Who is Jimmy Vesey and what is all this hype about?
Jimmy Vesey is a 23-year-old, 6’1″, 195-pound left winger from No. Reading, Massachusetts who just finished four years playing for (and studying at) Harvard University. He was a Hobey Baker finalist his junior year and won the award his senior year. Vesey finished his college career with 144 points in 128 games. He played on the top line of Team USA’s gold-medal-winning team at the World Junior Championships in 2013, and he helped Team USA win bronze at the World Hockey Championships in 2015. In the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, he was drafted by the Nashville Predators in the third round, 66th overall.
Things took a weird turn last year when Vesey announced that he would pursue unrestricted free agency. There’s a clause in the CBA that allows a player to become a UFA after four years of college. It’s rare that this happens, though Kevin Hayes signed with the New York Rangers in a similar manner after being drafted by the Blackhawks. The Predators felt especially spurned, as they believe Vesey told them he’d sign with their club. Eventually the Predators traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick. Vesey informed the Sabres that regardless of that move, he was committed to exploring unrestricted free agency in full on August 16, his first day of eligibility.
All drama aside, Jimmy Vesey is a good, young, NHL-ready player who appears to be a cool drink of water in a UFA desert. He also comes cheaply, as the maximum entry level contract he can sign is $925K/yr for two years, plus a possible $2.85 million in performance bonuses. He’s a low-risk signing because if he flames out, you don’t have to worry about paying the bonus money. Because it’s an entry level contract, he’s also protected from the upcoming expansion draft for the Las Vegas Whatstheirnames.
What can we expect from Jimmy Vesey?
Kirk Luedeke of the Scouting Post and the Red Line Report describes Vesey as “a game changer” and that “Vesey would be a tremendous get for the Bruins”. The Leafs Nation and Pension Plan Puppets both like him, but are less bullish on him. They did some solid statistical analysis and make comparisons to players like Reilly Smith and Tyler Bozak.
When one looks at previous Hobey Baker winners and NCAA scoring leaders, expectations at the NHL level should be tempered. There are some big names in there for sure, such as Paul Kariya, Chris Drury, Jack Eichel, and Johnny Gaudreau. However, there are a lot of players in there who didn’t pan out – only about a third of the Hobey Baker winners have had real success at the NHL level. The consensus is that in Jimmy Vesey you’d be getting an NHL-ready player who will likely fit into a second-line or third-line left wing role. He does have a lot to prove, but it’s a cheap risk for an NHL given the entry level contract maximum, and he’ll be protected from the expansion draft.
Which teams are in the running for Jimmy Vesey?
Boston Bruins: Vesey’s from No. Reading and he’s rooted for the B’s all his life. Playing for his hometown team would be a dream come true. Dreamy thoughts aside, being able to play with Cup veterans like Bergeron and Chara is an attraction. A lot of people have the B’s written off as a team in decline, but wicked smaht people know bettah. The B’s are in a bit of a holding pattern until the big youth wave arrives, but that’s only about a season away. Being part of a resurgent Bruins team would have a strong pull for Vesey.
The problem with the Bruins for Vesey will be challenging for ice time. The top two spots at left wing are currently occupied by Marchand and Beleskey. Vesey isn’t taking Marchand’s job and nudging out Beleskey, while quite possible, is not going to be easy. Third line duty is still somewhat attractive as having Vesey on a line with Spooner would be fantastic for the B’s. If it’s second line minutes that Vesey wants, however, there are more certain options elsewhere.
The Bruins possibly have a trump card in cap space. While every team will offer him the max ELC, not every team can or is willing to offer a big package of bonus clauses. The Bruins, however, have $6.7 million in cap space and could potentially offer the maximum bonus package of $2.85 million. If money is a factor for Vesey – and it sure looks like it is – the Bruins have an advantage.
Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago is a very attractive option for Vesey. The opportunity to play with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane is certainly a draw, as well as to immediately play for a team that will challenge for the Cup. Chicago is also very desirable because the second-line LW position, currently occupied by Richard Panik, is totally up for grabs.
The problem with Chicago is that their Cup window is closing soon. They have serious cap problems looming, with bonus overages (most of which come from Artemi Panerin), Panarin being a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and Marian Hossa’s big contract with a no-movement clause. A team on a downswing can still be an advantage to Vesey, in a way, as it could mean job security on the second line. Still, the cap crunch could put a damper on the bonus clauses Chicago can offer.
Toronto Maple Leafs: There are very significant family factors here. The Maple Leafs employ Vesey’s father as a scout. His brother Nolan is also a Leafs prospect. He was drafted in the sixth round, 158th overall in the 2014 NHL Entry Draft. While the Leafs are still rebuilding and are still about a season away from making a leap forward, there are a lot of opportunities that come with being on a team like that. Vesey probably wouldn’t nudge James Van Riemsdyk out of the top line LW spot, but the competition behind JVR in their depth chart is really just Nikita Soshnikov.
The problem with Toronto is they have only $56,000 in cap space. Yes, fifty-six thousand. They would have to put someone on LTIR or move a contract. GM Lou Lamoriello is also known for being strongly opposed to bonus clauses. Oh, and they still need a backup goalie. Joffrey Lupul is still recovering from hernia surgery, so perhaps the Leafs can put him on LTIR. His contract, injury history, and no-movement clause makes him otherwise immovable, so if he’s healthy the Leafs would have to move a player like Tyler Bozak or Leo Komorov.
Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres bought the advantage of being able to open negotiations with Vesey early by sending a third round pick to Nashville. Vesey’s camp, however, is sticking with the plan of waiting to be able to field offers from all teams. Like Toronto, the Sabres have a lot of young talent and are soon to emerge from a major rebuild. Unlike Toronto, the Sabres have a lot of cap space, even with Zemgus Girgensons and Rasmus Ristolainen to sign. Vesey would challenge Matt Moulson strongly for the second line LW job. If the Sabres fire Evander Kane into the sun, Vesey is assured a top-six job. Oh, and Vesey is good friends with Jack Eichel.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils appear to be on a longer rebuilding track than Toronto or Buffalo. Their current roster is thin and their stock of prospects isn’t deep. However, they have plenty of cap space and only Mike Cammalleri behind Taylor Hall on the depth chart. Second line minutes are there for the taking.
New York Rangers: A lot with the Rangers depends on what they do with Rick Nash. If they were to trade him, Vesey would likely fit in behind Chris Kreider on the second line. If not, Vesey would likely get third line duty. The Rangers have enough cap space to offer a competitive bonus package. Their Cup prospects, however, are fading, and the Marc Staal and Dan Girardi contracts indicate a lengthy rebuild.
New York Islanders: Mark Divver of the Providence Journal reported on August 11 that Garth Snow was in Foxboro to watch Jimmy Vesey play. The Islanders have $3 million in cap space and the competition in the depth chart is Andrew Ladd, Anders Lee, and Nikolai Kulemin. Vesey would likely bump Kulemin out of the third line, but it’s a much taller order to steal a spot from Ladd or Lee.
So where does Jimmy Vesey end up?
For Vesey, a lot of it is about putting himself in the best position for his second contract, which comes down to ice time. Stephen Harris of the Boston Herald interviewed Vesey’s agent Peter Fish, and there are a couple of key takeaways. The first is “how a team treats their players in the second and third contracts down the road”. With Vesey’s ELC being pretty much the same with each team’s offer (give or take some bonus clauses), a lot comes down to how much money he can get in his second contract. In order to give himself the best position for his second contract, it comes down to the other key part: “We’ve looked at depth charts with some teams and talked about them”. How much he can get in his second contract is heavily dependent upon how much ice time he can get. That could put the Bruins out of the running, as Vesey would have to steal a spot from Marchand or Beleskey in order to get first-line or second-line ice time. Stealing Richard Panik’s spot in Chicago shouldn’t be a problem and beating out Soshnikov for a 2nd-line LW job in Toronto is a possibility. The second-line LW job in New Jersey is completely up for grabs. Earning top-six minutes in Buffalo could come down to what Buffalo does with Evander Kane, and similarly with the Rangers and what they do with Nash.
However, the salary cap situations for teams like the Blackhawks and Leafs make it difficult for them to offer a big bonus package with the ELC. The Bruins have a big advantage here. If the B’s make an aggressive bonus offer, such as the maximum $2.8 million, it could ease concerns Vesey may have about earning second-line minutes and sway him to his hometown club. If Vesey is more focused on second-line ice time and his second contract, then I think he ends up in Chicago. I think the Bruins will make the big bonus package push and sway him toward Boston.