There are 30 NHL teams that would like to have Jimmy Vesey on their roster.
The Nashville Predators did. The team selected forward and future Hobey Baker award-winner for most outstanding collegiate hockey player in the third-round at pick 66 in the 2012 draft. Vesey elected to stay at Harvard all four years and earn his degree – an unusual but hard-to-question road to the National Hockey League.
After opting not to sign an entry-level contract in Nashville, the Predators traded his free-agent rights in June to the Buffalo Sabres in return for a third-round pick in following year’s draft.
Here we are, now, days away from Vesey becoming an unrestricted free agent after August 15th, and he plans to test the waters of free agency by meeting with a handful of teams. According to a report from Joe Haggerty of Comcast SportsNet New England, the expected finalists for the North Reading, Mass. native are the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, and Chicago Blackhawks.
This short list of preferred destinations may come as a surprise to some, as shortly after trading for his rights, Buffalo is expected to fail to qualify as a finalist for his services. Vesey’s father, Jim, works as a scout in the Toronto Maple Leafs organization, as well. The short list also doesn’t include the hometown Boston Bruins. Vesey, is, however, still expected to meet with these clubs and entertain their pitches.
I have decided to analyze the teams he will speak with as potential destinations. College free-agency pitches are unique in the sense in that the teams are using their respective pitches to make their market, team, and experience stand out to the player.
Suitors will be offering the same amount of money on a tw0-year, entry-level contract. Which team is going to make itself stand out the most from a hockey perspective?
Vesey grew up in suburban Boston. Obviously, the chance to play in your hometown and where you spent the last four years of your collegiate career has its pluses. The left winger has an opportunity to continue to learn how to be a responsible player on both ends of the ice from veteran center Patrice Bergeron, a member of the triple-gold club. From a team standpoint, however, Boston has undergone change since winning the Stanley Cup in 2011. The club has missed the playoffs for two consecutive seasons. Head coach Claude Julien is on the hot seat. General manager Don Sweeney has received lukewarm reviews in his short tenure with the club and is entering his second season. Last offseason, Boston shipped out now-23-year-old defenseman Dougie Hamilton to Calgary and signed 32-year-old center and former St. Louis Blues captain David Backes to a six-year contract. The allure of having the “B” on the crest of his jersey may have do almost solely with being from the area, which maybe is the reason indications are he has other preferred destinations.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The Maple Leafs have a new identity. Head coach Mike Babcock is entering the second year of an eight-year, $50 million deal as head coach. General manager Lou Lamoriello spent 1987-2015 with the Devils in the same role, and is also entering his second season with the club. Toronto has an influx of young forwards in the mix that could potentially complement the 23-year-old Vesey well. Babcock recently said there’s a “real good chance” 2015 fourth overall pick Mitch Marner makes the roster and joins 2014 eighth overall pick William Nylander and 2016 first overall pick Auston Matthews. Vesey has an opportunity to join a potential up-and-coming forward group and play in an organization where his father has served as scout and is a hockey mecca.
Buffalo was aggressive in trading for Vesey’s rights and clearly made him a priority. They are the only team (not for long) that can speak with him. It may be fair to say if Vesey truly wanted to call Buffalo home, he would have done so already. For a winger like him, it is a little surprising considering the young and talented center depth the Sabres have in the form of 2014 and 2015 second-overall picks Sam Reinhart and Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, and Zegmus Girgensons.
New Jersey Devils
Even with an appearance in Cup in 2012, the Devils have been clamoring for top-six talent in their forward group for years. They completed a blockbuster trade earlier in the offseason with the Edmonton Oilers, landing former top overall pick and still 24-year-old winger Taylor Hall. New Jersey was considered a darkhorse in the Vesey sweepstakes, but it’s easy to understand his interest in the club. Led by elite goaltender Cory Schneider, Vesey would instantly slot into one of the Devils’ top lines on opening night.
New York Rangers
We now shift our attention to the first playoff team on the list. The Blueshirts are coming off a first-round loss to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Vesey is reportedly good friends with forward Kevin Hayes, whom also underwent a free-agent process of Vesey’s liking in 2014 after not signing with Chicago. New York makes geographical sense for the Northeast product. Playing in a major market has its perks, and Vesey would join a fairly young forward group.
The perennial powerhouse Chicago Blackhawks may have the strongest pitch on paper. The three-time champions in the last seven seasons have laser-like focus on talented free agents like Vesey. Chicago is an organization that spends to the cap ceiling. In the past few offseasons, the Blackhawks have suffered cap casualties that included Brandon Saad, Teuvo Teravainen, and Andrew Shaw. After signing Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews to lucrative extensions in 2014, it is important for the Blackhawks to have young talent playing important roles on entry-level contracts. They were successful in that search after signing Artemi Panarin who notched 77 points in his rookie and first North American season and ran away with the Calder Memorial Trophy. General manager Stan Bowman has been reportedly spotted scouting Vesey in the Northeast this summer and is also rumored to be bringing Toews to the pitch, which is fitting since one of the major selling points the Hawks have is potentially having Vesey fill a gaping left wing hole next to Toews on the first line. It’s no mistake Chicago is on the short list, having a large market, a talented roster, and a chance for him to play in the top-six with elite talent from the get-go to offer.
Tuesday will surely be the beginning of an interesting week.