The Jimmy Vesey saga continues to play out for the Buffalo Sabres and the rest of the NHL. In a little over a month, the former Harvard winger will hit the open market and make his long-awaited decision on where he’ll begin his NHL career.
I’ll try to paint the picture here on why Vesey would decide to sign in Buffalo and on the flip side why he would decide to sign elsewhere. He’s a unique position that not a lot of players have — the luxury of exploring at such a young age.
Ahead of the Game
The two sides met last week in Boston for two hours. According to the Providence Journal, the Sabres sent a three-man team of General Manager Tim Murray, Head Coach Dan Bylsma and college scout Jerry Forton; who is also a former Harvard assistant. Both the Sabres and Vesey’s agent said the meeting went well last week. Neither side indicated if there would be a follow-up meeting at this point.
Tim Murray, Dan Bylsma & Jerry Forton of #Sabres met with Jimmy Vesey & his reps for 2-plus hours in Boston today, per source.
— Mark Divver (@MarkDivver) July 8, 2016
The advantage the Sabres have heading into August would be the ability to have an extended talk with Vesey. He indicated that his plan was to make a decision within a few days of hitting the open market. If the two do only have this one meeting than that advantage goes out the window. However, it would make sense logically for the two side to connect at least one more time prior to August 15th.
It may mean nothing at the end of the day, but nearly two months of exclusive rights is more time to sell the Boston native on the organization. It’ll be more time than any other team gets with him. It’s possible, Vesey does like what the Sabres are offering him, but still wants to hear from other clubs. In that case, Buffalo is still in the driver’s seat. Other teams will have to make a pitch of why they’re better than signing with the Sabres. In a way, Buffalo becomes the team to beat in the open market sweepstakes.
The biggest draw to the Sabres for Vesey continues to be the idea of playing with friend and fellow Boston native Jack Eichel. By now everyone knows that the two are playing as linemates in a Boston pro league this summer. Vesey will have the opportunity to play in the top six on any NHL team he decides to sign with. However, Eichel is a little bit of a different story in regards to being a linemate. The two are already familiar with each other on the ice. The experience of playing together already could get them off to a good start once the season rolls around.
The 2015 second overall pick is one of the best centers in the NHL under 20-years-old and has the potential to be one of the best at his position in another year or two. Having the opportunity to play alongside that talent over at least the next two seasons would be a great opportunity for Vesey. He could start his NHL career picking up a lot of points and be an important part of a young team that could be a dangerous contender in the Eastern Conference in the near future.
Now, it’s time to look at why Vesey will sign elsewhere besides Buffalo come August. The 23-year-old has a very small list of teams he’s considering once he hits the open market come August 15th. Clubs that are believed to be in the mix besides Buffalo are the Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks, New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
This isn’t a decision that’ll come down to money. The Harvard graduate can only sign a two-year entry-level contract. Every team will surely offer him max bonus besides perhaps Toronto. Leafs General Manager Lou Lamoriello usually does not give bonuses to players on entry-level contracts. He’s currently going through a negotiation with 2016 top pick Auston Matthews with bonuses being one of the sticking points. If Toronto wants to be in the discussion, the Leaf GM will likely need to get off his no bonuses stance.
Every team in the mix will also offer the 2016 Hobey Baker Award winner the chance to play in a top-six role next season. Vesey will have his pick potentially to play with players like Jack Eichel, Jonathan Toews, Patrice Bergeron, Sidney Crosby, Auston Matthews and Derek Stepan. Certainly not a luxury many players are offered as they enter the NHL.
If Vesey does indeed sign elsewhere besides Buffalo come the middle of August; one reason will be because he believes he has a better chance to succeed with another team. The Sabres are certainly an up and coming team. However, Vesey may choose to play for an instant contender like the Blackhawks or Penguins. He’ll have the opportunity to get playoff experience right away, be a productive player and be on a Stanley Cup contending club.
Come Home, Jimmy
When all is said and done the lure of playing for his hometown team of Boston could be too much to ignore. The Boston native grew up a Bruins fan and surely has dreamt about playing for his home club. Nobody would be surprised by this decision if that is how it’ll play out. Players all over the NHL look for the opportunity to return home in free agency.
The Bruins are not the powerhouse organization on the ice like Pittsburgh and Chicago. However, like Buffalo, they should compete for a playoff spot next season. Vesey will have the opportunity to be part of a youth movement in Boston along with David Pastrnak, Ryan Spooner and Torey Krug.
Another thing that could be the final piece to bring Vesey to the Bruins would be the opportunity to play with veteran two-way center Bergeron. The three-time Selke Award winner would be an excellent mentor for a young player entering the league. Bergeron will also take some pressure off Vesey in the defensive end and allow him to be a more productive offensive player.
If Vesey does decide to sign with a team besides the Sabres, fans shouldn’t overreact. Buffalo can still be a playoff contender without him next season. The lure of playing for his hometown team or an immediate cup contender could be too much to pass up. Buffalo took a chance in acquiring his rights and if it doesn’t work out, then so be it. The aggressive approach was well worth the opportunity of snagging up a talented player before other teams had the chance to jump in.
All signs indicate that Vesey will indeed hit the open market come August 15th. If that does end up being the case, the Sabres, would still be in the running. The Vesey camp has already indicated that Buffalo is on the short list of teams he’s considering. We’ll see if the Sabres do enough to convince him to sign prior to August or if they stand out amongst the crowd still in the open market.