(Hello, this is a feature that will run through the entire season and aims to recap the weekend’s events and boils those events down to one admittedly superficial fact or stupid opinion about each team. Feel free to complain about it.)
We’re now in the month of August, meaning only two weeks remain before Jimmy Vesey is eligible to sign with whichever team he likes.
Late last week, Vesey’s agent revealed that the pending UFA will not only have Boston, Toronto and maybe even Buffalo on his list, but also Chicago and New York. Why, it’s almost like he’s interested in joining half the big-market teams in the League.
Now, to be fair, he’s going to get a maxed-out deal no matter where he signs, and probably a top-six role anywhere but Chicago (and even then, they might find room as a second-line wing for him), so at some point Vesey will just be going where he feels he’ll be in the best position to succeed. By Aug. 20 or so, we should have an answer one way or the other.
The larger issue, to some extent, is what Vesey’s decision means for college hockey and its relationship with the NHL.
One need look no deeper than what happened to Boston College in this offseason. The Eagles lost four top-six forwards, two top-three defenders, and the best goalie in the nation — all to early departures, rather than graduation — in the space of about two and a half months. The Boston Globe’s Kevin Paul Dupont wrote yesterday that some of it has to do with teams now becoming wary of their draftees “pulling a Vesey,” which is a legitimate concern.
However, Dupont also notes there are other factors here as well: BC traditionally loses at least a few guys early every summer because BC tends to get high-end talents and are pro-ready earlier than the players at other colleges. In terms of ability to attract players likely to be taken in the first two or three rounds of any given draft, the Eagles are probably among the top five or six college hockey programs going, and have been for decades. That such a perfect storm arose to suck seven players out of the system all at once was, perhaps, mathematically likely to arrive at some point.
(And in fact, the team is lucky not to have also lost Colin White to the pros as well, given how well he played last season. There aren’t many other high-end talents now left on that team after White, at least, not with college experience.)
That it arrived now is a little unfortunate, and will likely be devastating to their chances to do the things they’re used to doing (making the NCAA tournament, competing meaningfully for league trophies, etc.) but that’s the price you pay sometimes when you have a dozen drafted players on the roster.
But let’s be clear here: the departures of Adam Gilmour, Alex Tuch, Zach Sanford, Miles Wood, Steve Santini, Ian McCoshen and Thatcher Demko didn’t have a ton to do with what Dupont called the “Vesey factor.” In much the same way any early departures the year after Kevin Hayes eschewed Chicago for the Rangers didn’t have a lot to do with that decision, this is just the way things go when high-end talents opt to hit UFA status right away instead of signing with the team that drafted them.
It’s their collectively bargained right to do it, and the reason why the Vesey situation is being made into a bigger deal in terms of its effect on the whole league is that Nashville felt very jilted. When Hayes did it a few years ago, no one was surprised. There were plenty of rumors that Hayes was unhappy with how Chicago had treated his older brother Jimmy (also a former first-round pick who went to Boston College) and that this was the reason he went UFA instead of signing. And certainly, it was no real skin off Chicago’s nose because Hayes would have probably been a third-line player for them and they were a great team anyway.
But Nashville’s reaction was something straight out of a soap opera. “You promised us, Jimmy!” and all that. That David Poile didn’t more ardently pursue a top-six forward to aide in their postseason run because he thought Vesey was coming last April is a cautionary tale. But it’s not the kind you’ve heard about lately, with respect to signing college players before they return for their senior seasons. Instead, it’s a cautionary tale about GMs making unwise, naïve assumptions of any kind with respect to roster-building. Nope, Poile had no reason to disbelieve Vesey when he said he was coming to Nashville, but to not have contingency plans in place is and was silly. It’s having a bunch of eggs to put in your basket, but only taking one of them, and putting it in there, and then leaving to chance whether it will get jostled around.
The primary reason for teams to prioritize signing drafted college players ahead of their senior seasons isn’t the Vesey factor and never will be. Instead, it will always be the idea that they have nothing left to gain from playing pro hockey. All seven of the guys who signed with their draft teams were ready for pro hockey, and while not all — in fact, I’d bet on “none” — are going to be in the NHL next season, there’s not much any of them had to prove at the college level.
Did Vesey’s decision play a role in Minnesota signing junior Adam Gilmour, who only had 73 points in 119 career games? I mean, maybe.
But that doesn’t strike me as the kind of player you panic-sign in hopes of not-losing him to unrestricted free agency. Even if he had gone back for his senior season and lit up Hockey East, the odds that he was going to be any sort of meaningful contributor at the NHL level within the next three seasons were likely slim to none. He’s a perfectly good player, mind you, but if he’s the least of the departed Eagles in terms of both ceiling and where he’s at right now, well then that’s just talent talking.
Washington signing Zach Sanford a little later in the game than anyone at BC might like is a different situation, but at least he was nearly a point-a-game player who generated the third-most shot attempts for the Eagles last season, and pushed possession very well. That the Caps came knocking after a strong development camp shouldn’t be any sort of surprise either.
The fact is that, Vesey or not, teams should always handle their prospects cautiously, because losing an asset of any kind is not a desirable outcome. And the idea that college kids are throwing themselves into the pros for big money is, frankly, not surprising nor upsetting. If you think you can make $120,000 playing one season of hockey and improving your chances for an NHL career, why wouldn’t you take it?
In Vesey’s case, the money was going to be the same regardless of destination, and his role as an NHLer was assured. The number of college recruits who can do what he did and be assured of outcomes like that is vanishingly small. Of the players BC lost this summer, probably only Demko and McCoshen could have returned for a senior season and reasonably demanded the kind of ride Vesey’s going to get in the next few weeks. But they signed instead because it was what they were ready, as players and people, to do.
Every player should act in his own best interest at all times. That’s also true of NHL teams. Vesey didn’t change anything by doing that. The game remains the same if he signs with Nashville, Boston or Metallurg Magnitogorsk. GMs should do all they can not to be caught holding the bag in situations like this, and because one got caught with his pants down, the hockey world reacts like the player — who wasn’t even the best forward in college hockey in his draft-year-plus-five — changed everything.
He didn’t, and neither did Hayes a few years ago.
And regardless, it’s really not as big a deal as everyone is making it out to be. That, too, is on the team and not the player. Teams are signing drafted players not because of the Vesey factor, but the Poile factor, and because they’re ready to play pro hockey.
There’s really no crisis here, and there won’t be the next time it happens either.
What We Learned
Anaheim Ducks: Rickard Rakell is closer to being signed, and may get as much as $4 million. Maybe a little pricy for me but someone would give him that and he’s still improving, so I get it.
Arizona Coyotes: Getting Jakob Chychrun locked in nice and early makes plenty of sense to me. But were we supposed to be like, panicking that he wasn’t signed already or something? It’s so hard to tell with these high-end picks.
Boston Bruins: Rumors out there (not particularly credible, but rumors nonetheless) that Brad Marchand would want just $49 million over seven years to re-sign in Boston. If he comes in cheaper than David Krejci the Bruins will have pulled off a major heist. He’s worth at least $8 million AAV.
Edmonton Oilers: Oscar Klefbom says Taylor Hall “never played his best games against the tough teams.” That’s true of almost everyone, fam. It’s why the tough teams are the tough teams. You probably don’t want to look up how Adam Larsson fared against playoff teams last season either.
Florida Panthers: Not a lot left to do in Sunrise, to be honest. They had a great summer. Go have a beer.
Las Vegas No-Names: This seems like a good time to add these guys for some occasional news. And here’s some occasional news now:
New York Islanders: Ranking the Islanders’ alternate jerseys? All of them are tied for dead last. Put them in the trash. Oh but not the Fisherman jersey. That was good. Relatively speaking. Which says a lot about the other ones.
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers are basically done for the summer, right? They have 23 rostered NHL players, with two extra forwards, an extra D, and a backup goalie. They’re almost out of cap space. That’s gotta be it.
St. Louis Blues: You’d think a $7 million player would already be your No. 1 center but listen things have been a little weird in St. Louis the last few years, alright?
Tampa Bay Lightning: Man, they haven’t traded Ben Bishop yet, huh?
Toronto Maple Leafs: Martin Marincin can play a bit. I like this contract a lot for what he’s gonna give the team.
Gold Star Award
The new DJ Khaled album is pretty good.
Minus of the Weekend
Imagine being so good at anything that you can literally say, “Hitler, for example, had some good ideas,” and people still don’t think you’re human garbage who should be shunned forever? That’s incredible.
Perfect HFBoards Trade Proposal of the Year
User “HFBoardUser” seems like he’s trying to get a feature.
Nikita Soshnikov or Connor Brown or Leafs 2017 2nd
Oh, not in Utica, no. It’s more of an Albany expression.
(All stats via Corsica unless otherwise noted.)