The hour is near. At 12:01 am on August 16, Jimmy Vesey will become an unrestricted free agent.
Vesey, drafted by the Nashville Predators in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft (3rd round, 66th overall), capped his collegiate career at Harvard by winning the 2016 Hobey Baker Award as the top player in the NCAA. It was expected he would finish the season with Nashville but chose not to sign with the Predators opting for free agency.
Vesey completed his college career with 144 points on 80 goals and 64 assists in 128 games.
He has also represented his country twice, winning a bronze medal with Team USA at the 2015 World Championships and gold at the 2013 World Junior Championships.
The Buffalo Sabres traded for Vesey’s rights on June 20th hoping he would want to begin his career with fellow Massachusetts native, Jack Eichel.
The Sabres and Vesey held talks during the summer but the 23-year-old forward decided to wait for the August deadline in order to speak with other NHL teams.
Of course, there has been much speculation as to where Vesey wants to begin his professional career.
Many believed he would sign with the Sabres and various reports had them meeting with Vesey and his agent on Sunday (August 14th).
Others have reported that since his father, Jim, scouts for Toronto and his brother, Nolan, is a Maple Leafs draft pick that Jimmy is a lock to sign with the Original Six franchise.
Some have speculated that where the Veseys and New Jersey Devils Assistant General Manager Tom Fitzgerald (another native of Massachusetts) are friends, the Garden State will be the destination of college hockey’s top player.
Members of the Chicago Blackhawks management have made the journeys to Foxboro, Massachusetts to watch Vesey play in a summer pro league as have the New York Islanders.
Recently, it was reported that Vesey’s hometown team, the Boston Bruins, who were thought to be the frontrunner to sign him, were no longer in the running for his services.
The simple truth of the matter is, just one team has been ruled out. That being Nashville, of course.
Buffalo has the luxury of negotiating with Vesey until the last minute giving them an advantage over the other teams that would like to see the 6-foot-1 forward ply his trade in their colors.
I’m not a betting man but if I were, I would place my chips on the Buffalo Sabres, Chicago Blackhawks, and Boston Bruins as the clubs that have the best chances of signing him.
Of course, Vesey could sign with a completely different team, however, on the eve of his becoming an unrestricted free agent, it is believed by many with strong ties to the League that these are the teams that are at the top of his list.
The Sabres are on the clock and they will use every minute to land the highly skilled forward.
Through free agency, trades, and the draft, Buffalo is building a solid, young, team with players such as Eichel, Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, Dmitry Kulikov, and Robin Lehner, to name a few, that could become Stanley Cup contenders within one to three years. They also have a coach in Dan Bylsma who has the experience in leading a team (Pittsburgh Penguins 2009) to a Stanley Cup championship. Buffalo’s future is bright and adding Vesey could bring the Sabres back to the glory days that the city has not seen since Gilbert Perreault, Richard Martin, and Rene Robert ran roughshod over the NHL in the 1970s.
Chicago has spent a lot of time in Foxboro. It’s a nice town but it isn’t exactly on everyone’s summer list of vacation destinations. The Blackhawks are serious and will be all in when the Vesey hits the market. Not to mention, the Chicago Blackhawks are, well, the Chicago Blackhawks. Who wouldn’t want to play with Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Marian Hossa, Duncan Keith, and Brent Seabrook? And let’s not forget coach Joel Quenneville, who has become one of the greatest coaches in NHL history.
Chicago went on that run of three Stanley Cups in six years (2010, 2013, 2015) and, although they were ousted early in the 2016 playoffs by the St. Louis Blues, can never be counted out of Cup contention. Bringing Vesey into the fold would add another high-powered weapon to Chicago’s arsenal of scorers.
The Boston Bruins, as mentioned earlier, is Vesey’s hometown team. His father played for Boston in the 1991-92 season. Jim, who grew up in Charlestown, Massachusetts, knows the pros and cons of playing in the city where one grew up.
Jimmy has spent his entire playing career in the Boston area and saw first-hand what it meant to New England when the Bruins won the Stanley Cup in 2011. He’s been a Bruins fan since he was a tyke and if a player gets the opportunity to play for the club he idolized, the lure of doing can may be too good to pass up.
Boston has missed the playoffs the last two seasons and as a result general manager Don Sweeney has stated that the young players in the system will be given opportunities to play at the NHL level. That is music to the ears of a player coming out of college. Vesey knows he will get every chance to show what he can do with the Bruins while learning how to play the game the NHL way from Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Matt Beleskey, David Backes, and Brad Marchand. He knows he would grow with his young teammates and feel the satisfaction of having a hand in turning the franchise around, returning his favorite team from his youth to Stanley Cup contender. Putting a black and gold sweater on Vesey would be the shot in the arm the floundering franchise needs.
At this point, there is really only one sure thing and that is Vesey will not make his decision until Wednesday (August 17th) at the earliest.
Let the Vesey watch begin.
Follow ESPN New Hampshire’s NHL Writer, Shawn Hutcheon, on Twitter at @ShawnHutcheon.