The Bruins were one of the teams still standing at the very end for Jimmy Vesey’s in-demand services this week, but they fell short in the end because of things that were out of their control.
By all accounts, the Black and Gold put together a very convincing sales pitch for the 23-year-old Harvard captain and Hobey Baker Award winner from North Reading, Mass., when they met with him on Wednesday at their new Warrior Arena practice complex in Brighton.
They showed off all the new bells and whistles, Claude Julien virtually guaranteed Vesey a top-six spot skating at his left wing position alongside David Krejci. Don Sweeney, Cam Neely and Co. did a good job of working the hometown-kid-playing-for-the-hometown-team angle. But none of that registered strongly enough to close the deal with Vesey, who instead chose to play alongside Kevin Hayes, instead of Jimmy Hayes, while choosing to sign with the New York Rangers.
According to a source with knowledge of the situation, it came down to the New Jersey Devils, Bruins and Rangers when Vesey was making his final decision with his agents on Friday. The friendship between Hayes and Vesey played a big part in the recruiting process and the BU connection between Vesey’s agent, Peter Fish, and Rangers director of player development Chris Drury played a pivotal role in New York closing the deal.
So what went wrong with Boston?
The informed speculation has long been that Vesey, and those around him, were uncomfortable with the notion of him playing for his hometown Bruins after watching his buddy Jimmy Hayes get lambasted by the Boston sports media while struggling last season.
The problem wasn’t so much the criticism that will come along with the hype that Vesey arrived with should he struggle in the NHL, but that his close friends and family would also be subjected to the harsh critiques if he played in Boston. That was something Hayes struggled with in his first season for the Black and Gold while clearly not playing up to his potential in a sometimes sluggish campaign.
Local boys struggling with the B’s is something that’s happened more than once in the recent past for the Bruins. Fellow Massachusetts hockey products Chris Bourque and Hal Gill faced similar harsh treatment when they pulled on the Black and Gold sweater in their pro careers. Avoiding the Bruins allows Vesey to skip those potential distractions and places him in a position where he can simply concentrate on carving out an NHL niche for himself.
According to sources, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci, Torey Krug and Adam McQuaid were all part of the meeting with Vesey this week. It’s a pretty telling detail that Hayes, who is friendly with Vesey, was not a part of the Bruins player contingent recruiting the sought-after NCAA player.
Instead, Vesey will go to the Rangers, where he has a close friend on the roster in Kevin Hayes and New England people supporting him in the organization from GM Jeff Gorton to Drury to player personnel director Steve Greeley. While the Blueshirts aren’t the Stanley Cup contenders they were a couple of years ago, they are still a likely playoff team with Henrik Lundqvist, Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh.
Interestingly, it feels like Vesey might not even be a top-six left winger right off the bat for the Blueshirts with Chris Kreider and Nashon the roster. New York’s cap situation could be dicey in a couple of years when Vesey is looking for a bigger second contract.
But he also won’t be looked at as “a savior” in his own words, something that might have been the case in Boston for a team that has collapsed and missed the playoffs in the past two seasons.
"They don't expect me to come in and be a savior," said Vesey in a Friday night conference call. "I think I'm just a piece they want to add, and hopefully I can help the New York Rangers win hockey games.
"The thing that jumped out at me was that they came to really want me. It seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup and it seemed that they believe in me. That was something that I was looking for."
Where does this leave the Bruins?
Unfortunately Vesey-to-New York once again illustrates a situation where Sweeney couldn’t close the deal as GM. The Bruins once again lost out on a top talent on an entry-level contract coming right out of their own backyard.
Sweeney did a solid job presenting the sales pitch to Vesey and his agents this week, but as the GM is quick to always admit, the NHL “is a results-oriented business.” The Bruins lost out on Vesey and still have a huge hole in their defensemen corps where Sweeney failed to acquire a needed top-four, puck-moving type for a roster that’s as flawed as it has been the past two seasons.
It also leaves a hole on Krejci’s left wing where they hoped to have Vesey after losing Loui Eriksson in free agency to the Vancouver Canucks. A Vesey signing would have allowed the Bruins to slot the hardnosed Matt Beleskey into the third line, where he’s much better suited after a solid first season for the Bruins.
It also would have allowed the B’s to avoid pushing young players Frank Vatrano and Danton Heinen into a top-six role next season. With Vesey taking his hockey talents to Broadway, it looks like one of those two things might have to happen while the Bruins are again explaining why they came up short for one of their desired goals.