For the next few days, Jimmy Vesey is going to be the biggest name in the NHL. By midnight Tuesday he is expected to officially become an unrestricted free agent. The Buffalo Sabres, who currently own his draft rights following a trade with the Nashville Predators, have until then to sign him before he becomes available to any of the league's 30 teams.
After a standout four-year career at Harvard University, which ended with him as the Hobey Baker Award winner as college hockey's MVP, he has the potential to make an immediate impact on an NHL roster. There is some debate as to whether it's as a top-six forward or perhaps in a scoring depth position, but his upside appears lofty.
There has been a lot of news and rumors coming into his likely free agency, which can make it difficult to sort through. Several different teams have been listed as favorites to land Vesey, but it is still unclear what the highly sought after player's decision will be.
According to TSN's Bob McKenzie, Vesey is expected to meet with teams over a few days and may not have a decision until later this week or over the weekend. He and his agents have had meetings in recent weeks to fully prepare for his options, so this process is unlikely to drag out.
Here's a quick roundup of some of the important things to know as Vesey gets ready to hit free agency.
1. Here is how some others have fared by taking this route
The most high-profile case of a player forgoing a contract with his drafting team in favor of free agency is probably Blake Wheeler. He was a fifth-overall draft pick of the Coyotes, but decided not to sign and landed with the Boston Bruins as a free agent. The big forward excelled through two-plus seasons in Boston before the team traded him to the then-Atlanta Thrashers. He has grown into one of the better power wingers in the game today with the Winnipeg Jets, possessing high-end scoring touch.
One of the players where the hype failed to meet reality is defenseman Justin Schultz. He spurned the Anaheim Ducks to sign with the Edmonton Oilers. Over three-plus seasons Schultz showed flashes that made him one of college hockey's elite blueliners, but never enough to justify his elevated ice time in the NHL and the free agent frenzy that brought him to Edmonton. He was traded to the Penguins last year and ended up helping them win a Stanley Cup, so there was a happy ending for him.
Another recent example includes Kevin Hayes, now of the New York Rangers. Hayes has had two strong years with the Rangers and recently signed a two-year bridge deal to remain with New York.
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.
2. The money drives the interest as much as the skill
The perception in these free agent scenarios, whether it be in the case of expired draft rights or with an undrafted free agent, is that "pretty much every team wants this player, so this player must be a force." While that has proven true in some cases, it's rare. That's not to say it can't happen with the highly-touted Vesey, but expectations need to be tempered a little.
The reason so many teams want to sign Vesey is because they can get a good player who is just about fully developed for a discount price.
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.
The caution here is not to confuse what the widespread pursuit suggests with reality. Vesey is a fine player, one who certainly will help a lot of teams, but it may take him a while to find his NHL legs. If he hits 40ish points, it will have been a pretty strong rookie year for him, but that's hardly earth-shattering.
3. Buffalo will still be involved even if he doesn't sign before the deadline
By trading for Vesey's rights in June, Sabres GM Tim Murray spent an asset (a third-round draft pick) with little guarantee of anything in return. Murray gambled, but his gamble got the Sabres a seat that the table when maybe they wouldn't have previously. In a recent interview with Yahoo Sports, Vesey's agent, Peter Fish, explained that Buffalo was very much among the teams Vesey will consider signing with.
"We're still talking with Buffalo, who will be part of this process once free agency happens, if it happens, which I assume is going to happen.
"Jimmy wanted to go to free agency all along. He wanted to see it through and, so Buffalo has always been a team that has interested him, but he wants to compare with a few other teams once it happens."
The Sabres have a good pitch and a lot to sell, especially the fact that Vesey could be a building block to what they're doing there. Vesey may decide to go elsewhere, but with few opportunities to improve their team this late in the summer, this was a shot worth taking for Murray and the Sabres.
4. Which other teams are in the mix?
There have been a lot of teams listed as interested in Vesey, but it is expected that he will only end up talking to five or six of them. Who those five or six end up being is unclear, aside from a few that his agents have kind of tipped off in public statements.
Aside from the Sabres, it is believed that the Chicago Blackhawks will be among the teams Vesey speaks to. They have the cap space and an opening on their top-six. However, Scott Powers reported for TheAthletic.com that Chicago is unlikely to promise Vesey anything. Even without that promise, Chicago's free agent recruiting has been exceptional, especially among rookie UFAs.
Vesey's hometown Boston Bruins are also among those expected to be speaking with the North Reading, Mass., native this week. Vesey's entire career has been spent near home, he grew up a fan of the team and the Bruins have a need to boost scoring.
Others that have been tied to Vesey include the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils, while others like the New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers are expected to make a pitch. The Pittsburgh Penguins have also been rumored on the fringes of the Vesey courting. There's always the chance that a mystery team pops in and makes a solid case, too.
Starting at midnight, those teams can place their calls and see if there's any point in organizing a group to come out to Boston and speak with the 23-year-old.
5. Vesey shouldn't be vilified for exploring this option
One thing that happens every time a player uses the four-year rule for draft rights to his advantage, he gets a lot of flak. It's understandable because of the optics, but there's nothing really wrong about it.
Vesey isn't exploiting a loophole in the collective bargaining agreement. It's just the way the rule was drawn up. If a team can't manage to sign their NCAA prospect before that player is no longer a college student, they're out of luck. Vesey wanted to finish his degree at Harvard and in the process opened up this avenue to himself. Now he's taking it.
You put most NHLers in his spot, they're going to take advantage the way he did. The thing is, most players are so eager to turn pro, they can't wait the four years and simply sign with the team that drafted them, starting their pro clock early. It works out great for some, others not so much.
Now Vesey has a Harvard degree and the NHL at his feet. It's a pretty unique opportunity that is well worth exploring.