VANCOUVER – Old Jay Beagle has a farm, and on that farm he had the Stanley Cup.
These two things tell you a little bit about Beagle, the 32-year-old centre the rebuilding Vancouver Canucks recruited as a free agent to teach their young players how to work and how to win.
After the retirement last April of Daniel and Henrik Sedin, who were the compass point used to guide the Canucks for a decade, the National Hockey League team was so desperate for Beagle it splurged for a four-year, $12-million contract that baffled a lot of people.
Coach Travis Green, general manager Jim Benning and former president Trevor Linden so coveted Beagle’s qualities, as a player and as a template for professionalism, the Canucks went double the term they had initially hoped would lure him.
On the surface, the only thing crazier than that contract – besides the identical deal for free agent Antoine Roussel – was Beagle’s decision to accept it.
Sure, it’s a lot of money. Other teams were willing to give him a lot of money, too, and most of them could offer Beagle a far better chance to win than the Canucks, who are universally picked to finish very near the bottom of the NHL for a fourth straight season.
But Beagle, after winning the Stanley Cup in June with the Washington Capitals, chose the Canucks because, well, “I’ve never been afraid of a challenge.”
Beagle visited several organizations in the free-agent courting period before July 1, but said no one’s vision for their team and his role in it was as appealing as the Canucks’.
“I met with a couple of other teams and I could just tell, the fit wasn’t the same,” Beagle said. “You can probably make that work, make that fit. But it just felt like this was the team I was supposed to go to. It just felt like the right place to be.
“I looked at the vision that this organization wanted and how I could help. I’m not afraid of what people say is a rebuild. You come in every day and do your best to win, and you do everything you can to build that culture. It might take three or four years; you just come in every day with a smile on your face and try to build that winning culture.”
Beagle has built his career that way.
He grew up in Calgary and was undrafted out of the Alberta Junior Hockey League. He attended the University of Alaska-Anchorage for two seasons before starting his professional career at age 22 in the East Coast League.
The speedy, six-foot-three centre spent most of the next 3 ½ seasons in the American Hockey League. He played 209 games for the Hershey Bears before finally becoming a regular with the Capitals in 2011.
Beagle had seven goals and 22 points in 79 games last season after setting career-highs with 13 and 30 the year before. He was a consistent pro, a reliable checker and penalty-killer, a 60 per cent winner of faceoffs who could be trusted late in games.
These things will help the Canucks on the ice. But his greater value could be the ideals Green and Benning hope Beagle instills in talented young players like Brock Boeser and Elias Pettersson, Adam Gaudette, Jonathan Dahlen and Kole Lind, and, next spring or fall, Quinn Hughes.
It’s not only the way Beagle plays, it’s the way he practises. It’s how he trains and prepares, his accountability and the way he treats others. Beagle didn’t just keep up to the kids during Green’s demanding training camp last weekend, he led them.
“He’s probably faster than I thought he was going to be,” Green told reporters in Whistler. “Right from the get-go here, you can see Beagle is a real committed player. He’s in phenomenal shape for an older guy, skates well. He’s going to do a lot of different things to help your team win that don’t always show up on the scoresheet.”
“I’ve never looked at myself as a leader; never put that on myself,” Beagle said. “I just go out and work hard and try do my best and be the person I am. And if that comes across as a leader, so be it. It’s a blessing to play this game, and if you come in with that attitude every day, if you’re staying positive and enjoying what you’re doing, it shows.”
Beagle was scheduled Thursday night to play his first pre-season game for the Canucks. His last game, on June 7, helped the Capitals beat the Vegas Golden Knights for the Stanley Cup.
Perhaps because he left for the Canucks, Beagle had to wait until Aug. 21 to get his day with the Cup. “Fourth-liner, peasant,” he explained self-deprecatingly.
He took the trophy to Children’s Hospital in Calgary, then up to the 160-acre farm north of the city that he and his wife Ashley purchased four years ago.
Beagle isn’t from a farming family. He just wanted a farm on which to raise his boys, four-year-old Brandt and two-year-old Colter. The plan is to live there full-time when Beagle is finished playing.
For now, some of the land is leased to a cattle rancher, who is teaching Beagle about black angus. Jay already owns some machinery, including a backhoe for his 82-year-old grandpa, Ivan, who operated one for the city.
It’s not hard to imagine Beagle on a tractor.
“I already ride one,” he said. “I’ll learn a little bit as we go. It will never be something you make money on, but I think I’ll have 20 head (of cattle) and run it just for my friends and family. Kids love it. I just go out there and kind of work.”