Breaks, Beagle was frequently put on the ice solely for the defensive zone faceoff, usually winning the draw, then bolting for the bench so another player could take the ice.

That kind of usage tends to crater a player’s possession statistics, but Beagle’s underlying numbers are terrifying. The Capitals were out-shot 400 to 255 with Beagle on the ice at 5-on-5 and he had the worst corsi percentage in the NHL at 39.15%.

Beagle also plays a lot on the penalty kill, taking faceoffs and blocking shots. Unfortunately, his numbers look ugly in that role as well. Of the 113 forwards who played at least 100 minutes on the penalty kill last season, Beagle was 101st in the rate of shots on goal against. That is to say, when he was killing penalties, the Capitals’ opponents allowed a ton of shots on goal.

Perhaps signing Beagle would open the door to the Canucks trading Sutter, as they reportedly have had many suitors for the centre. Alternately, they may feel that adding Beagle will relieve Sutter of some of the defensive burden, allowing him to play a more offensive role. Having two centres that don’t drive puck possession doesn’t seem ideal.

All that said, the contract reported by Dhaliwal wouldn’t hurt the Canucks long term and there’s still a lot to like about Beagle.

There’s a reason why Beagle is a fan favourite in Washington. By all accounts, he’s a super-nice guy in the community, a great teammate, and a solid interview for the media. He’s a leader on and off the ice, working incredibly hard shift-after-shift. Those are all great attributes.

If your main goal is to give your young players a role model, showing them the necessity of hard work and determination, then signing Beagle makes some sort of sense. It just feels like that sort of player could be available at a lower price and for less term.