Beyond rumors of a fire sale, the offseason for the Rangers has been fairly quiet. General manager Jeff Gorton signed the team’s key restricted free agents, added former Islander Michael Grabner and swapped center Derick Brassard for Ottawa’s Mika Zibanejad.
It’ll take a hard sell, but Gorton can put an exclamation point on the summer retooling if the Rangers can land coveted Harvard left wing Jimmy Vesey, who will become a free agent Monday.
The Blueshirts are among a select group in the hunt for Vesey, 23, who had 56 goals and 104 points in 70 games in his junior and senior years and won the Hobey Baker Memorial Award last season as the nation’s top collegiate player. To be sure, the Rangers’ lineup heading into training camp next month would be stronger with the native of North Reading, Massachusetts, in the fold.
Drafted 66th overall by Nashville in 2012, Vesey spurned the Predators in March by choosing not to sign within four years and testing the free-agent waters. In June, Nashville traded his rights to the Buffalo Sabres, who already have met with him, but now a handful of other clubs will make their pitches.
“He’s wanted to go to free agency and he’s going to see it through,” Peter Fish, his agent, told the Boston Herald. “There’s about four to five teams other than Buffalo that he wants to hear from. After that, he’s going to make a decision . . . There’s obviously a lot of thought that goes into it: the city, the coach, the GM, the salary structure, how a team treats their players in the second and third contracts down the road.”
For the Rangers, the expected competition is formidable: Boston, Chicago, Toronto, Buffalo, the Devils and perhaps another team. The Blueshirts have a legitimate shot for several reasons: They can guarantee him a role on a competitive team not far from home; Vesey’s agent is friends with Gorton, and Chris Drury, the former Boston University star and current director of player development, was a client. Vesey’s Boston-area buddy Kevin Hayes, who went a route similar to Vesey’s after college (he rejected the Blackhawks when his draft rights expired), just agreed to a two-year extension with the Rangers.
Money isn’t an issue. Rules dictate that teams can offer only the required two-year, entry-level contract at $925,000 per season, plus a maximum of $2.85 million in bonuses. So the decision will come down to other factors.
Vesey, who might prefer to play in the Northeast, was a huge Bruins fan growing up and immediately could skate big minutes with his hometown team. In Chicago, he’d have a path to the Stanley Cup on a team with Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane. Blackhawks general manager Stan Bowman and coach Joel Quenneville have scouted him in the Foxboro, Massachusetts, summer league, as did Devils GM Ray Shero. New Jersey assistant GM Tom Fitzgerald is a North Reading native.
The rebuilding Maple Leafs offer an opportunity to play with this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick, Auston Matthews, and a family connection: Vesey’s father, Jim, who played briefly in the NHL, is a scout and his younger brother, Nolan, is a prospect. Vesey still could opt for the young Sabres, where he’d play with another longtime pal, rising star Jack Eichel, who won the Hobey Baker Award in 2015.