Monday August 8th, 2016

There's not going to be a big sell-off of talent ahead of the upcoming expansion draft ... at least, not any time soon.

“That's a problem for down the road,” an NHL scout told SI.com on Sunday. “There's not going to be this mad rush to cash out [players who might be lost in the draft]. I think everyone is looking at this year and building the team that gives them the best chance to win now.”

That doesn't mean planning isn't taking place. The time will come, he says, when teams look to shuffle the deck to their advantage, either as a buyer or seller of talent. But that point is likely late in the season, either near the trade deadline or ahead of the draft itself, especially when talking about a proven goaltender.

“Can never have enough good goaltending or defense," the scout said. "Better to hold on to it."

• One of those players likely to stay put is Marc-André Fleury. The Pittsburgh Penguins goaltender was a spectator while his team won the Stanley Cup this spring with Matt Murray between the pipes, and is likely to be left unprotected when the expansion draft rolls around.

For now though, the veteran gives the Pens a better chance to repeat than anything he might return in a trade. And even though his future is uncertain, Fleury has his immediate sights set on winning back the starting job from his 22-year-old partner.

“I love Pittsburgh, and the Penguins are my team; I want to stay with them for the rest of my career,” he told NHL.com. “I had some good conversations with management after the season. Nothing is written in stone. I want to come to camp ready to win my job back. I have to get back to the same level of play and help the team, win games.”

Given his track record, and an apparently clean bill of health, it's easy to see Fleury winning the No. 1 spot, or at least, a significant role as part of a tandem that should be one of the best in the league.

And if his rights are lost in the expansion draft, that's a price worth paying to keep the Pens on the path to back-to-back championships.

NHL
Undrafted players who may have an impact in the East

• A week from Monday, Jimmy Vesey officially becomes the summer's most interesting unrestricted free agent.

The Hobey Baker winner will have many suitors com Aug. 15, but it is thought that there are just five serious contenders: Buffalo (which owns his rights by virtue of a trade with the Predators), Boston, Toronto, Chicago and the New York Rangers.

Once he's allowed to talk to other teams, it shouldn't take him long to make up his mind. Vesey is going to get the same money wherever he signs, and likely a promise of top-six minutes as well. It all comes down to finding the right fit for him now and into the future.

The Sabres seem like longshots—if their appeal was that convincing, he could have signed already—but beyond them the field is wide open. Here's what the rest have to offer:

Toronto: His father is a scout with them. His younger brother is a Maple Leafs draft pick. They have the best coach in the game, a stockpile of young talent (including 2016 top pick Auston Matthews) and a clear path to organizational success. A pretty compelling package.

Boston: “I’ve said it all along that Boston is definitely on my list of teams that I’d like to talk to,” Vesey told Comcast’s Joe Haggerty last month. “It’s a team that I’ve rooted for all my life, and it’s a team that I watched win the Stanley Cup in 2011.

“I was a huge Joe Thornton fan growing up. He wore No. 19. I wear No. 19. He was my favorite player. I got to know Torey Krug a little bit through playing with him at the World Championships last year. So it would be really cool to play with Torey and put on the Bruins jersey. It’s the team that I’ve watched for my whole life.”

Clearly Vesey loves the idea of wearing black and gold. But with the team in a downward trend, and the looming possibility of upheaval behind the bench and in the front office, he has better options.

New York: The Blueshirts need some young blood and there are personal and professional benefits to playing in Manhattan. But the Rangers, like the Bruins, are an aging team hampered by years of draft misses. They're moving in the wrong direction.

Chicago: An opportunity to compete for the Cup immediately and into the next decade. A chance to skate with Jonathan Toews or Patrick Kane. And the allure of an organization that boasts an elite coach and GM. Hard to say no to that.

Ranking 'em, I like the Leafs first, followed by the Hawks, Bruins and Rangers.

NHL
Undrafted NHL players who may have an impact in the West

• Would the Bruins up the ante in their Vesey bid by hiring his father, Jim, as their new chief amateur scout? Seems unlikely, what with several more qualified candidates capable of succeeding Keith Gretzky, who moved on to the assistant GM job in Edmonton. But there's a growing belief that the clock is ticking on both GM Don Sweeney and president Cam Neely, and both men badly need a win. If hiring an old teammate (all three were Bruins in 1991-92) helped tilt the scales, wouldn't they have to consider it?

• Not much buzz about Antoine Vermette in the wake of his surprise buyout by the Coyotes. Surprising, because the 34-year-old center still has some game (his 2015-16 numbers were nearly identical to his career averages) and he's a reliable option in the face-off circle. It seems like he should be able to find a job somewhere, even if it is a one-year deal at league minimum. Dallas, which currently is looking at rookies Devin Shore and Jason Dickinson for their fourth line, could be an option. Anaheim, Nashville and Buffalo also may be in the mix.

NHL
NHL summer scorecard: free agents, transactions by team

• The Sabres may have a real need for Vermette if they can't come to terms with RFA forward Zemgus Girgensons. The 22-year-old rejected a one-year qualifying offer from the team in hopes of landing a longer-term deal, but that kind of commitment seems unlikely coming off a disappointing 18-point season. 

With Buffalo's depth up front improving, Girgensons projects as a fourth liner next season. There's reason to believe there's more to his game (he scored 15 goals in 2014-15), but after struggling to fit in coach Dan Byslma's system he may need to go elsewhere to reach that potential. GM Tim Murray won't give him away, but he could be a nice part of a larger deal to acquire a defenseman. His physical style might make him appealing to the Ducks.

 

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