Jimmy Vesey, the savior of the summer news cycle, has opted to sign with the New York Rangers. Now, the teams spurned by the coveted free-agent winger—the Bruins, Maple Leafs, Blackhawks, Devils, Islanders and Penguins—have to determine their next moves.
For some, it’ll be a gentle shrug of the shoulders as they carry on. For others though, this rejection could lead to another move. Maybe something significant.
Here’s how each could react:
Vesey’s decision to sign with New York wasn’t well received in his hometown.
The frustration is understandable. Next to the prospect-starved Rangers no team needed a win here as desperately as the Bruins or their management, a group which is on life support after missing the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
Still, this could end up working out in GM Don Sweeney’s favor. While he might yet pursue a veteran like sniper Brandon Pirri or grinder Brandon Prust to fill the roster spot, this could also be an opening for Frankie Vatrano to make the jump from the minors. The AHL’s Rookie of the Year creates offense as Vesey does: through shot volume. Vatrano had eight goals on 99 shots in just 39 games last season in Boston. The potential is there for him to score 20 goals as a third liner/power-play specialist next season, and at a bargain price of just $792,500.
Banking on Frank would allow Sweeney to focus his attention on his defense, which is his most pressing need. He has nearly $7 million in cap space to play with and a wealth of intriguing prospects who could be leveraged for immediate help. At this point he almost has to do something. Look for some kind of move to be made.
GM Tim Murray is taking some heat for failing to sign Vesey after sending a third-round pick to the Predators to secure his negotiating rights. Fair? Hardly. No, it didn’t pay off, but that’s a risk any quality manager should be willing to take.
But now that he’s come up short, Murray has to reassess where he stands heading into the season. Any thought of trading troubled winger Evander Kane, if there even was a market for him, should be set aside. In fact, he may want to look into adding another forward. Pirri, a 25-year-old with 36 goals in his past 110 games, may be of interest here. So might former Panther Jiri Hudler. The young Sabres ranked 25th in goals scored last year, so they need some help. A veteran presence might end up being more valuable than Vesey in the short term.
After scoring a league-low 2.22 goals per game last season, New Jersey has a clear need for firepower. What they don’t need so much is another left wing. Taylor Hall, acquired in a blockbuster summer deal with the Oilers, will man the first line, with veteran Mike Cammalleri slated for the second. The final spots could be filled by Patrik Elias (if he returns) or possibly Reid Boucher or Joe Blandisi. Vesey would have been nice to add to the mix but, the Devils are now likely to head to training camp as is.
Toronto seemed to have everything going for it: family connections, a highly respected coach and management staff, a massive media market and an up-and-coming roster. It seemed like the perfect situation ... but in the end, that crop of promising young talent may have cost the Leafs their shot at Vesey. After all, there are only so many spots to be won, and Toronto has plenty of 23-and-under prospects waiting for their chance.
Given where they are in their rebuild, this snub is more disappointing than damaging. They’re set on left wing this year with James van Riemsdyk, Leo Komarov, Milan Michalek and Matt Martin. After that, they can bring up their own kids and let them show what they can do.
The Hawks were viewed as a favorite to land Vesey, but with his desire to remain on the East Coast, geography might have conspired against them.
No worries, though. Chicago already has several similarly aged forwards vying for playing time, including Tyler Motte, Vince Hinostroza, Nick Schmaltz and Ryan Hartman. No guarantees any of them step up to fill the spot vacated by Andrew Ladd, but with that kind of volume the Hawks have to like their chances.
Ok, they were longshots from the start because really, when do the Isles ever win one of these bidding wars for a young free agent? Still, it was cool to see them fully engaged here and with the talent they have on the way, along with enthusiastic new ownership, it’s easy to imagine a time not too far off when Brooklyn will be a viable destination.
In the meantime, it’s likely that Garth Snow will leave the door open for one of his youngsters (Matthew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Josh Ho-Sang) to step up, but he also has the option of shopping for a veteran free agent. Hudler and/or Pirri could get a look, but with just over $2.4 million in cap space, that’s a tight squeeze.
Some cheap depth on the wing could have come in handy, especially with Conor Sheary and Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl needing to prove themselves over a full season. That said, the Pens return a roster that’s virtually intact from last spring’s Stanley Cup run, making Vesey more of a luxury than a necessity. And after signing another NCAA free agent, Thomas DiPauli, Pittsburgh has a 22-year old forward on hand who could chip in sooner rather than later.