Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey became an unrestricted free agent Tuesday and the former Harvard University star and his representatives began meetings with teams looking to secure his services.
Vesey, whose rights have been owned by the Buffalo Sabres since a draft-week trade, started the process Tuesday in Boston. Multiple reports say Vesey and his representatives met with Toronto, the New York Islanders, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.
On Wednesday, the teams expected to make their pitches will be Chicago, the New York Rangers and Boston, Vesey’s hometown club. A decision is expected by Friday.
The Penguins and Islanders are late bloomers to the Vesey sweepstakes. Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan grew up 90 minutes from Boston and assistant GM Bill Guerin is from Worcester, Mass. The Penguins are certainly dangling a role alongside Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin, especially with veteran Chris Kunitz entering the final year of his deal.
The Islanders don’t have any obvious connections to Vesey but they have a need for help at forward in the wake of the free-agent defections of Kyle Okposo to the Sabres and Frans Nielsen to Detroit.
The Detroit Red Wings inquired with the Vesey camp but are not one of the finalists.
“We did our best,” Red Wings assistant general manager Ryan Martin told MLive.com. “We spoke to his agent about depth and opportunity. He said he preferred to play closer to home.”
That answer might portend bad news for Chicago, which has been considered one of the favorites because it is looking for help on the wing in the same way it added Artemi Panarin last year from the KHL.
Columbus and Carolina both reportedly inquired to the Vesey camp as well but neither team is expected to be a contender.
The Sabres held exclusive negotiating rights to Vesey since acquiring him from Nashville for a third-round pick on June 20. They met with him in Boston on July 7 and the Vesey camp has maintained Buffalo remains a player in their decision, even though Vesey has opted to open negotiations with other teams.
Contract terms are dictated by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement and it’s virtually certain any team would offer Vesey a max entry-level contract, with a cap hit of $925,000 and bonuses taking the deal north of $3.7 million per season.