Photo Credit: @Harvard_Hockey/Twitter
Today is the day that the Jimmy Vesey saga ends. Or, rather, it was the day, until we realized that circling a calendar only does so much. As it turns out, today actually represents the dying hours of the Buffalo Sabres’ pitch-exclusivity, as the 23-year-old becomes an Unrestricted Free Agent at midnight.
Leafs fans, who have been eyeing the Hobey Baker Award winning forward for ages as his brother and father sit in the organization, are no doubt excited for the chase to officially begin. But even with that midnight cutoff, it’s not worth jamming the F5 key on your keyboard tonight. This could take some time.
— John Wawrow (@john_wawrow) August 15, 2016
For all the time we’ve spent screaming at each other about which team is the better fit, the reality is that Vesey is in the same boat as us right now; holding his breath on speculation. With his own future in his hands, he’s (officially) talked to just two of the 28 teams in the league; the Sabres, and the Nashville Predators, who traded his rights after over a year of making the pitch to him to join their roster.
So don’t be too shocked if it takes a few days for him to make his decision. Teams have to come to him with actual contract offers, and with a clear outline of where he’s going to play. Every situation is different; some could offer him minutes, some could offer him a chance to win a cup sooner, some could offer him familiarity, and some could simply offer him the quickest path to maxing out his rookie bonuses. The options are plentiful. That’s how unrestricted free agency works.
There’s a few people who are faulting him for even being in this position in the first place.
For the “he’s just following the rules” crowd: Ask some 6-7-year NHLers what they think of Vesey’s UFA status. They’d say it’s a crock
— Mike Harrington (@BNHarrington) August 15, 2016
I’m not overly sold that there are players who are angry at him. After all, age of UFA eligibility is one of the biggest arguments at the negotiation table whenever it’s time to refine the CBA. That it’s always the case isn’t a shocker; even though so many big names tend to re-sign rather than test the market, the freedom of choice is something that, as a populace, players like to have.
It’s good for negotiations, in the sense that outside interest brings the dollar figure out. It’s good for new challenges too; the team that happened to feel that you were the best player available seven or more years prior might not be the one that you feel supports you best now. Every player is honoured to get drafted or signed, but that shouldn’t entitle a billionaire to have control of your employment for as long as they please.
Might some players be jealous that Vesey gets to be in this position at 23? Maybe a little, but if they are, they’re not seeing the forest for the trees.
Like a few others before him, Vesey had to take a risk to get to this moment. Even the players who take as long as he has to hit NHL ice have other means of hockey income; their ELC signing bonuses work as a bit of an advance if they get sent to junior. They make mid to high five figures in the American Hockey League. They stay back in Europe and get similar paycheques. But big-name college players? They get the opportunity of scholarshiped schooling, which for Vesey means a Harvard Education, but the income is put on pause until they’re ready.
Most high profile prospects are entering their second contract and have significant NHL salaries at his age. The depth ones have still pocketed a few hundred thousand dollars. If Jimmy Vesey catches a bad edge on his skate and crashes head first into the boards at some point last season, he risks ending his career at 22 years old with an income of $0.
But hey, the payday is going to be huge, right? Well, not really. He’s a UFA, but that doesn’t mean he’s going to rival Milan Lucic and Kyle Okposo’s deals from this summer. He’s signing the same entry-level deal in basically any city he goes to. All he gains from his risk is the right to choose his next step.
When put that way, is he really the selfish one? It took three college seasons for Nashville to truly take notice in him and make a serious pitch. He wanted to go back for his senior year because of how much he enjoyed the experience, and in doing so, he also confirmed that the breakout that piqued his rights holder’s interest was more than just a fluke.
The season ends. Vesey can sign with Nashville for the next three years, locking him into at least one more contract without a choice of location. Hey, why wouldn’t you want to sign with the Predators? They’re a team on the rise, in a fun market, and they’ve got a spot on the wing for you. But, he could wait four months, talk to the other 29 teams, at least get an idea of where they’re at, then decide. No matter what decision he makes, it’s not getting him into games any faster, or even into training camp faster.
Does it sting for the Predators? Maybe a little, but that’s why they traded him to the Sabres, who knowingly accepted the crapshoot for some time to chat. But placed in his situation, wouldn’t you wait it out? Fans and media members have already and will continue to criticize him for looking for attention, but he hasn’t spoken. They’ll criticize him for chasing the money, but the money doesn’t change. They’ll criticize him for using a loophole, as if he’s the first, as if he’ll be the last, and as if it disn’t come with risk.
Jimmy Vesey took a gamble on himself and is in a healthy position to win it, but that doesn’t make him selfish. Selfish is getting upset when a person doesn’t feel okay with another person calling “dibs” on their existence. Selfish is being upset when he doesn’t want to entertain you in your city of choice, being upset that the news stories about him might not fit the angles that you’re prepared to write about.
I hope Jimmy makes the decision that’s right for him (I’m not sure that it’s Toronto, by the way). I worry that the populace might be amplifying a pretty good player into something he’s not because of the manufactured drama, but that’s on us, not him. The only thing he’s done here is shown patience despite a cloud of skepticism, which is something that should be praised, not scolded.