Tuesday March 29th, 2016

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Here's the important thing to remember about the decision by Nashville draft pick Jimmy Vesey to pursue free agency rather than sign with the Predators: He's not the bad guy here.

Maybe he could have handled his decision differently. Maybe he should have. But Vesey, who just completed his senior season with the Harvard Crimson, was fully within his rights to exercise clause 8.6(c)(iv) of the Collective Bargaining Agreement to further his personal interests ... even if that decision conflicts with the interests of the Predators.

This isn't a loophole, a kink in the CBA, though it's often couched that way. It's part of the deal, just like buy-outs or the ability to bury players in the minors if their contracts don't fit within a team's structure. It just happens to be the rare element that swings heavily in favor of the players rather than the teams. Although you wouldn't know it from listening to some of the noise coming out of Nashville since the news broke on Monday night.

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"Every indication was he was going to sign with us. His dad told me ... he was going to sign with us," Nashville GM David Poile said at a press conference. "I clearly believe that Jimmy has received bad advice and bad counsel."

Emotions are running high. Poile is probably processing the gravity of his error: assuming that Vesey would sign and fill a hole up front ahead of the playoffs instead of the GM covering himself by making a move at the trade deadline.

But Poile isn't doing any favors for himself, or his organization, by slinging mud at Vesey and his advisors.

Sure, Vesey's rejection is a slap in the face. A harsh reminder that, for all the hard work he and others have done to create a first-rate organization, the Predators are simply not a premier destination. Not yet. Maybe not ever.

He can take pride though in knowing that he did everything in his power to convince Vesey that Nashville was right for him. The Predators paid close attention to his development during his time at Harvard, offering regular, hands-on consultations that certainly helped him become the player who scored 56 goals in his final 70 college games and who is on the verge of becoming a Hobey Baker finalist for the second year running.

And when Vesey's senior season ended and it came time to sign, the Preds made him a great offer: a chance to immediately skate on one of the top-two lines of a team that is heading to the playoffs. And by signing with them now he could burn a year off his two-year entry-level deal, moving him to within one year of a more lucrative second contract.

It was the best deal Vesey was going to get, financially speaking. And it was the best that Poile could offer. He can take pride in those efforts.

But Vesey clearly has other priorities that superceeded a shortcut to riches and playoff time in 2016.

Maybe he wants to join his brother, 2014 draft pick Nolan, and his dad, amateur scout Jim, with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

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Maybe he wants to skate for the Boston Bruins, the team he rooted for while growing up.

Or maybe he wants to take some time to weigh his options with Buffalo or Chicago or Dallas or any one of the other 24 teams.

It doesn't matter. It's his call.

That's why leaving Nashville at the altar doesn't make Vesey a bad guy any more than a player in a similar situation signing with the team that drafted him is a good guy. Both get what they want. He simply had to use the leverage provided him by the CBA to get it.

Vesey made his choice. He's moving on. So should the Preds.

The next thing Poile says on the subject should take a very different tone. Something along the lines of, "We wish things had worked out differently with Jimmy. We think he's going to be a terrific player and we wish him all the best in his NHL career ... except when he plays us, of course."

Take the high ground. Preserve what dignity they have left. And start looking ahead. Because that's all that matters now.

With Vesey out of the picture, there's an opportunity for someone like Kevin Fiala, the organization's true top prospect, to fill the void. Maybe Vladislav Kamenev, Colton Sissons or Justin Kirkland seize this chance to step into the breach.

Or maybe Poile does what he does best and addresses the hole in the off-season via a trade.

But this snub, it is done. And now we all sit back and wait for Aug. 15, when Vesey is eligible to sign with another team in another town where he'll be lauded as a hero.

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The numbers game

• The Predators will clinch a playoff berth if they beat the Stars tonight and the Avalanche lose to the Blues in regulation.​

• Minnesota, which plays Chicago tonight, has won the first four meetings between the team this season after beingg swept by the Blackhawks in the second round of playoffs last year.​

• The Capitals need one more win to break their single season franchise mark of 54, first set in 2009-10.

Hot links

• The Penguins added a promising asset on Monday with the signing of the top-scoring defenseman in college hockey.

• The old man no longer has the C, but Masterton Trophy nominee Joe Thornton has led the Sharks back to the playoffs.

• Will Capitals fans come to rue the day this shirt was printed?

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• Twice, Adam Carlson was told he wasn't good enough to play for his high school hockey team. Today, he's a member of the Washington Capitals. Never give up, kids.

• A poll of his peers suggests Phil Kessel is the NHL's most overrated player. Check out who came in second, along with a few other interesting results from the survey.

• Larry Brooks has some thoughts on how the Rangers might be able to keep pending UFA Keith Yandle, Eric Staal's place on the roster and some curious decisions by coach Alain Vigneault.

• The Penguins are battling for home ice in the playoffs ... but should they?

• John Scott is at peace as he nears the end of his hockey journey.

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