Jay Beagle turned 30 years old on Friday and celebrated by eating a cannoli. Later tonight, with the Capitals making their only visit of the season to his hometown of Calgary, he’ll get together with his family for dinner, but he’s not expecting his mother, Sue, to bake him his favorite cake.
“She would if I told her I needed a cake,” Beagle said, “but we celebrated my 30th birthday before I left (for training camp) with my family on the farm. It was potluck, everyone brought something."
Apparently, it was quite a bash, with somewhere in the range of 50 Beagles roaming the grounds and kids running in and out of an inflatable bounce castle.
There was, after all, a lot to celebrate. Back in July, Beagle was rewarded for his years of hard work and dedication with a three-year, $5.25 million contract. For someone who grew up changing tires at his father’s auto repair shop it was like hitting the lottery.
“When a team’s willing to invest in you and put three years on the table it gives you that much more motivation to give everything you’ve got in the summer and come to camp in the best shape you can and give them everything you can,” Beagle said.
“Every contract I’ve gotten I feel like I fought for and had to earn it the hard way. That’s the way I’ve always lived, to earn everything I’ve gotten. This is the organization I wanted to be a part of I appreciate the fact this team wanted me. I was very happy with the deal.”
After signing his contract, Beagle made it clear that his goal for this season was to nail down the team’s third-line center spot, behind centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov. He had spent most of his previous five NHL seasons as a fourth-line forward, never averaging more than 13 minutes a night.
But that all changed in the playoff last spring when Beagle’s ice time jumped to nearly 16 minutes a game.
“Playing against those top two lines on the other team, that’s what I live for,” Beagle said. “I love shutting down their skilled lines. I love playing against the top guys. Fourth lines usually play against other teams’ fourth lines; you rarely get out against the top line.”
After four games Beagle has cemented himself into the No. 3 center spot on a checking line with left wing Jason Chimera and right wing Tom Wilson.
On Thursday night against the Chicago Blackhawks, Barry Trotz used Beagle almost exclusively against top-line center Jonathan Toews and Chicago coach Joel Quenneville was so frustrated with his top line’s lack of production he tried four different wingers, with no success. Two nights later Beagle went up against Carolina’s Eric Staal and held him off the score sheet.
“There’s no quit in Beags’ game,” Trotz said.
Trotz said he likes the three different elements his third line offers. Chimera is the speedster who gewts in on the forecheck. Wilson is the heavy body checker to keeps everyone’s head on a swivel, and Beagle does the dirty work in the corners and along the wall.
“We all know what to expect from each other,” Wilson said. “We all know that if a guy is a step ahead of the rest of us he’s going to be on first on the forecheck. Chimmer’s always in there because he’s got great speed.
“We’re playing fast hockey. There’s obviously stuff we can clean up, but it’s fun to play with guys who you know are going to bring their lunch pail every game and work hard every shift.”
Following the summer departures of center Eric Fehr and right wingers Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, Beagle was left as one of only two right-handed centermen (Michael Latta is the other) on the Caps roster. He said he knew that would probably increase his role as a penalty-killing specialist.
“That’s always been a big part of my game and I expect more because we lost three right-handed guys who could take draws,” Beagle said. “When I saw them go I thought, ‘OK let’s start working on my faceoffs a lot more,’ and I focused on that in training this summer.”
Through four games Beagle has won 36 of 57 draws for a 63.1 percent success rate. He is a perfect 9-for-9 in offensive zone faceoffs. But he says he is taking nothing for granted.
“If you get complacent I think that’s when you get in trouble,” he said. “I don’t want to be known as a fourth-line player. I want to be able to play in any situation, really, but third-line center is my dream job. I always wanted that job and this year I’m going to do everything I can to keep it.”
But there is something more that is driving Beagle. At 30 years old he believes he and the Capitals are in their prime to win the Stanley Cup. He agrees with general manager Brian MacLellan’s assessment that there is a two- or three-year window for the Caps to win a championship and applauded MacLellan’s acquisitions of defensemen Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen two summers ago and T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams last summer.
“As soon as he came in Mac addressed the situations we needed and we recognize it,” Beagle said. “It makes it exciting when you see gaps being filled that we lacked in the past.
“This team is built for right now. I feel like this team, since I’ve been here, has been climbing and getting to a point of a championship. I mean, it was on our minds when Bruce (Boudreau) was here, but I feel like we’ve been building up to this.
“Everyone is kind of at their best right now. You feel like this is our chance in the next couple years here. I know from taking with the guys, we want a championship this year. That’s what the goal was all summer while we were training. We’ve just got to continue to keep getting better. It’s a great spot to be in. That’s why I’m so excited about this team.”
MORE CAPITALS: Trotz 'curious' to see Connor McDavid