Jimmy Vesey (Photo by Richard T Gagnon/Getty Images)
While the Predators thought they had a deal in place with the Harvard left winger, Vesey is reportedly headed for free agency on Aug. 15 – something he is allowed to do. It's not a loophole, it's just part of the collective bargaining agreement.
It's not a fun day in Nashville and the Preds' loss to Colorado is actually of secondary importance. Last night, GM David Poile revealed that highly-touted prospect Jimmy Vesey would not be signing with the franchise and would instead pursue free agency.
Poile was livid.
As per The Tennessean:
"Every indication was that he was going to sign with us," Poile said. "His dad had told me, had told (Predators coach) Peter Laviolette, Scott Nichol, Paul Fenton, that his son was going to sign with us. And Jimmy himself told Paul Fenton prior to the trade deadline, which was an important time for us because it was our last opportunity to change our team. We told him if he was going to sign with us we were going to keep a position available for him, and he told us that he was going to sign with us."
Vesey's father, Jim, is a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs – so the elder Vesey is far from naive when it comes to the inner workings of the hockey world. Younger brother Nolan, who just completed his sophomore season with the University of Maine, is a Toronto draft pick – so it's not hard to see why many have speculated that Jimmy will sign with the Maple Leafs.
Poile believes Vesey got bad advice from his advisors, but it's a little more complex than that. True, Vesey could have jumped straight to the Predators this week, earning NHL money, burning a year off his entry-level contract and seeing playoff action right away. These are perks only Nashville can offer him, as per the collective bargaining agreement. Should Vesey choose to sign with Toronto – or, say, the Boston Bruins, the team Vesey dreamed about playing for as a child – he will have to wait until Aug. 15.
Some folks are calling this a "loophole." It's not. It's just part of the CBA. It's the other side of the coin that saw Colorado trade away the rights to WHL Red Deer's Conner Bleackley to Arizona at the deadline, with the most likely outcome that the Coyotes choose not to sign the 2014 first-rounder and instead get a compensatory draft pick in return.
Is it rough for Nashville, an organization that has done nothing wrong, that even offered Vesey top-six minutes right out of the gate? Totally. It's crushing. But Vesey could have gone the major junior route and done the exact same thing, albeit on a slightly different timeline.
And yes, he will be in demand. Vesey was one of the most prolific scorers in all of college hockey during the last two years of his Harvard career, scoring 56 goals in 70 games. He was a finalist for the Hobey Baker Award last year and is still in contention to win it this year, too (though my personal choice would be Michigan's Kyle Connor). His hockey mind will translate to the NHL and his frame is solid. Plus, he has already played against pro competition thanks to his duty with Team USA's bronze-medal World Championship squad last year, playing alongside Jack Eichel, Justin Faulk and Seth Jones.
Of course, Vesey is not the first notable player to shake off the team that drafted him in favor of free agency. Mike Reilly spurned Columbus in favor of Minnesota last summer, while Justin Schultz chose Edmonton after turning down Anaheim before that.
Will such cases send a chill through NHL teams when it comes to drafting college-bound players? Not likely: Columbus just inked Zach Werenski to a pro deal after drafting him eighth overall in 2015. He left Michigan two years early to join the Blue Jackets organization and will probably be a better NHL defenseman than Reilly, the one the Jackets just lost to the Wild.
Whatever your opinion of Vesey is right now, let me leave you with this: I'd much rather live in a hockey world where players have these sorts of rights than the hockey world of the Original Six era, when they hardly had any rights at all. And you could fill a book with words that GMs have told players that haven't turned out to be true in the end – I have personally witnessed agents yelling at them over the phone for breaking promises made to NHL stars.
This is the business, and it ain't always pretty.