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Ivey: Jimmy Vesey did nothing wrong

| Thursday, August 25, 2016

It’s over. It’s finally over.

The question we’ve all been asking ourselves the entire summer has finally been answered. It’s been a long, tumultuous road, but we’ve finally learned the great answer — we know what team Jimmy Vesey will play for this upcoming NHL season.

Vesey signed a free agent contract with the New York Rangers last Friday, and many people are mad about that. But Why?

Now there are many of you who are reading this and asking, “Michael, what are you talking about?” That’s fair. Let me set the scene.

Jimmy Vesey played college hockey at Harvard University from 2012-2016. The Nashville Predators selected him in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft. This past season, Vesey won college hockey’s version of the Heisman Trophy, the Hobey Baker Award, as the best college hockey player in the country. Over his four year college hockey career with Harvard, Vesey scored 144 points in 128 games played. When Harvard’s season ended back in March, everyone expected Vesey to sign with the Predators, the team that held his draft rights, and play with them for the remainder of the 2015-16 season and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

However, Vesey informed the Predators he did not want to sign with them and decided to become a free agent. The NHL’s Collective Bargaining Agreement allows any drafted college hockey player to become a free agent if that player has not signed a contract four years after they are drafted. Those players officially become free agents on Aug. 15 of the year they graduate from college.

Vesey’s status as a top NHL prospect made this a notable news story. People who were unfamiliar with the rule were outraged by Vesey’s refusal to sign. This sparked a debate between hockey writers, analysts and fans all across North America.

While the debate raged on, general managers and scouts for teams across the NHL were preparing their sales pitches’ to try and persuade Vesey to sign with their team. Scouts frequently attended Vesey’s summer league games in Foxboro, Massachusetts to get a good look at Vesey in action.

In late June, instead of getting nothing in return for Vesey, the Predators traded Vesey’s draft rights to the Buffalo Sabres in exchange for a third round draft pick in the 2016 NHL draft. The Sabres believed they could persuade Vesey to sign with them and play with the other young players on the team, like fellow Bostonian Jack Eichel.

But Vesey didn’t sign with the Sabres and became a free agent on Monday, Aug. 15. For the next three days, Vesey met with a number of NHL teams, including the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Chicago Blackhawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins. These teams used a number of different tactics to try and impress Vesey during their interviews, like bring coaches and players from the team to talk to Vesey. The New York Rangers started a trend on twitter with the title #JVtoNYR where notable people like New York Mets pitcher Noah Syndergaard and actress Susan Sarandon tweeted at Vesey encouraging him to sign with the Rangers.

Many people expected Vesey to sign with either the Toronto Maple Leafs, where his Dad works as a scout, or his hometown Boston Bruins. But on Friday, Aug. 19, Vesey signed a two year entry-level contract with the New York Rangers. The Vesey sweepstakes finally ended.

Many people are still upset about how this whole saga happened. Hockey purists believe players should sign with the team that drafted them. But this isn’t the first time a notable college hockey player decided to take his talents to a different organization than the one that drafted him.

Two years ago, Kevin Hayes graduated from Boston College after amassing 132 points in 141 career games played with the Eagles. Hayes was a first round draft pick by the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2010 NHL Draft, but decided not to sign with the Blackhawks. Instead he chose to sign with the same team Vesey did, the Rangers. Hayes and Vesey are childhood friends, and many say Hayes was instrumental in getting Vesey to sign with the Rangers.

Even though many people now hold a negative view of him, Vesey didn’t do anything wrong. He didn’t want to sign with the Predators, so he didn’t. He wanted to play in a big market close to his home on the east coast. He also wanted to play with people he was familiar with and compete for a Stanley Cup immediately, which he is able to do with the Rangers. As long as he was following the rules set forth by the NHL’s collective bargaining agreement, I don’t see anything to get mad about.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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