Murray Made the Right Gamble with Vesey, but There is Work to be Done

In case you had forgotten, Tim Murray isn’t afraid to go out and take what he wants. Look no further than yesterday’s acquisition of Jimmy Vesey’s negotiating rights.

Murray swapped the pick obtained from Anaheim in exchange for Jamie McGinn for an additional two months to negotiate with Vesey and his representatives on the Hobey Baker winner’s entry level contract. While Vesey’s agent came out shortly after the trade to claim his client would still exercise his right to explore free agency, you can’t be left without a slight inkling that Murray entered this deal with some idea of what direction Vesey was leaning.

Sacrificing a third round pick may seem like some as drastic overpayment. After all, Keith Yandle and Alex Goligoski only fetched sixth and fifth round picks, respectively. The pick itself was basically free; acquired in exchange for a departing free agent. In addition, Vesey comes as not only a highly touted prospect but a player with a number of club controlled RFA years to come. Bear in mind that far more third round picks turn into very little or nothing at the NHL level whereas Vesey is a known quantity. So from a strict value perspective, the 23 year-old player entering his entry level deal will typically carry more value than an unrestricted defenseman who is beyond 30.

There is still plenty to worry about from a Sabres perspective. When Vesey first decided not to sign with the Predators it was expected he had his eye on Boston or Toronto. A Boston native, he’s talked at length about staying home and playing for the Bruins. Further, the Maple Leafs not only hired his dad as a scout, but drafted his younger brother recently. To Toronto’s credit, they managed to do everything they could before actually crossing the line on tampering.

Vesey clearly has options. There are 29 teams who would love to have his services and at least three who are expected to push hard for his signature. He also doesn’t have to worry about making a decision based on money. As a 23 year old rookie, he will be eligible to sign no longer than a two-year deal worth a base salary of $925,000 with up to a 10% ($92,500) signing bonus. Vesey can also make bonuses which can elevate his cap hit to a total of $3.775m. The NHL has a fairly strict set of rules for how those bonuses can be laid out and awarded, which takes some of the guess work out of it for the teams and Vesey. What seems most likely is that any team that signs Vesey will structure the bonuses to the bare minimum in order to make it easier for him to meet those quotas, therefore ensuring more money flows to the player.

Where the real risk lies for Murray and the Sabres really isn’t in losing that third round pick (possibly for nothing) but in Vesey’s true desire to test the market. There’s a damn good chance he wants to know what’s out there for him. For all we know he wants to play in Chicago and isn’t planning on signing anywhere else. So, from a strict risk/reward standpoint, there’s plenty of risk to consider. Especially if Vesey chooses to wait until August 15 to sign.

It may be a significant consideration, but luckily that’s really the only true thing working against the Sabres at this point. Yes, there’s the hometown and family connections with the Bruins and Leafs. But knowing that the money is equal no matter what doesn’t put the Sabres behind any other suitors – besides knowing that Terry Pegula has proclaimed money to be no issue. The free agency option will loom until August 15 or when Vesey signs. It’s his right to explore the market and if his mind is made up, so be it.

However, I can’t help but think Tim Murray wouldn’t toss away a draft pick without having some sort of inkling he had a dog in this fight.

It’s well publicized at this point that Jack Eichel and Vesey are playing on the same team in the Boston-area summer league they participate in. Couple that with the time they spent at the World Championships last year and other previous NCAA and USA Hockey events and there’s a good foundation between the pair.

A couple months of playing with Eichel and letting his buddy sell him on the idea of playing in Buffalo is a good feather in the Cap for the Sabres. There’s also a decent probability that during their time on the ice or in the locker room that Vesey noted to Eichel he’d like to play in Buffalo. It would take a quick text or call to Murray to let him know that and the trade wheels could start turning.

However, since Eichel and Vesey share an agent it’s hard to say if Eichel would want to create a tough situation for his representative or his friend. But it’s not an unrealistic scenario in the least.

I also wonder if Murray was given permission by the Predators to speak with Peter Fish about Buffalo. If he was and Fish simply said “No, we’re waiting until August no matter what,” then pushing for Vesey’s rights would have been silly. If Fish and Vesey were open to negotiating – or, even better, planning to sign – then obviously you do what it takes to get his rights.

While the Sabres aren’t heads and shoulders ahead of the Leafs, they’re hardly behind them in terms of a rebuild either (ahem, Toronto media). It’s easy to point to Eichel, Reinhart, O’Reilly, Kane, Ristolainen, Bogosian and possibly even additional draft day acquisitions as strong indicators that the Sabres are in fact, for real. Obviously the Leafs are poised to pick first and plenty of teams have similar resumes, but the Sabres certainly aren’t lacking in that regard..

Lastly, the Sabres now have time on their side. If nothing else that third round pick bought the remainder of June, all of July and half of August to negotiate. Nearly two months of an exclusive rights window to woo Vesey on the team, the facility, the city, his teammates and so on. That’s nearly two months of hanging out with Jack Eichel and learning about the team and how great the locker room is. Two months for Terry Pegula to possibly put his personal spin on the deal. Getting that two month window is probably bigger than many Sabres fans, myself included, realized when the trade first went down.

This was truly a pragmatic deal for Murray to make. He’s continued to be aggressive but in an incredibly smart way. Club controlled contract status, set bid ceiling and a strong hand to play with gives Murray a terrific shot at landing this fish.

Now it’s just a matter of signing him.

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