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Vesey not to blame for Sabres’ ill-advised gamble in 2016

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With Vesey now back in the organization following yesterday’s trade, fans shouldn’t hold a grudge over him for choosing New York over Buffalo three years ago

Ottawa Senators v New York Rangers Photo by Jared Silber/NHLI via Getty Images

Yesterday afternoon, the long-rumored trade between the New York Rangers and Buffalo Sabres came to fruition when it was announced that Jimmy Vesey would be coming to the Queen City in exchange for a third-round draft pick in 2021. From the moment that this potential deal was reported as a possibility last month, fans of the blue-and-gold received the idea with mixed responses.

Some felt that a third-round pick was perhaps too much for a player of Vesey’s caliber (which is valid to an extent, based on Chad DeDominicis’ article from June). Others still felt scorned by the Hobey Baker winner’s decision in 2016 to play in the Big Apple, despite the Sabres trading for his rights ahead of time.

Those are the same fans who have let the boo birds rain down on him every time he has touched the puck at KeyBank Center over the past three seasons. That type of negative reaction toward Vesey’s decision was silly and misguided then, and for fans to still hold a grudge to this day is absurd.

Let’s make one thing clear about what unfolded in 2016 - Jimmy Vesey owed the Buffalo Sabres absolutely nothing.

From the moment it was announced that he had decided not to sign with the Nashville Predators (the team that drafted him) following his senior season at Harvard, his camp made their intentions perfectly clear. The collegiate standout would explore the free-agent market and make the best decision for his future. Fully aware of this, former general manager, Tim Murray decided to take a “calculated gamble” by sending a third round pick to Nashville in exchange for Vesey’s rights.

Now, say what you will about the flawed rules in place pertaining to NCAA hockey players’ ability to become unrestricted free agents after college, but don’t fault the player for taking advantage of said rule, and doing what’s best for his career. It isn’t as though there was any type of verbal agreement between he and the Sabres prior to the trade. His representatives made it perfectly clear that Murray’s decision would not affect their existing plan to explore every avenue.

Buffalo got their chance to sell him on the team, just like every other franchise that expressed interest. Perhaps the Sabres’ GM over-estimated his ability to close the deal. Either way, blaming Vesey (who was nothing but honest and consistent through the entire process) for Murray’s haphazard tendency to forfeit futures during his tenure is misguided.

A good portion of the remaining disdain toward the now 26-year-old either boils down to a lack of understanding of the situation, or the ever-present inferiority complex that hovers over Buffalo sports like a dark cloud. For those who disapprove of yesterday’s trade for the sole misconception that he “spurned us once before”, I would implore you to look at it from an outsider’s perspective.

We’re talking about a young man who had the choice to either join a team that might finally be emerging from the most embarrassing stretch of hockey in their history, or sign with one of the most respected franchises in professional sports. A vast majority of players in that situation would have made the same decision, regardless of whether or not the GM of the former impulsively acquired their rights ahead of time.

If fans want someone to blame for the situation, point a finger Murray, the man who willingly spent an asset for something he would have received for free had he just waited (i.e. a one-on-one conversation with Vesey and his agent, Peter Fish), but faulting the player is asinine. He didn’t pick the Rangers because he hated Buffalo, or because he held any type of ill will against the organization. New York was simply, (and undebatably) a better situation for a first-year player.

Had the previous saga never occurred, fans would probably be fine with the trade from a value standpoint. A very similar deal took place last season when Jason Botterill acquired a comparably talented player in Conor Sheary (and Matt Hunwick) from the Pittsburgh Penguins in exchange for a conditional third-round pick. While Sheary is the more balanced impact player of the two (less effective offensively, and more effective defensively) they are both middle-six caliber left-wingers. Fans in Buffalo were generally pretty receptive to that deal, even though it meant taking on a cap dump in Hunwick.

Naturally, soon after the transaction was made official, Vesey was asked about what occurred in 2016, and his current outlook now that he finds himself back in the organization.

For now, it’s unclear where he’ll slot into the lineup. The Sabres currently have four NHL-caliber left-wingers under contract in Sheary, Jeff Skinner, Victor Olofsson, and of course, Vesey. Metrically, (and I’ll once again reference reference Chad’s article linked above) he is slightly above replacement-level, meaning that the logical choice would be to keep him in the bottom-six.

Perhaps if the organization decides to let Evan Rodrigues man the center position on the third line, the two would compliment one another nicely. Given Vesey’s ridiculously poor metrics from a defensive standpoint (and conversely, positive metrics on offense), Rodrigues’ presence as a responsible two-way player could provide an adequate safety-valve and allow him to be a little more creative offensively.

Deployment will obviously be up to Ralph Krueger, but either way, the deal represents a fortification of the Sabres’ suspect depth on the wing. Perhaps with the right linemates, he can put together a solid 2019-20 campaign and entice Buffalo to offer him an extension next summer.

Either way, if fans want to be upset about the price to acquire him, that’s fine. There’s certainly a viable (albeit a bit petty) argument to be made there, but hating the deal for the sole misconception that Vesey acted vindictively toward the organization three years ago is unjustifiable.