The free agency of college standout Jimmy Vesey has been an ongoing story for months. But it hasn’t been something we’ve touched on here at the Lighthouse Hockey Institute For Gifted Hockey Children because, quite frankly, most people didn’t see Vesey signing with the Islanders.
Chances are, he still won’t. But the odds changed this week with the knowledge that team reps and captain John Tavares met with Vesey’s camp to pitch him on coming to Brooklyn. According to ESPN’s Joe McDonald:
The New York Islanders' front office met with college free-agent Jimmy Vesey on Tuesday in Boston. The Islanders are one of seven teams on Vesey's shortlist to sign with by the end of the week.
Islanders captain John Tavares said he's been paying attention to the situation and admitted he spoke with Vesey about the possibility of signing with the organization.
Other teams making plays for Vesey include the Rangers, Devils, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Blackhawks, Sabres and Bruins, who are his hometown team. A decision isn’t expected before Friday of this week.
Needless to say, the competition is stiff and the Islanders are probably still a longshot at this point. But considering that no one expected them to even be in the conversation, it’s still at least a little exciting.
John Tavares in Boston as part of Islanders bid to recruit Jimmy Vesey. Teams going all out for this kid. Lot of teams still in play.— James Mirtle (@mirtle) August 17, 2016
So then the next question is, what is the big deal with this kid everyone wants?
Head of the Class
Since I’ve obviously been ignoring this whole thing this whole time, I’ll leave it to some experts to explain what the draw of Jimmy Vesey even is.
The 6-2, 205-pound forward served as Harvard’s captain this season and won the Hobey Baker Award as the nation’s most outstanding college player. He was the main offensive weapon for the Crimson and their coach, former Islander Ted Donato leaned on him heavily.
With 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games, his stats aren't quite what there were last season, when he had 32 goals and 58 points in 37 games. But -- as with most elite players -- his contribution to the team isn't always visible on the scoresheet.
"Being under the spotlight was a big challenge, night in and night out for him," Donato said. "He was the guy the other teams were trying to stop and the guy they were making a defensive game plan to try to shut down. So given that and the fact he was still able to produce points consistently, I think he had an excellent year."
Vesey has represented the United States internationally twice, winning bronze at the 2015 IIHF World Championships and gold at the 2013 World Juniors.
He was selected in the third round of the 2012 draft by Nashville, but didn’t sign with the Predators because he was looking towards free agency. Vesey’s made no bones about the fact that he wanted to explore all of his options, which meant waiting until this summer when the deadline to sign with the club holding his rights would expire.
Just a few years ago, we Islanders fans were worried that Anders Lee would pull the same move when he was ready to leave Notre Dame. Sure enough, Lee decided the team that drafted him was the right fit and signed with the Islanders, where he scored 25 goals in 2014-15. The NHL/NCAA out clause isn’t getting closed any time soon, despite how angry the Predators might be.
The Sabres acquired Vesey this May, hoping to get the jump on signing him before he became an unrestricted free agent (a.k.a. The Garth Snow Early Bird Special). But the gambit failed and this week, Vesey was free to meet with any team he wanted to. And there were no shortage of suitors.
Yes and Maybe
So is he worth the hassle? Yes and maybe.
Money won’t be much of an issue in Vesey’s decision. As CBS Sports’ Chris Peters notes, he’d make a cost-effective option for team’s struggling against the salary cap.
Vesey can be signed for two years on an entry-level contract. His base salary can go no higher than $925,000 per season. Meanwhile, his performance bonuses max out at $2.85 million, while he can get a $92,500 signing bonus for each year. That's an AAV with $3.775 million, but in that first year, only $925,000 counts against the cap.
Okay, so what kind of player would they be signing?
Peters mentions a few NHL players who also signed as UFAs after leaving college that represent a wide spectrum of possibilities. Winnipeg’s Blake Wheeler and the Rangers Kevin Hayes turned out to be very productive forwards that justified the hype. Justin Schultz, on the other hand, struggled mightily to be the high-scoring defender the Oilers were looking for. He finally found success this Spring as a sheltered spare part for the Stanley Cup champion Penguins.
For Peters, Vesey should end up closer to the former examples than the latter one.
The expectations for Vesey are wide-ranging, but he has the potential and skill level to comfortably land somewhere between what Hayes and Wheeler accomplished over their first few seasons in the league.
In other words, Vesey could have a real good rookie season, possibly in the neighborhood of 40 points, give or take. But don’t expect 1993 Teemu Selanne to walk through that door.
Again, the Islanders are just one of a few teams trying to get their hands on Jimmy Vesey. In the end, it probably won’t be them. While they are located relatively close to his home in Boston (which is apparently a big part of the equation), the other suitors all have qualities that could make them more attractive than the Islanders, no matter what John Tavares tells him.
But being in pursuit of him means the Islanders are thinking at the same level of some of the NHL’s best: acquire a very talented, more polished player who can contribute right away for very little money.
Let’s see if they said the right things to catch him.