Examining the Jimmy Vesey signing, including comparable players
There are so many ways to go with the Jimmy Vesey signing. Let’s get started.
TSN had a sound bite from Calgary Flames President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke on the Jimmy Vesey situation before he signed with the New York Rangers and he commented by saying, “If you look at that group and the money that the league has spent on those players and their contribution, it is a pimple on an elephant’s butt.”
The group he was referring to are NCAA free agents, to which he also stated, “If you look at the college free agents, they have made a dramatically insignificant contribution to our league.”
The only two things from Burke that had some positive connotation were “I think he’s gonna be a good player,” referring to Vesey, and, “Tyler Bozak might be the best one,” of the college free agents.
I am sure that got the attention of some hockey executives and fans out there, but let me put this into context.
The question the TSN reporter asked, “What’s it like for a player like him to be wined-and-dined by a big league team like the Toronto Maple Leafs?”
Would you expect him to respond in any other way?
Burke was not going to put himself into a situation where he could get fined for tampering, as Vesey’s rights were held by the Buffalo Sabres. The reporter should be asking that question of an executive from a big league team, not Burke of the Flames.
So what Burke does do is throw some water at Vesey and the teams vying for his services by concluding that NCAA free agents are mostly a waste of money and of the ones that were good signings his Bozak was the best.
Take that, big league teams… ahem…Toronto. But is what Burke said true?
I do not have the resources to find all college free agent signings and see if the dollar-per-point ratio holds true or not, but I did find some other documentation that could cast a light on to Burke’s response.
Earlier this year fellow Dobber columnist Peter Harling wrote of the 2016 college free agent class and highlighted a few things. Notably, “There are two ways college players can become NHL free agents. The most common was is they simply were never drafted and have completed their collegiate careers. Some players of prominence who entered the NHL recently via this route include Danny DeKeyser, Tyler Bozak and Trevor van Riemsdyk.” Also, “The other way is if they were drafted, but have not signed an NHL contract after four years, and their collegiate career is completed. This route is less common, but produces a higher caliber of player. Previous players who followed this [path] include Blake Wheeler, Justin Schultz and Mike Reilly.”
This article by Sportsnet’s Mike Johnston lists some more players, adding Kevin Hayes, Bozak, Torey Krug, Matt Read, J.T. Brown, Justin Fontaine, Teddy Purcell, Ben Scrivens, Matt Irwin and Mark Letestu. Johnston downgrades Schultz’s performance.
I am willing to give Burke leeway on this, except he should have highlighted Wheeler as the best of those players that meet the criteria. It was too obvious.
Eye of the Beholder
When Vesey decided to go the free agent route, he knew that this had nothing to do with contract terms, but about being able to pick the team he wanted to play on.
“NHL rules limit the contract to two years with a base salary of $950,000 (U.S.) and bonuses, so Vesey’s decision came down to the right fit and opportunity,” published the Toronto Star.
As per the details found on this Rotoworld link (referring to a New York Rangers tweet), he was wooed by Buffalo, Chicago, Pittsburgh, New Jersey, New York Islanders, Boston and Toronto. However they all lost.
In his own words, captured by New York Daily News, “The thing that jumped out for me is that they seemed to really want me and it seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup. That was something I was looking for, and based on my talks (with the Rangers' coaching staff and front office), I felt that New York was the right fit.”
I think that ended up being a very odd choice because all the teams that were after him really wanted him.
The Toronto Sun’s Lance Hornby itemized that “Buffalo hoped the lure of Vesey’s friendship with summer hockey teammate Jack Eichel would pay off. Other stars such as Jonathan Toews in Chicago and John Tavares with the New York Islanders were reportedly brought in talks to tempt Vesey, while the Leafs had Matthews involved,” not to mention that Vesey’s father is employed by the Leafs, Boston is his home town and, Pittsburgh are the reigning champions.
Scott Cullen analyzed the opportunity and determined that “Looking at the depth chart, he could very easily fit on a third line with Kevin Hayes and either fellow rookie Pavel Buchnevich or J.T. Miller. There's enough young talent there that the line could be quite productive, but it's hardly a sure thing.”
What… third line? Would Vesey not be placed on a higher line with a younger team?
If it was a matter of playing on a contender then Chicago and Pittsburgh led the way, possibly adding the Islanders and Bruins to that list.
If it was a matter of having the opportunity to play in the NHL right now and grow with a team, then Buffalo, Toronto and New Jersey had the upper leg.
If it was a matter of being close to home then Boston, the New York based teams, and Pittsburgh had the edge.
As part of his analysis Cullen points out two things.
No rookie (23-year-olds) jumping from the NCAA to the NHL has scored more than 30 points and winning the Hobey Baker award is no guarantee of success, with Jack Eichel, Johnny Gaudreau, Matt Carle, Jordan Leopold, Ryan Miller, Chris Drury and Brendan Morrison being the most successful ones from the last 20 years.
In another article, the PuckStopsHere looks at when Vesey won the Hobey compared to others. He states, “Eichel was 18 years old when he was in his first year with Boston University. He scored 71 points in 40 games that season. Gaudreau was 20 years old in his third year at Boston College when he scored 80 points in 40 games. Meanwhile Vesey was 22 in his fourth year at Harvard when he scored 46 points in 33 games in his Baker-winning season. In fact Vesey is the lowest point scoring forward in his Hobey Baker Trophy winning season ever. Also as a fourth year player in college, he was older than the two previous Baker Trophy winners who significantly outscored him.”
I took the list from Cullen’s article and can add:
Vesey’s circumstance does not really fall out of line when compared to the other five former winners as most of them won the award at age 21 and in the fourth year.
What is concerning is his point total. He scored fewer points than Leopold and Carle, and they were defensemen. Yes, they played in a different era.
Whichever team was successful in signing Vesey was going to win from the fact that they got a player on a contract that was relatively cheap. What the Rangers do to help his development over the next two years will either make this a forgettable moment or one where we forever look at the losers in the sweepstakes and reference that they missed out.
All things Being Equal
Poor Toronto. This is yet another case of when everything is pretty much equal a player opts to play for another club and not the Leafs.
I do not fault the current management for this. They are trying their best, but they have to break the decades of ineptitude that preceded them.
However, local media and fans of the Blue and White have to stop dreaming of quick fix solutions, like the Steven Stamkos, Vesey, and now the Tavares free agent signing rumblings.
The almost singular way to guarantee a player will play on your team is to draft them (Vesey a notable exception) or to trade for them. Do not bet on a free agent coming to Toronto because it is the center of the hockey world, no matter how logical (mostly illogical) the reasoning is.
Instead of dreaming of Tavares, they should be attempting to pry Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, or even Joshua Ho-Sang from the Islanders. It certainly would cost a lot less and more likely to happen.
Believing that everyone wants to be a Leaf cost Brian Burke his job. Now all he can do is try to pour cold water on their attempts to do better.