It’s no secret that the Buffalo Sabres are looking for help in their top-six to increase the scoring on the roster. Now that the season is officially over, we’ll start to get some more rumors coming out on players that could be on the move.
Yesterday, we got a rumor about a winger the Sabres could be interested in from Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet. In an odd twist of fate, that forward is none other than Jimmy Vesey. The current New York Rangers winger hasn’t worked out as expected since he was signed as a college free agent a few years ago. Here’s the excerpt from Friedman’s 31 Thoughts article this week on the Sabres interest in Vesey:
“The Sabres have talked to the Rangers about Jimmy Vesey. The Flames tested the market on James Neal. The Blackhawks are looking for a defenceman. Toronto’s asking price for Nikita Zaitsev is either another defenceman, or something they can use to get one. They will have no shortage of options if they do decide to move Nazem Kadri (Winnipeg is on his no-trade list, so he’d have to be approached about it.) Loui Eriksson’s agent, JP Barry, confirmed on Sportsnet 650 in Vancouver on Friday that it is time for the winger to move on. Other teams believe the Capitals are in total “go for it” mode.”
There’s not a lot of detail there other than the Sabres checked in on the 26-year-old forward. It’s possible Jason Botterill inquired about him and moved onto something else or he’s considering bringing him to Buffalo after all.
Vesey is an interesting player to evaluate. As I mentioned, he hasn’t lived up to expectations in New York City when he was signed as a highly-coveted free agent. In his three years in the NHL, he’s scored no more than 17 goals in a season and only totaled more than 30 points for the first time last season (35). The point total isn’t anything to get overly excited about, but adding a player that can score 15 or more goals to the bottom of the lineup wouldn’t be the worst thing.
Moving beyond his production and examining his underlying numbers there are some concerns. Starting with Evolving Hockey’s RAPM data, his metrics are poor, especially defensively. The last three years he’s been the Rangers second-worst or worst player in regards to expected goals against per 60. His offensive numbers were no better than the middle of the pack on the roster in those three years. Thus resulting in him being one of the worst in total xGPM/60 on that team.
His isolated impact data from Micah McCurdy’s chart (below) give him some more credit offensively. It shows him as 7% better than the league average offensively, but he almost gives all that back with how poor he grades out defensively.
The former third-round pick isn’t going to be the type of player that carries the puck for his team through the neutral zone. Which isn’t a big deal because if he’s on a line with a center that excels at that, it’ll be a good match.
At the end of the day, Vesey basically grades out as a replacement level forward.
On the flip side, no team is going to have a roster full of players that all grade out positively in every area of the game. There are some good underlying data on the Harvard graduate. He’s been one of the Rangers best forwards in xG/60 at 5 on 5 over the last three years according to Moneypuck. He’s also a pretty good even strength player. Last season 29 of his 35 points came at even strength and 22 of 28 points the season prior.
Vesey is another one of those players that go to high-quality areas to get scoring opportunities. Which, is one of the reasons his xG/60 at 5 on 5 is so high since he entered the league.
He’s been one of the best players on the Rangers in primary shot contributions at 5 on 5. The chart below from Sean Tierney, using Corey Szanjder’s tracking data shows us that Vesey gets a good amount of shots per 60. It also indicates he has a lot of primary assists per 60 minutes which puts him in the “elite” category.
Circling back on some defensive struggles there are a few things that could be contributing to that during his time with the Rangers. The most prominent explanation for some of his defensive issues can be tied to his linemates the last two years. This past season his most common linemate was Brett Howden. The rookie center was the second-worst player in the NHL last season in xGA/60 at 5 on 5 according to Evolving Hockey’s RAPM model. He was also just below Vladimir Sobotka in total xGPM/60.
When he played away from Howden, his xGA/60 at 5 on 5 went from a 3.03 to a 2.48 and his xGF% per 60 increased from 41.61% to a 51.26% according to Natural Stat Trick.
In the 2017-18 season, his most common linemate was David Desharnais. Another player not known for his defensive acumen throughout his career.
If the Rangers are seeking a more significant piece in this trade, the Sabres would be wise to look elsewhere to improve the roster. Vesey isn’t worth trading a key asset when the Botterill has a limited amount to utilize on the trade market. Not to mention that acquiring him would create a log jam on the roster at left wing.
A trade that included a late round pick or a player like Marco Scandella would make some sense. He would fill the need to improve the bottom six on the forward lineup. Vesey only has one year left on his deal that carries a $2.275 million cap hit. After next season he’ll become an unrestricted free agent. The Sabres may get a motivated player in a contract year.