Frank Sinatra is known singing, New York, New York. He's also known for the title track to an album called "That's Life." Such is the juxtaposition of Jimmy Vesey's decision to sign with the the NY Rangers as the highly coveted free agent started "spreading the news" about "leaving today" to "be a part of it" in New York City. For the Buffalo Sabres and their fans, we flip to the other side of the coin with Sinatra singing, "that's life" while fully knowing that despite another miss, the Sabres will take the approach that "each time I find myself layin' flat on my face, I just pick myself up and get back in the race."
Let's get this out of the way right now, it sucks not being able to land Vesey. The Sabres offered the highly sought after Hobey Baker winner the opportunity to be apart of their future but it seems as if the allure of the NY Rangers and a chance to live in the Big Apple was too much for Vesey to pass up. "One of the things I definitely liked about New York was the top-notch lifestyle that the city offers,” Vesey was quoted as saying at his conference call last night.
Make no mistake, the Sabres made a strong push to sign the college standout after trading away a 2016 third-round pick to the Nashville Predators for his rights. In Buffalo Vesey had the opportunity to play alongside one of two premier centers in Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel and at the very least could have honed his craft this year on a third line that will consist of anything but chopped liver. Although the Sabres aren't a Stanley Cup contender at this point in time, they're on the rise and have a pretty strong nucleus of players 25 yrs. old and younger being coached by a Stanley Cup-winner in Dan Bylsma who will be in year-two of his tenure.
And although Buffalo is still a small-town market the Sabres have a big-time owner in the Pegulas who's stated goal is to win the Stanley Cup, money be damned. Despite the set-backs of the prior five seasons the Pegula family is hell-bent on doing whatever it takes to get this team and the city to the promised land.
It's extremely disappointing to miss out as Vesey is yet another in a growing list that the Sabres can't seem to reel in. From Brad Richards in 2011 to Shane Doan to Steven Stamkos to Vesey, with head coach Mike Babcock thrown in for good measure, through no fault of their own they haven't been able to land in the big fish. Yet, every year they step up to the plate going after the best talent available.
The above list may open old wounds for some fans, but it's not about the failures. Rather it's more about the organization continuing to reach for the moon despite continually coming up short. The Sabres, as well as Buffalo big-time sports, has a long history of being the bridesmaid and with it comes a stigma, however fair or unfair, that keeps Buffalo teams from signing top-notch talent. Yet despite getting knocked down they get back on their feet and "get back in the race."
In that respect, there's no need to wallow in the Vesey miss. In a very business-like manner Sabres GM Tim Murray said as much back in July after he, Bylsma and Jerry Forton met with the Vesey camp. "I don't sit at home and speculate about this," said Murray after the first meeting. "He's either going to sign here or he's not.
"If he doesn't, it's going to be obviously not the decision we want, and then you guys will call me a dummy for trading away a third-round pick. I got all the scenarios and I'm ready for them all."
That third-round pick is perfect trolling material despite the fact that the Sabres had four 3rd-rounders at the time he made the trade as well as 12 picks overall heading into the draft. Did Murray waste a pick for nothing? In the end, yes, only because they came up empty. However that third-round pick put the Sabres at the table and allowed them an exclusive opportunity to present what they had to offer, plus answer any lingering questions down the road well before Vesey hit the market on August 16th. It was acknowledged by Murray as a calculated gamble using a pick that, generally speaking, has a less than 10% chance of making it into the NHL.
If you think a third-round pick was a high price to pay for that opportunity one only need to look at the last 10 NHL Drafts to see that third-rounders in general don't often turn into more than depth players and when it comes to forwards, the odds of one having an impact are even slimmer. In drafts between 2003, which most consider the greatest NHL draft ever, and 2012 only five players of the roughly 300 selected reached All-Star status. Two were defensemen--Alexander Edler (2004, 91st-overall) and Kris Letang (2005, 62nd-overall)--while the other three were goalies--Jonathan Quick (2005, 72nd,) Ben Bishop (2005, 85th) and Steve Mason (2006, 69th.) Sure there are a few more who have had long careers and/or have played in the upper-half of the roster, but most are bottom-half players.
Murray's handling of this situation from start to finish should be commended. From the get-go he said that his wasn't about him and/or the Buffalo Sabres, it was about Jimmy Vesey using the freedoms given to him by the collective bargaining agreement. The league allows college players the option to become a free agent in the summer they finish their fourth college season. Although the Nashville Predators may take issue with what transpired, the Buffalo Sabres would have no issue with any decision made by Vesey.
"I told him he doesn't owe anybody anything. He went to school for four years and he became a free agent. So now he's got to make the right decision for him. There's no timetable. I felt really good about the meeting. I got great feedback about the meeting. But this is his show right now. This is his court."
An approach like that gets noticed by the league and it's players. Sure Buffalo doesn't have the attractions that other big cities have, but at the very least the players know that they will be treated with respect. And with the Pegula's strong financial backing, they'll be afforded every opportunity to reach whatever potential they're willing to work for.
No doubt missing out on Vesey was a tough pill to swallow as one could've easily slotted him into the top-nine spot on the left side, but as that door closed, it opened up other doors for players currently on the roster.
One of the best tweets from Vesey's decision to go to the Rangers came from Kris Baker of SabresProspects/Sabres.com. Bakes tweeted, "20 says Matt Moulson just popped a bottle of bubbly."
Barring a left wing acquisition by Murray, a trio of roster players will get the opportunity to land in a top-six spot next to O'Reilly or Eichel. Moulson, a former three-time 30-goal scorer with the NY Islanders, now has a grand opportunity to take advantage of the situation if he can get himself to alter his training regimen. The door is also opened for forward Tyler Ennis who missed most of last season because of injury. He admitted that he needed to ramp up his dedication to the sport.
Forward Zemgus Girgensons remains unsigned at this writing but if/when he signs he should also get an opportunity. Girgensons is coming off a poor year but is still young enough at 22 yrs. old and still has top-nine/six potential after playing in over 200 NHL games, most of them with the bottom-dwelling Sabres teams of 2013-15.
There's even the possibility that Alexander Nylander, Buffalo's first round pick this year, could enter into the equation. Nylander is more of a long shot but if he impresses at training camp and preseason, he certainly has the top-six skills to not only hang with, but flourish on either O'Reilly or Eichel's wing. Anything short of a top-six slot in Buffalo, however, will probably mean a year of seasoning in Rochester for him.
When all's said and done, the Vesey journey, like the others mentioned, was one well worth taking despite the end result. People can bag on Buffalo for falling short again but if you're never at the table you'll never have the opportunity to feast.
And like Frank sang, "that's life."