Jimmy Vesey Takes – An FJM Story

There’s a small joke running on Twitter on the #NeverTradeAnybody topic as the seemingly annual rite of Sabres fans discussing trade prospects for the club treks along. This particular joke was born from various conversations and posts from Sabre Noise on a handful of players who had been rumored to be connected with the Sabres. It was more or less in good fun than anything else.

However, this article Sabres Should Have Passed on Jimmy Vesey takes it to a new level. The post itself is missing a few key points while also fitting beautifully into the #NeverTradeAnybody narrative. So, I thought I’d add something of a running commentary to the post as I have some thoughts on the subject. The original text will be plain with my thoughts in bold.

Let us begin.

All right: I’ve taken a few days to sleep on the trade that sent a third-round pick to Nashville just so the Buffalo Sabres could acquire the rights to Jimmy Vesey.

I’ve read FanSided NHL Division Director Tim Redinger’s thoughts on why it should not bother fans that the Sabres gave up a third-round pick in order to sit down with this kid.

I’ve tried to justify this gamble by entertaining thoughts of the Buffalo Sabres parading Lord Stanley’s Cup through the streets of Buffalo in a grand victory parade.

I have done all that and more . . . and I still cannot shake the feeling that the Buffalo Sabres have made a mistake by making a play for this kid.

Look: Jimmy Vesey is a talented player.  It’s entirely understandable why Sabres fans are dreaming of a Vesey – Jack Eichel – Sam Reinhart line.  I get it – two Hobey Baker Award winners on the same line, alongside Reinhart, who had almost as good a 2015-16 season as Eichel did.  Everyone’s thinking about Buffalo becoming the next city to pull a Cleveland and bring a major sport championship into the 716.

That’s all well and good, but have we all forgotten about Jonathan Drouin, the kid who tried to strong-arm the Tampa Bay Lightning into trading him this season?  I seem to recall a number of Sabres fans remarking that they would not want a kid like Drouin playing for the Sabres, because of his selfish attitude.  When a young player such as Drouin tries to play hardball, despite the fact that he really has not earned the right to dictate the terms of his employment just yet, that player comes across as entitled, the reason why people feel the need to remind everyone that there is no “I” in “team.”

Given all the talk surrounding Drouin’s suspension and trade request, I seem to remember a lot of conversation centering on how little production he had and how much Tampa was asking. In fact, that magical B word was getting bandied about with Drouin and there were fears his style of play didn’t translate to the NHL.

Couple that with Tampa’s asking price – rumored to be a first round pick and blue chip prospect to start – and it’s easy to see why people were balking. His attitude may have been a factor, but it wasn’t the primary one.

People applauded Lightning GM Steve Yzerman for refusing to be manipulated by Drouin and his agent, and in the long run, being banished to Tampa Bay’s AHL affiliate, the Syracuse Crunch, and then suspended for refusing to report, wound up being just the kick in the ass that Drouin needed, as he turned in an inspiring performance in Tampa Bay’s playoff run.

Kick in the ass or the linemates and playing time necessary to produce?

So if people were turned off by Drouin’s power play and supportive of Yzerman’s refusal to bow down to a still-unproven player, why are they suddenly onboard the Jimmy Vesey bandwagon?

Please don’t tell me the circumstances are different here – if anything, what Vesey is doing is worse, because the kid has not played one damn game as a professional hockey player yet, and he is already on a power trip.  At the very least, Drouin could boast of being the third-overall pick in he draft, and that he had been a good soldier in his first year in Tampa Bay.   It’s still a BS argument, mind you – but it’s leaps and bounds better than what Vesey is doing.

The circumstances are different here. Let’s analyze!

  1. Vesey is exercising his rights within the CBA. Drouin straight up refused to report, triggering his suspension and all sorts of nasty things being said about him in the media and via social media.
  2. Exploring free agency =/= a power trip. After playing four years with Harvard, Vesey decided he wanted to pick the team he’d play for rather than simply signing his entry level contract in Nashville. Again, this is within his rights under the CBA.
  3. By pouting about playing time, refusing to report and then demanding a trade I think you can safely say Drouin’s actions were far more selfish than Vesey’s.
  4. Vesey is exercising his rights within the CBA.

And don’t tell me that college players skipping the draft and becoming UFAs is a trend that we all have to get used to – this doesn’t happen in any other professional sport in North America (not to my knowledge, that is) happens in baseball plenty, BTW and it doesn’t have to happen in the NHL.  He didn’t skip the draft, he was a third round pick (hey, fancy that) in 2012. The league and the players union need to get together and find a way to keep this sort of power play from happening, but in the meantime, teams such as the Buffalo Sabres need to stop rewarding young players who have done nothing at the professional level from enjoying a perk that is not even enjoyed by players who have put in three years!

For the record, a player doesn’t become an unrestricted free agent until they’re 27 or have accumulated seven seasons. There are other factors (RFAs not being tendered, Group VI) but let’s not get too complicated.  

Think about that for a moment: Jack Eichel, who played 81 games in his rookie season, will not be able to enjoy the perks of being an RFA until the end of the 2017-18 season.  If we assume that the Sabres sign Eichel to a long-term contract (say five years or longer) in the summer of 2018, when will Eichel be able to enjoy the freedom of being a UFA – 2023?  At the earliest?

And Sabres fans are okay going after a college kid who is demanding the perks of being a UFA NOW?  All because he might help the Sabres become a playoff team?  Drouin had the same potential, and most fans would not have touched him with a 20-foot pole.  Cheering that the Sabres might convince Vesey to play for Buffalo is extremely hypocritical, and I just can’t get excited over this.

What if the Sabres do sign him and wind up acquiring a top-six talent for the cost of a third round pick?

I understand that even as a UFA, Jimmy Vesey will only be allowed to sign an entry-level contract, but this whole thing stinks to me.  Vesey may well become the next Jack Eichel, but I have a really difficult time endorsing his power play just months after condemning Drouin for trying to pull a stunt that is incredibly similar.

Say it with me (while clapping): These. Two. Situations. Are. Entirely. Different.

If NHL teams such as the Buffalo Sabres continue to allow players like Vesey to skip the draft (he didn’t skip the draft) and dictate where they begin their careers, then yes, this will be a trend moving forward.  It doesn’t have to be, though, and it doesn’t feel right applauding Buffalo’s pursuit of a player simply because “It’s my team.”  It wasn’t right when Drouin did it months ago, it wasn’t right when Eric Lindros refused to play for the Quebec Nordiques way back in 1991, and it’s not right that Jimmy Vesey has strong-armed his way out of Nashville and is looking to become a free agent on August 15.

Vesey really didn’t strong arm his way out. He made a choice, he chose not to sign his contact and let his rights with the Predators lapse. It’s a rule within the CBA and there’s no way the player’s union would ever allow for it to be removed since it is of direct benefit to the membership.

The article doesn’t touch on this and I’m not sure how well known this is for all Sabres fans, but Vesey cannot sign for more than a base salary of $925,000. It’s mentioned in the final paragraph of the post but this is an important point. Vesey didn’t throw away his relationship with the Preds because he’s expecting a multi-million dollar deal (he can earn up to $3.775 with bonuses) but because he clearly didn’t feel comfortable playing in Nashville.

If there’s any one thing the Vesey camp may have done wrong, it was telling the Predators they were going to sign and then switching course. There’s been conflicting information about that, but assuming that was the case, it was the wrong move. That I had a problem with, not his decision to pursue free agency. That is well within his right as a player and hopefully the Sabres manage to get him locked up prior to August 15. If for no other reason than to see a few more poor takes like this one.

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