Jimmy Vesey will be a hot commodity over the next 72 hours. The New York Rangers may not be the favorite, but they could be his best option.It wasn’t long ago when the New York Rangers were considered one of the NHL’s elite teams, vying for a Stanley Cup year in and year out.
Led by All-World netminder Henrik Lundqvist, the Blueshirts touted an impressive core of goal scorers, role players, shut down defenseman, and capable blueliners.
From the 2011-12 season up until 2014-15, the Rangers finished in the top two of their division all four seasons, reached the Eastern Conference Final three times, won the President’s Trophy, and competed in the Stanley Cup Final back in 2014. And although they were never able to hoist the illustrious Cup, hockey was back in Madison Square Garden.
Faces changed but the standings remained the same. Homegrown talent Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky and Arten Anisimov were exchanged for bonafide goal scorers Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash. The underwhelming Michael Del Zotto was traded away for the underrated Kevin Klein, but Anton Stralman was let go for veteran Dan Boyle. Derick Brassard was brought in for Marion Gaborik and Brandon Prust was replaced by Derek Dorsett.
Unfortunately for fans of the Rangers, however, last season was different.
After losing game seven at home in the Eastern Conference Final, the perennial Championship favorites were looking to, once again, bring the Stanley Cup back to Madison Square Garden for the first time since 1994.
But an offseason trade of fan favorite Carl Hagelin hurt team chemistry, as well as their on-ice performance. Nash underwhelmed in an injury-riddled campaign. Dan Girardi and Marc Staal – reliable and productive defenseman for the Blueshirts over the last decade – finally had injuries catch up to them. Kevin Hayes was non-existent and Chris Kreider failed to develop into the scoring threat that the team still hopes he will become. The Eric Staal trade was a colossal failure.
Sure, there were still positives. Brassard and Mats Zuccarello exceeded expectations, Ryan McDonagh battled through injuries and was still the team’s number one defenseman and Jesper Fast and J.T. Miller emerged as additional young talent on the roster.
But it wasn’t enough to offset the negatives. Despite finishing 19 games over .500 and third in the Metropolitan Division, the Rangers were ousted in the first round at the hands of eventual Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.
That same core that brought the Rangers to so many heights was the same core that failed last year. By the looks of this offseason, it’s clear that team brass intended on shaking up the roster with hopes of retooling for the future.
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Brassard, who posted a career-high in goals (27) and plus/minus (+12), was shipped to the Ottowa Senators for talented 23-year old center Mika Zibanejad. Michael Grabner will replace Dominic Moore while Josh Jooris will provide additional depth at forward. And although another transaction hasn’t been made, Rick Nash, Dan Girardi and Derek Stepan have all been mentioned in trade talks as well.
The 2016 version of the Rangers will look pretty different than in year’s past. They will be younger, with the distant future in mind instead of the immediate future.
One way to complete the new era of the Blueshirts? Sign Jimmy Vesey.
New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Toronto Maple Leafs favorites to sign Jimmy Vesey https://t.co/LgBjfILySr
— ESPN NHL coverage (@ESPN_NHL) August 15, 2016
Vesey, of course, is the hottest NHL free agent whose rights will be revoked by the Buffalo Sabres at 12:01 ET. A former third-round draft pick back in 2012, Vesey refused to sign with the Nashville Predators; and although his rights were traded to the Sabres during the 2016 Draft, the young forward prefers to choose his NHL destination.
A standout performer at Harvard, Vesey potted 80 goals while chipping in 64 helpers over 128 career collegiate games. The ECAC Player of the Year in 2015, the Massachusettes native brought home the Hobey Baker award after his senior year, given to the top hockey player in the NCAA.
Seen as a ready-made NHL talent back in 2012, Vesey will be – at the least – a top nine forward with any club he signs with. The New Jersey Devils, Toronto Maple Leafs, Chicago Blackhawks and hometown Boston Bruins will all be in the running for his services.
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But the Rangers should have a great chance.
Kreider and Hayes – two Boston College graduates – re-upped with the franchise this offseason. Vesey could make a seamless transition with players that have the same roots as he does.
In addition to having some hometown friends on the roster, the Rangers also signed 2012 draft pick Pavel Buchnevich, who’s been one of the top players in the KHL in recent years. Add the 21-year old Russian to fellow up-and-coming youngsters Fast, Miller, Zibanejad, Brady Skjei and Dylan McIlrath, and Vesey could be enticed by a youthful roster that he can grow with.
There’s also the fact that the Rangers don’t have any lines set. As stated above, Nash may very well be moved, opening up a spot in the top six – something that Vesey may see as an opportunity to showcase his talents on the biggest stage in the world.
And let’s not forget about what Peter Fish – Vesey’s representative – told Brett Cyrgalis of the New York Post about a match with the Rangers:
“I THINK TO ANY FREE AGENT, THE RANGERS ARE AN INTERESTING OPTION. IT’S SPECIAL PLAYING IN THE BIG APPLE.”
“TO BE HONEST, IT LOOKS LIKE THERE ARE A COUPLE HOLES IN THEIR LINEUP THAT HE COULD FIT INTO. IF IT WERE ONE OF THOSE YEARS WHERE THE RANGERS WERE JUST STACKED, FROM FIRST LINE TO THIRD LINE, THEN MAYBE IT WOULD BE DIFFERENT.”
“I COULDN’T ENVISION A SCENARIO WHERE THE RANGERS WOULDN’T WANT TO MAKE A PITCH, AND THEY WOULD DEFINITELY BE A POSSIBILITY.”
Vesey is expected to make his decision within the next 72 hours. Sure, the Rangers may not be the favorite. We already know this.
In the end, however, they could be his best option. Hopefully, Vesey also knows this.