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Where In The World Is Jay Beagle’s Replacement?

As the 2018-19 season approaches, the Capitals have two roster spots among the forward corps up for debate — fourth line left wing and fourth line center, the latter filled up until recently by Dearly Departed Good Boy, Jay Beagle, who Vancouver has signed to a four year deal with a three million dollar cap hit.

Three things are true about this deal:

  • Jay Beagle is thirty-two.
  • Vancouver is trying to shed their reputation as an Old Friends Senior Dog Sanctuary with the departure of the Sedins.
  • It seems inconsistent with their plan (if there is one, which is unfortunately something to consider when Jim Benning is involved).

Although Jay Beagle’s addition resolves some questions for the Canucks (and opens up others), it leaves some pretty large shoes to fill for the Capitals, with two main competitors for the role — Nic Dowd and Travis Boyd — and with one preseason game behind them, both Boyd and Dowd have their distinct upsides.

First, let’s take a look at the man they’re replacing.

32 (10/16/1985)
Undrafted Free Agent (NHL Debut 08-09, 11 seasons with Capitals)
Last Season (2017-18):
– WSH: 79 GP / 7 G / 15 A / 16 PIM / 65 S / 12:27 ATOI / 39.2% CF / 25.2% oZS

Firstly, at thirty-two, to be able to play seventy-nine out of eighty-two NHL games in a season is not only a direct flip of the bird to the hockey gods, but an act of defiance. Play on, good sir.

Unfortunately, Jay Beagle’s ridiculous face-off win percentage (nearly 59%, mostly won in the defensive zone) can’t cover up his terrifyingly low Corsi stat. There are a lot of things that can be blamed for an unsightly Corsi percentage — usage, quality of competition, and quality of teammates among them — but his relative Corsi For % (which explores the difference between on ice Corsi for % and off ice Corsi for %) coming in at -10.8 is cause for concern. If Washington maintained possession almost 11% less with Beagle on the ice, a number that’s been steadily increasing since the 2014-15 season, maybe it was time to move on to a younger, less expensive option.

Speaking of younger, less expensive options, let’s look at our first major competitor for the job — Los Angeles Kings and Vancouver Canucks Legend, Nic Dowd.

28 (5/27/1990)
Free Agent ($650,000 x 1 year)
Last Season (2017-18):
– LAK: 16 GP / 0 G / 1 A / 12 PIM / 11 S / 7:51 ATOI / 46.2% CF / 61.6% oZS
– VAN: 40 GP / 3 G / 0 A / 16 PIM / 40 S / 11:34 ATOI / 46.9% CF / 18.2% ozS
– TOT: 56 GP / 3 G / 1 A / 28 PIM / 51 S / 10:32 ATOI / 46.8% CF / 28.9% oZS

Nic Dowd played forty games last season on a Vancouver team that sometimes hurt to watch and only recorded three goals in that span, but notched twenty-two points in his first full NHL season (Los Angeles Kings, 2016-17). Dowd started the season with the kings, posting a Corsi for of 46.2% at even strength, meaning that the Kings had the puck for 46.2 percent of the time that Dowd was on the ice. He posted about a shot every other game and won just over 50% of his faceoffs. In December, Dowd was traded to Vancouver for defenseman Jordan Subban, a move which accidentally kicked off an incredible back half of the season for Dowd.

In his forty game stint in Vancouver, Dowd had a 46.9% CF at even strength, and while a CF% of below 50% is often something to balk at, Dowd accomplished this with only 18.2% of his starts coming in the offensive zone. Jay Beagle, to compare him to the man to beat, had a 39.2% CF over roughly twice the games Dowd played with Vancouver, and while Washington had the puck 10.8% less of the time when Beagle was on the ice, between LA and Vancouver, Nic Dowd’s relative CF% was only -1.7. That’s about a tenth of Beagle’s numbers, with almost 8% (25.2%, to be exact) less offensive zone starts.

Though Beagle played roughly one more minute per game than Dowd, the difference in possession stats shows that Dowd could easily step up into that role. Dowd played nearly one and a half times the minutes, on average, in Vancouver than he did in LA and both posted better possession metrics and shot and scored more often on a Vancouver team that finished sixth from the bottom of the league. Imagine what he could do shoring up the Capitals’ fourth line.

Luckily, at league minimum for one year, if he fails, it’s no skin off the Caps’ back — given his nearly 71% faceoff win percentage (12 of 17) in his first preseason game as a Capital, Nick is unlikely to be their dowd-fall.

But right on Dowd’s heels is #FirstLineCenterTravisBoyd, who has eternal bragging rights for the fact that he scored his first NHL point on an Alex Ovechkin goal.

25 y/o (9/14/93)
Drafted 177th overall (6th round) in the 2011 Entry Draft by Washington
Last Season (2017-18):
– HER (AHL): 61 GP / 15 G / 32 A / 12 PIM
– WSH: 8 GP / 0 G / 1 A / 2 PIM / 2 S / 8:50 ATOI / 43.2% CF / 57.9% oZS

In comparison to Boyd, Travis Boyd’s advanced statistics look horrific, but it’s important to remember that he only played eight games, and hardly nine minutes in each one. Eight games is a very small sample size, considering it’s less than 10% of the length of a regular season. No reputable statistician is going to make inferences based on that small a sample.

What we should look at is that the messaging out of the Caps organization (see earlier mention of #FirstLineCenterTravisBoyd) is consistently that Boyd has a strong shot at making the fourth line out of camp this year and that the organization sees him as a center long term (whereas Chandler Stephenson, who up to this year was thought of as Boyd’s main competition, seems to be thought of as more of a winger by GMBM and Associates). Boyd’s performance in the AHL over the last three seasons (scoring at about 0.77 points per game while consistently being good for 15-20 goals and 30+ assists) proves that, given Emmanuel Perry’s NHLe metric (which tracks the correlation between scoring in different developmental leagues and scoring at the NHL level), Boyd can probably score at the NHL level — he just hasn’t had the chance yet. Another important fact to note is that Boyd’s shooting percentage was literally 0% because he only took two shots on goal and missed both of them, so in the best and happiest case of regression ever, he should actually regress up to the mean.

Although Boyd did not score in the first game of the preseason, he did record three shots on goal and four shot attempts, and showed offensive creativity that had Head Coach Todd Reirden hopeful about Boyd’s offensive upside, something Beagle and Dowd both lack. Reirden, however, did also note that fourth line players are often called upon to fill other roles in the team, notably penalty killing, which Boyd rarely did in Hershey and has not often done at the NHL level. Dowd, in comparison, is an expert on the penalty kill and settled easily into the role when called upon.

Given how high the Capitals management is on Boyd, I’d suspect that the Dowd signing is more for insurance than anything else, in case Boyd needs an extra year to develop before he’s a viable NHL center or just needs someone to pick up a few skills from along the way. The extra money and term on Boyd’s contract is a sign of confidence that, if he proves himself ready and willing, he figures into the Capitals’ long term plans. And, luckily for Nic Dowd, if he continues to play to his own strengths over the season as much as he did in his first game, he might prove to be more than a stopgap measure.

As much as our Dearly Departed Jay Beagle will be missed, the road to recovery may not be as hard as previously imagined — the Capitals have two capable fourth line centers waiting in the wings, and no matter what happens with the rest of the fourth line, we’ll always have Devante Smith-Pelly.

My Neck, My Back To Back

The Capitals have been singing “My Neck, My Back” all summer: fact. Winning the Stanley Cup back to back is a tremendous ordeal: fact. Our boys can do it: for now, as we wait on the 2018-19 season, that remains an opinion.

Continue reading My Neck, My Back To Back