(Photo by Caps Outsider) Washington area sports fans are walking pretty tall...
Jay Beagle, Squarely in the Spotlight
Jay Beagle is a lot of things. He’s a genuinely good guy; he’s a success story as a third liner in his first full NHL season; he’s an unfortunately poor fighter; and he’s a reasonably articulate writer. He’s also become something of a media focus during the 2012 playoff run, for reasons that make little sense upon closer examination.
Credit Where It’s Due:
Jay Beagle has clearly been one of those to benefit most from Dale Hunter’s approach to hockey. Most notably, he’s seen his time on ice (TOI) increase and stabilize over the second half of the regular season. The trend has continued into the playoffs – averaging somewhere in the vicinity of 17:30/game, discounting that triple overtime disaster on May 2. He’s got great puck-possession skills, logs a bunch of time consistently on the Penalty Kill, and he’s good in the faceoff circle (at times bouncing as high as 75% during the current playoff run). He’s an incredibly hard worker, going from undrafted college player to a full NHL roster slot. He’s also a former Hershey Bear, which is always worth a few brownie points.
Fluff & Filler
When it comes to Caps fans, Beagle has spent most of the year ranking somewhere below Braden Holtby and above Cody Eakin as far as general awareness is concerned. However, a recent combination of blogging for the Washington Post and a game or two in which he logged more TOI than Alexander Ovechkin have served to propel him into the spotlight (technically, it’s been five games, but only two had a margin greater than 30 seconds of difference). He’s far from the only forward to have logged more time than the Great Eight in a game this playoffs (in Game 5 v. Boston, Nicklas Backstrom logged almost 5 minutes more than either of them). Given Ovi’s refusal to comment on ice time, though, it’s easy to see that Beagle presents the lovelier target in the post-game locker room.
He’s handled the attention like the professional he is, keeping things in perspective as the number of microphones pointed in his direction have skyrocketed in recent weeks. “It doesn’t change me, or change my mindset, or change anything. It’s fun to do some media stuff… when people want to hear what you have to say after a game.”
What does it all mean?
“Hunter’s Coaching Style” has been a favorite topic around the various hockey-related news outlets as the Capitals continue their playoff run – Accidental Genius? Temporary Demigod? Master Puppeteer? Recipe for Eventual Disaster?
Pretty much every point of view that can be raised on the matter has been, and Jay Beagle has become the quiet embodiment of the Pro-Hunter camp. Matt Hendricks or Jason Chimera might reflect Hunter’s personal skill set a bit more, but Beagle is seen to represent his coaching style. While Ovechkin isn’t trusted on the ice when the team needs to maintain a lead, Beagle’s TOI explodes in the same circumstances. As noted above, one of Beagle’s biggest strengths is his puck possession skills – he plays a mean game of keep-away.
However, even ardent supporters will acknowledge that keep-away doesn’t win hockey games, and the best of goalies have their inevitable off-days. Beagle has averaged .18 points per game so far this post-season, the result of a single goal and assist which were scored in games where he logged higher-than-usual ice time. For someone who’s been functioning as a defensive specialist, it’s not a terrible statistic, and he’s never going to be the only body on the ice. But eliminating even the pretense that several of the team’s scoring leaders are trusted to provide any defensive support, and thus won’t be considered significant contributors once a lead has been established, is a good way to prevent a two, three, or more-goal lead. Line-matching may factor into part of the personnel shuffle, but it’s a conditional explanation at best.
When asked about the appeal of a two-goal lead on Saturday, Defenseman Karl Alzner laughed in response. “It would be great, you know. We would absolutely love that, but it doesn’t seem like it’s going to happen with the way the whole playoffs for us has been going.”
Now, there’s no arguing the basic fact that a win is a win. If Dale Hunter can grab the Caps the legitimacy of a Stanley Cup, then more power to him. The point of this article isn’t to wave the “Play Ovi More” flag -Hunter will do what Hunter wants to do, and there will always be a filter between what happens on the ice and what the rest of us see.
Instead, it is intended as a reminder that shining the spotlight onto a player or two and saying “This is what Dale Hunter Hockey looks like” is a recipe for long-term disaster. Jay Beagle works hard, does what is asked of him, and happens to have a stronger defensive instinct at center than some of his peers. It doesn’t matter how brilliant Dale Hunter may or may not be, Beagle doesn’t deserve those kinds of shackles at 26.