Jimmy Vesey will be able to make a decision about where he'll start his pro career in three weeks. August 15 is the date the Harvard University star and former Nashville Predators draft pick will become an unrestricted free agent.
As of right now, the Buffalo Sabres hold his negotiating rights after acquiring them from the Predators in June. While the club has met with the 23-year-old Harvard University standout, he has maintained his commitment to exploring unrestricted free agency first. While he will weigh his options, Vesey will only be speaking with a limited number of NHL teams (we took a look at some of the candidates a few weeks ago).
Buffalo is expected to be on Vesey's short list, while the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs are assumed to also be among the options due to Vesey's geographical and familial ties to each of those organizations. However, another team now confirmed to be in the mix is the Chicago Blackhawks. The team's interest was already known, but now we know the interest is mutual according to Vesey's agent. It makes for an interesting competitive twist in the Jimmy Vesey Sweepstakes.
Here's what agent Peter Donatelli told Scott Powers of TheAthletic.com:
"Chicago will be a team we want to talk to on Aug. 15," Donatelli said by phone on Monday. "Chicago will be on the list, but it shouldn't be read as they're ahead of anyone else.
"He really has no idea where he's going to be. It's going to be up to the teams to sell him. ... Yes, [we have criteria], but we're interested in what the teams say rather than telling the teams what they have to say."
Donatelli told Powers that four to five teams will make the short list, with Vesey meeting with two to three teams a day in Boston on or after Aug. 15. From there, he'll make his decision.
The other GMs vying for Vesey's services may be feeling a little more nervous with Chicago in the mix as they've proven pretty strong in their ability to recruit. Just last season, the Blackhawks managed to win the recruitment battle against multiple NHL teams for the services of undrafted free agent Artemi Panarin. They won that battle and Panarin won the Calder Trophy while putting up 77 points playing alongside Hart Trophy winner Patrick Kane.
However, the much bigger concern for teams competing for Vesey's services is that Chicago has yet another opening in their top six. After trading away Teuvo Teravainen, the presumed No. 1 contender on the team's roster to play left wing alongside Jonathan Toews and (probably) Marian Hossa, there aren't a lot of players on the roster to fill that role. There's also not a lot of cap space to work with, nor is there a large pool to select from should Chicago need to find a stop-gap veteran to step into that spot.
After the Blackhawks and defenseman David Rundblad mutually agreed to terminate the last year of his contract this week, the team now has about $2.4 million in cap space according to generalfanager.com.
Vesey, however, would only cost the Blackhawks $925,000 against the salary cap next season, and he's a natural left wing. On top of that, he has the skill set that suggests his ability to transition into an NHL top six relatively quickly. When the Predators were trying to sign him after his senior season at Harvard, they essentially guaranteed him a top-six spot for their playoff-bound team.
Vesey put up 56 goals and 104 points in 70 games over his last two seasons at Harvard. He was a Hobey Baker finalist each year and won the award as college hockey's best player last season.
Asking him to keep up with Toews would be asking a lot and it may be asking even more of head coach Joel Quenneville to guarantee a rookie anything, but that would have to be their pitch. Other teams can offer top-six roles, but no one will be able to offer Toews or Kane as potential line mates.
Blackhawks GM Stan Bowman can't talk to or even talk about Vesey before Aug. 15, but he's been making his interest known in a subtler way. According to Mark Divver of the Providence Journal, Bowman has come out to Vesey's native Massachusetts two different times to watch the forward during his summer league games, where he plays alongside Sabres standout Jack Eichel.
Donatelli told TheAthletic.com that a GM showing up for summer league games is "uncommon." Bowman going to Foxborough, Mass., to watch a guy he can't talk to play in a glorified men's league game may speak to the desperation the team feels in adding a high-upside piece like Vesey.
There is at least one thing that may cause Vesey to at least pause when it comes to Chicago. The Blackhawks have had a hard time keeping their younger players as the salary cap continues to squeeze them. Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw and Nick Leddy are prime examples of players the team couldn't afford to extend, so they traded them away. Any player that's not part of Chicago's core is expendable and it's really, really hard to make it into that core of players that has already won three Stanley Cups.
On the flip side, all of those discarded players managed to make much more money with other teams than they could have with Chicago thanks to their success with the Blackhawks. It definitely pays to play with good players.
Vesey is going to have good options in front of him. It's going to come down to wherever he feels he fits best and where he'll have an opportunity to succeed. He could probably do it with any of the teams he has been linked to, but the Blackhawks getting into the mix like this really kicks the recruitment battle into high gear.