For those tiring of hearing about NCAA free agent Jimmy Vesey, rest assured that the 23-year-old winger is nearing a decision on his destination.
According to a report from ESPN’s Joe McDonald, Vesey has finished meeting with the teams he has interest in joining — seven in total — and will begin discussing the options with his agents today with the possibility of coming to a final decision as early as Friday. Included on Vesey’s list of meetings were the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Pittsburgh Penguins, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Chicago Blackhawks. That’s not to mention Vesey’s meeting with the Buffalo Sabres, who traded for his rights in mid-June.
Vesey comes with a lot of potential, having scored 56 goals and 114 points in 70 games with Harvard over the past two seasons, and he picked up the Hobey Baker Award in 2016 as the top player in the NCAA. But his performance doesn’t mean money can be used to sway his decision. Each team will have to table similar offers because Vesey will enter the league on a two-year, entry-level deal.
So which team will persuade Vesey to sign on the dotted line? Here are the pros and cons for each team in the running to land the college standout:
NEW YORK RANGERS
Pros: If Vesey signs with the Rangers, he can at least know that the Rangers have a recent track record of taking college free agents in and having them contribute. Kevin Hayes, who signed a two-year, $5.2-million extension in New York this summer, was in a similar situation when he joined the Rangers in 2014. Drafted by Chicago, he became a free agent after four years and inked a two-year, entry-level deal with the Rangers. Hayes immediately jumped into New York’s lineup.
The team pulled out all the stops to try and land Vesey, too. During the day he was reportedly set to meet with the Rangers, a number of celebrity fans of the club tweeted to Vesey encouraging him to sign with the Blueshirts.
Cons: It’s going to be awfully difficult for Vesey to enter the Rangers’ lineup in the top-six. New York went out and acquired Mika Zibanejad this off-season, and Rick Nash, Chris Kreider, Mats Zuccarello and J.T. Miller might out-rank Vesey when it comes to getting the big minutes in the Big Apple.
The Rangers are also nearly ready for a slight rebuild, and that could mean Vesey is in line for some lean years with the club. They could still be a post-season club — any team with Henrik Lundqvist has a good chance — but New York won’t be a top flight contender. If he wants to compete for a Stanley Cup early in his career, it’s likely not with the Rangers.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Pros: Kyle Okposo’s signing with the Buffalo Sabres opens up a spot on John Tavares’ wing. If that’s not an attractive option for Vesey, it’s hard to say what would be. Tavares is one of the game’s premier players and a perennial threat to dominate the league and sweep the awards. If Vesey plays around Tavares, there’s a good chance he could be the beneficiary of the Islanders captain’s elite skill. Tavares was at Vesey’s meeting with the Islanders, too.
The Islanders are also a team that could be on the rise. For the first time in more than two decades, the franchise made it out of the first round of the post-season and there are some really skilled pieces up front and on the back end. If they get an all-star goaltender, the Islanders could be a threat.
Cons: There’s no guarantee about playing with Tavares, and the options down the middle aren’t as intriguing once you fall to the second line. Jumping straight onto the top line also is a big leap to make, no matter how good Vesey was for the Crimson. The pressure would be substantial, especially if he’s playing alongside Tavares.
Vesey also seems keen on being able to choose where he lives and settles down. With the arena situation what it is for the Islanders, he’s not going to have any certainty about staying put in one place with the Islanders.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Pros: If there’s any team that looks ready to start building for their future, it’s the Devils. GM Ray Shero made an incredible trade this off-season to land Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers and that already improves the Devils’ attack significantly. That’s not to mention New Jersey has arguably one of the best goaltenders in the world in Cory Schneider. He’ll be the backbone of a contending Devils team.
When it comes to playing time, New Jersey can almost assuredly give Vesey top-six minutes. Kyle Palmieri, Mike Cammalleri, Adam Henrique and Hall are the four best offensive weapons the Devils have, and there’s definitely room to fit Vesey in. He could become part of the Devils core and stay with the team for years to come.
Cons: The defense corps leaves much to be desired and until that gets sorted the Devils are destined to be a team that competes for a playoff spot but not a Stanley Cup. No matter how strong the offense is or how well Schneider plays, if the back end isn’t figured out, New Jersey could very well sit in the middle of the Eastern Conference for the next several seasons and waste some of the best years their core has to offer.
Pros: If Vesey wants to win right away, he can come into Pittsburgh and have a shot at a Stanley Cup in his first season. The Penguins may not have the cap space right now, but shuffling the deck would allow Vesey to fit in before the regular season. He’d be a nice addition to the middle of the roster and given the chance to contribute alongside some established veterans.
That’s not to mention the chance to play with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. That alone might make signing in Pittsburgh worth it. The amount Vesey could learn from the Penguins could make him into a better player in the two shorts years he’s on his entry-level deal.
Cons: Vesey has to think about his future and where he’ll be in two seasons’ time. When his entry-level deal is up and he’s looking for his second NHL deal, Malkin, Crosby, Phil Kessel, Carl Hagelin, Kris Letang and Olli Maatta will be counting against the books for more than $40 million. That’s not to mention goaltender Matt Murray will be in line for a raise next season and the Penguins will also have other restricted free agents to consider.
There will still be money to sign Vesey to another deal, no doubt, but how much space will be available and will it be a tough negotiation?
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Pros: The Maple Leafs roster is as wide-open as any in the league. If you want a spot on the top line and you can go out and earn it, it’s yours for the takin. That’s a great situation for Vesey to be in, and one that could have him very interested in signing with the Maple Leafs.
It’s hard to sleep on the young talent in Toronto, too. Vesey could play with William Nylander, Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly and Nazem Kadri next season, become part of the resurgence in Toronto and help be part of one of the more anticipated rebuilds in recent history. Oh, and there's the possibility of playing with his brother, Nolan, who was drafted by the Maple Leafs.
None of this is to mention the tutelage Vesey will have under coach Mike Babcock. If Vesey has a desire to improve, the chance to learn from arguably the best bench boss in the league provides that opportunity.
Cons: There’s no guarantees that these Maple Leafs will be ready to compete in the next two or three seasons, and it could realistically be four to five years before Toronto is a true Stanley Cup contender. That’s not to say they won’t get there, rather that it simply may take some time.
Another valid concern for Vesey could be the amount of young talent that’s coming in to Toronto. As much as it’s a positive in terms of quality teammates, the Maple Leafs have one of the strongest farm systems and stock of prospects in the league. Vesey could get lost in the shuffle with Matthews, Nylander, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen and others on their way.
Pros: The hometown kid suiting up for the Bruins is a great storyline and Vesey made it clear that he has a certain fondness for the franchise. Staying close to home is reportedly something on Vesey’s wish list, and it’s hard to get much closer to home than actually being in your hometown. If Vesey is successful in Boston, he’ll be absolutely adored and one of the biggest stars the franchise has. Every kid dreams of pulling on their hometown team’s sweater, and Vesey is a signature away from making that happen.
As far as the on-ice positives, the Bruins could likely give Vesey a role on the second line, which would give him the chance to play with David Krejci or David Backes. Those are two distinctly different talents, but ones who could shepherd Vesey into the league and help him become a productive member of the squad in short order.
Cons: The Bruins have a lot of money locked up in their fair share of long-term deals. There are at least eight players locked up into the 2018-19 season, when Vesey would become an RFA, and that doesn’t include the long-term deal Brad Marchand will almost certainly sign by the time Vesey’s contract is up.
There are some talented young players, such as David Pastrnak, Frank Vatrano and Ryan Spooner, who could also push Vesey down the lineup, too.
Pros: Chicago has a need for cheap talent and the past season showed that GM Stan Bowman needs to find an effective replacement for Brandon Saad on the Jonathan Toews-Marian Hossa line. Vesey could fill that spot to start the season and it could be a combination Joel Quenneville goes to often. Like playing with Tavares with the Islanders, the Blackhawks are one of only a few teams who can give Vesey the chance to play with a star center.
Vesey also has the chance to be part of a perennial contender. Chicago’s championship window may be closing slightly with each passing year, but it’s still there. The Blackhawks have the offense, defense and goaltending to contend for another Stanley Cup, and Vesey could be a helpful piece.
Cons: About that whole Toews-Hossa-Vesey possibility: Quenneville has a tendency to shuffle his lines often and if Vesey falls out of favor, there’s a chance he’s watching from the press box as often as he’s on the ice. There are no guarantees for Vesey once he signs on the dotted line, especially not when Toews skated 100-plus 5-on-5 minutes with six different wingers -- seven if you include Hossa.
It should also be a concern for Vesey that he could end up traded. The roster dismantling in Chicago has become a near yearly ritual, and the trades of Saad, Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen have shown that young, contributing players aren’t necessarily safe.
Pros: The Sabres are in a rebuild situation, to be sure, but they’re further along than other teams. Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel form a strong one-two punch down the middle, Sam Reinhart is looking to build off a good rookie year and the signing of Kyle Okposo means there’s a surefire 20- to 30-goal scorer in the lineup. Vesey could be a nice addition on Eichel’s wing, and if the duo finds chemistry, there’s a chance they play together for years to come.
Buffalo’s future is fairly wide open, too. If Vesey proves himself and produces early in his career, he can become part of the core as the Sabres take the next step.
Cons: As much as the Okposo signing is a great thing for the Sabres, it might prevent Vesey from moving further up the lineup. Add in Evander Kane, Matt Moulson, Johan Larsson, Alex Nylander and Hudson Fasching and there’s a logjam on the wing. That might not be the most appealing situation for Vesey. If he struggles, it’s going to be tough for him to crack the top-six. Even if he performs well, it’s not as if space would be easily cleared for him to get regular top-six minutes.
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