But the answer was too obvious. Under the new coaching regime, Beagle has thrived, already walloping his old career points mark and becoming a valuable penalty-killing and lead-protecting asset. So Beagle laughed. Had he considered staying? Duh.
“I would definitely want to, yeah,” Beagle said.
He was not alone. All of the six pending free agents on Washington’s active roster interviewed for today’s print story on the motivating power of contract years – two restricted, four unrestricted – were asked the same question, in more or less the same language: Have you considered whether you’d like to stay with the Capitals once their contracts expire?
Some deflected, citing the in-season demands and the need to avoid such thoughts. Forward Marcus Johansson, at the tail end of a two-year deal worth $4 million that will make him a restricted free agent, was “just focusing on playing hockey and having fun and winning games.”
So was forward Eric Fehr, pending unrestricted free agent, who admitted “you’ve got to think about trade deadline stuff before you think about next year,” because March 2 comes before July 1.
Same for defenseman Jack Hillen, who was “more just worried about this team doing well. When this team does well, everybody on this team will be okay, I guarantee that. It takes care of itself.”
Others, though, were more candid in their desire to re-up.
“That’s not even a question,” said goaltender Braden Holtby, who given his recent success and stabilization of Washington’s netminding position, is expected to earn a lucrative extension as a pending restricted free agent. “I’d like to stay here for my whole career if I could. No reason for me to leave. If they want me here. I like the city, I like the team. I’m not fussy. If I’m playing hockey, I’m enjoying it.”
Said forward Joel Ward: “I’d definitely like to stay, for sure. Been here for a couple years now, got to know the city, it’s close to my hometown, lots of good perks here. I really like it here. Hopefully I get a chance to come back for sure and I’m sure a lot of guys. We’re doing lots of good things right. Got a good squad. You just want to win. A lot of guys just want to win. That’s the very key thing. I think we’re getting to that step to achieve some of those things.”
Even defenseman Mike Green, inarguably subjected to the most trade rumors and questions about his future among any Capitals player, held no reservations about hoping to come back, though it might need to be at a team-friendly discount given Washington’s cap situation and the sheer volume of pending free agents.
“I mean, my heart is in Washington, no matter what,” Green said. “I would love to.”
Of course, the responses often hinged on the individual’s contract. Green, the team’s highest-paid defenseman at a shade more than $6 million per season, pitched a more relaxed attitude, in tune with his personality. Beagle, on the other hand, before he laughed and before he affirmed that, of course, he hoped to re-sign with Washington, launched into a long, thoughtful response about the pressures of a contract year.
“It’s a matter of, especially a guy like me, you don’t want to take anything for granted,” Beagle said. “Going into this year, you don’t know how it could play out. You could be done, or playing in the AHL next year, or over in Europe, you never know. I love playing here. This summer, you work extra hard, you work on things to make yourself more successful. You do that every summer.
“You want to become a better player every year you try to develop. I think it’s a matter of four or five years, where you’re growing. You’re growing as a player, and it happens to be on a contract year that, for myself, that I’m having a good year. It’s a matter of just the will to keep playing. I want to keep playing for as long as I can. I never want to take it for granted. When your back’s up against the wall and it’s a contract year, you fight for it.”
And atop the front office, general manager Brian MacLellan espoused a wait-and-see attitude with contract extensions, but admitted he had begun to formulate ideas of which Capitals he might want to ink to new deals.
“We’re not going to comment on specific contract negotiations,” he said. “I think we’ve got guys who have played well, and I think the second 40 here is going to determine a lot too. We’re evaluating. We’re talking theoretically. But I think we need to be successful as a team moving forward to, to cement what our thoughts would be going forward.”
According to the now-offline CapGeek.com, here’s a look at the Capitals’ free agents next summer, counting anyone who’s logged NHL time this season and some top minor league prospects:
UNRESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Joel Ward ($3 million)
Eric Fehr ($1.5 million)
Jay Beagle ($900,000)
Aaron Volpatti ($575,000)*
Mike Green ($6083,333)
John Erskine ($1.962,500)*
Jack Hillen ($700,000)
RESTRICTED FREE AGENTS
Marcus Johansson ($2 million)
Evgeny Kuznetsov ($900,000)
Chris Brown ($853,333)**
Nate Schmidt ($625,000)**
Patrick Wey ($640,000)**
Cam Schilling ($625,000)**
Braden Holtby ($1.85 million)
Philipp Grubauer ($578,889)**
*long-term injured reserve
**currently in the American Hockey League with Hershey