Reporting David Elfin
After the most difficult year of his life, one in which he missed 11 weeks with a concussion and the final two games of the playoffs with a broken foot, the Caps’ Jay Beagle was really excited about this season. As the start of training camp approached in September, Beagle and his wife, Ashley, moved into their first house, a purchase made with the confidence that he would be a regular under new coach Adam Oates.
And then came the lockout which began two months ago tomorrow. Beagle’s teammates have scattered. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are playing in Russia, Brooks Laich is skating in Switzerland and Michal Neuvirth is tending goal in the Czech Republic. Marcus Johansson is back home in Sweden as is Wojtek Wolski in Poland.
Postseason star Braden Holtby and 21-year-old Dmitry Orlov are gaining more seasoning with Hershey of the American Hockey League. Joey Crabb is doing the same another rung down in Alaska. Ten Caps veterans are back in their offseason homes in the U.S. or Canada.
However, Beagle, John Carlson, Jason Chimera and Mike Green continue to skate and work out in Ballston, along with ex-teammate Jeff Halpern, renting ice time at Kettler IcePlex, where they dress in a bare-bones locker room on the far side of the Caps’ more luxurious digs. All of them hope that the lockout is soon history, but none more so than the 27-year-old Beagle, who finally established himself in the NHL last season after splitting the previous three years between Washington and Hershey.
“It was tough ending last year with a broken foot,” said Beagle, who said he has been 100 percent since late August. “You wonder, ‘Could I have made a difference?’ You feel like you let your team down when you can’t play. The playoffs were the most fun hockey I had played in a long time. I was really looking forward to getting back into it this year. I honestly didn’t know there might be a lockout until a couple of days before the 15th. We heard all sorts of things like they were gonna let us play under the old CBA while they negotiated. I want to play hockey. We’re not used to being here in November and not playing games.”
Beagle, who earned a reputation as a faceoff specialist last season, can’t wait to work with fellow center Oates, a newly-inducted Hall of Famer Oates as one of the greatest passers in NHL history.
“It’s going to be great to learn from Adam, pick up on things he learned from his  years of playing,” Beagle said.
But for now, the only contact between teacher and pupil are waves and smiles when they happen to cross paths at Kettler. Oates is part of management and Beagle is part of the locked-out union.
“I thought about going to Europe, but there are a lot of guys trying to go over there and not that many jobs so it really isn’t much of an option for a guy like me,” Beagle said. “You lose a lot of muscle tone when you’re out for three months. I wasn’t allowed to work out, skate, do anything. So you lose a lot of power in your legs. When you come back, you’re playing catch-up. I feel like I have caught up. If I continue to work on my body and build up the strength that I lost last year then I can get back to where I feel I need to be.”
Although the NHL and the Players Association negotiated more last week than they had in quite a while, the lockout hasn’t ended. The first six weeks of the season have been scrubbed as has the Winter Classic. So Beagle and Co. skate three days a week and work out on the other four with the hope that they’ll soon again be paid for doing so.
“I honestly don’t know how long the five of us will keep doing this,” Beagle said. “It’s always encouraging when they’re talking. We’re looking forward to hopefully something getting done in the next couple of weeks and playing some games, get back to our normal routines.”
Although his wife works, Beagle said he’s not bored being home alone so much. He’s renovating the house inside and landscaping outside, although they might have postponed the purchase and remained in his native Calgary if he had had a better sense that there was going to be a lockout. And even if the entire season is lost to the lockout, Beagle knows he has been through worse.
“The concussion was by far more frustrating than the lockout or not being able to finish the playoffs because of the foot,” he said.
“The concussion is the worst thing I’ve been through. I would wake up and feel pretty good until I would try to work out. For the first month, the doctors and trainers told me not to read or watch TV because I didn’t want that strain on my brain. But I’m fine now. I believe that I’ve got a guardian angel watching over me. An injury like that could end your career. It could make you not right for the rest of your life.”
Compared to that possibility, losing the $700,000 salary he’s due this season would be meaningless.
David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last two Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since last March. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin