True to his word all along, at 12:01 a.m. coveted college winger Jimmy Vesey hit the open market hell-bent upon finding a home. Vesey and his agents have said all along that there are a number of factors that the 23 yr. old will weigh while making his decision including the opportunity to maximize his post entry-level deal (2 yrs.) via top-six/top-nine ice-time and time on the powerplay. And not to be dismissed is the pull of possibly playing for his hometown Boston Bruins.
Vesey had said from the start that he's interested in staying in the East (more specifically the northeast) and that he's also very much interested in a team's overall philosophy and their depth chart as well as how ownership takes care of it's own. The first part of staying closer to home was reiterated this morning as agent Peter Fish (via WEEI, Boston,) but he also did not completely rule out the Chicago Blackhawks who, with their recent record, three Stanley Cup rings and organizational quality from top to bottom usually has them at the top of anyone's list.
To their credit the Vesey camp has kept things close to the vest this summer with virtually no leaks. Some rumors have surfaced but none of them had any direct links to Vesey. "I think there’s a lot of things out there that either aren’t true or people are just searching to say things," Fish told Yahoo's Puck Daddy last week.
Buffalo Sabres GM Tim Murray traded one of his four 3rd round picks to the Nashville Predators to gain exclusive negotiating rights with Vesey leading up to today. To this point in time they've had a couple of meetings with the Vesey camp. Fish said that "Buffalo has always been a team that has interested him," but that he also wants "to compare [what Buffalo has to offer] with a few other teams once [free agency] happens.”
Those other teams constitute a short list include about a half-dozen teams, so let's take a look at their odds.
Chicago Blackhaws, 3-1: As mentioned earlier in the piece, the Blackhawks are the standard right now in the NHL. Should he be able to hang with the big boys, Vesey will have the opportunity to skate on a line with Jonathan Toews and Marian Hossa or with Artem Anisimov and Patrick Kane. In either scenario he'd be skating with some of the very best the NHL has to offer and he can look no further than Calder Trophy-winning winger Artemi Panarin who was on the Anisimov/Kane line last year as a 24 yr. old rookie who lit it up for 30 goals and 47 assists. The only drawback is that they are in the mid west playing in the Western Conference and it's the only reason they're not 3-2 favorites.
Pittsburgh Penguins, 5-2: Like the Blackhawks the Pens boast two of the preeminent players in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and they're coming off a Stanley Cup season. There had been very little mention of Pittsburgh being in the mix but the Pittsburgh Gazette stated today that they will be meeting with Vesey this week. The Gazette mentions Boston connections but also points out that the team has had success with college players — Bryan Rust, Ian Cole and Conor Sheary, to name a few." The allure of playing with Crosby or Malkin is strong, but one might start to wonder if an aging Penguins core can duplicate their success from last season.
Buffalo Sabres, 4-1: In the chat rooms on this blog I've mentioned more than once that I feel Buffalo is the best landing spot for Vesey. Before Chicago and now Pittsburgh were mentioned to be on the short-list I felt there was a 65% chance of Vesey signing with Buffalo. And I stick by that. They have a young, up-and-coming team all right around Vesey's age and they also have two premier centers in Ryan O'Reilly and Jack Eichel. The latter is a personal friend of Vesey who's spent the last four off-season's skating with. I've proposed that a young man searching to strike out on his own might feel more comfortable starting anew with somebody he knew and that for Vesey, Eichel could be that guy. The Sabres have an owner that will do what it takes to win and the team has a ready-made spot on the second-line next to Eichel. The only downside is that they don't have the history that the Hawks or Pens have which is why they might be behind those two teams.
Boston Bruins, 9-2: The Bruins have that tradition. They're also Vesey's hometown team and the allure to play for them is strong. Vesey has his family there and they have a quality organization with plenty of veterans to guide a promising group of young players. However, as in the case of Steven Stamkos and others, playing for the home team is more fan/media-hype than anything else. Add in the pressures of playing in front of friends and family every night and the backlash for not performing up to expectations and it could lead to a very toxic environment in the second year of his contract.
NY Rangers, 6-1: They're the NY Rangers. Madison Square Gardens, Time's Square, the big time, you know "if you can make it there..." The Rangers also have some pretty good firepower up front with a bevy of fast, skilled, young players. They're also not far removed from a Stanley Cup Finals appearance and have made the playoffs six consecutive seaosns. Plus they have one of the best goalies in the league in Henrik Lundqvist. How does that relate to what Vesey wants? I'm not sure, but it's NY and they're always in the mix even if a player like Vesey and his small-town values don't seem to be a perfect fit.
Toronto Maple Leafs, 8-1: Vesey's dad works for the team and his brother is in the system. The Maple Leafs did the smart thing by gutting their hockey operations and putting in place some of the best in the business from VP Brendan Shanahan on down. They have a fine group of prospects and just landed the best player in his draft-class--C, Auston Matthews. Yet, Toronto would be just as much a pressure-cooker as Boston but worse since they don't have the top-six veteran support that the Bruins boast. This team will be good, and a Sabres fan I'm looking forward to the coming rivalry, but the Leafs might just be a year or two off for what Vesey says he wants right now.
New Jersey Devils, 10-1: Other than being in the northeast and landing Taylor Hall, I'm not sure how the Devils came into play. They have no where near the firepower up-front as the Hawks, Pens, Bruins, Rangers and Sabres have. They do have some pretty good young players in Kyle Palmeri and Adam Henrique, among others, and they do have quality goaltending but they're beginning a transition away from the Lou Lamiorello shut-down style of play and it takes time. Like Toronto, they're a couple year away and I'm not sure if that's good in Vesey's eyes.