The Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes has been the most interesting off ice story in hockey for almost a year. His choice not to sign with the rising Nashville Predators his irked some, and left others salivating in the hopes that he would play in their favorite franchise. The rumor and fantasy mills have focused on three seeming front runners, The Toronto Maple Leafs where he has a brother in the system and a father on the staff, the Buffalo Sabres who have his rights currently, and of course his home town Boston Bruins.

New Jersey shouldn’t be overlooked when evaluating where he might want to end up. One of the things that is most striking about his choice not to go to Nashville is that the narrative all along has been that he wanted to choose his own destiny, and forge his own career. While some might see this as a fit of pique, I think it shows an understanding of the NHL and what it takes to succeed; skill fit, wit, and chemistry.

If he goes to Toronto, he gets to play in a hockey mad city that lives half an atom outside the skin of its resident avatars of the state religion. It’s a pressure cooker, its intrusive, and it has no history of success in his life time. The current leadership aside, the head coach isn’t used to building teams, the current general manager is used to being the whole show, and the team President is best known in his post playing days as the Dean of Discipline to the NHL. One might very successfully make the case that’s a potentially if not inherently volatile mix at the top of the organization. Should he sign there he will be making it harder for his own brother to get a shot at the NHL. Yes, it is quite unlikely they would both be aimed at the same position, but there are only so many slots on the roster. There is also the specter of nepotism that will hang over him if he does land there, no matter how good he is.

The Pittsburgh Penguins are pretty much a non starter not because he wouldn’t want to play with Phil Kessel, Malkin, Crosby and Letang, but because from a cap perspective its comes pretty close to attempting to scale Everest in flip flops and a loin cloth. In order for him to get into the top six, they likely need to move a well known, expensive player. Chris Kunitz is well known, well respected and thirty six years old with only this season under contract. Pascal Dupuis’s contract is potentially trade able, but they would likely have to give up a good piece to go with it. After that is the question of moving either Carl Hagelin or Conor Sheary, financially Hagelin being moved makes the most sense, talent wise, and long term cap implications are debatable.

While many would list the Boston Bruins as the default choice, there are issues there too. Playing in your hometown is an enormous amount of pressure with zero down time, summer isn’t safe to be home, after a bad game everyone is upset, after a win everyone wants to buy you a drink, and everyone knows someone who knows you. Add to that the Bruins have coach with (an overblown) reputation for being tough on young players, one of the top ten left wings in the game in Brad Marchand, and the fact that the team desperately needs defense good enough to be paid well, and Vesey is probably not a priority to the Bruins. Another factor might be how many current local boys are in the system. I’m sure he’s friends with some, rivalries or worse, that started in early childhood can be hard to leave behind.

And then there is Buffalo. The Sabres have quite a bit of impressive young talent. Including Evander Kane, a left wing who has scored 30 goals in the NHL at a young age, plays physically, and is locked into a top six position, unless a coach is feeling like moving on to warmer pastures. They also have veteran Matt Moulson, another left wing, a three time 30 goal scorer who has had a down couple of years but can almost certainly be expected to be a big part of the leadership group both on and off the ice. The scrappy utility forward Tyler Ennis will hold onto a top 9 position one way or another as well. It is unlikely Vesey considers his chances of being more of an impact player in season one than Evander Kane, and a healthy, motivated Matt Moulson is nothing to sneeze at, which exclusive of Ennis, and other prospects makes his chances at significant minutes slim.

What does New Jersey offer?

  • They are close enough to home to be a short flight,  and manageable train or car ride for himself, friends, and family.
  • A big enough city to have night life and amenities.
  • Far enough down the media frenzy food chain to have breathing space.
  • High end team mates like Taylor Hall and Adam Henrique.
  • A team that is without him better than the Leafs and Sabres
  • Highly respected veteran leaders like Cammelleri, Zajac, and Fiddler
  • Less competition for dollars against the cap in the mid term future.

In short, for a lot of reasons the New Jersey Devils might just be team he lands with. They aren’t the sexy pick, the easy pick, or the one what might just let him ride coattails to an early career Stanley Cup, but they have a lot of things none of the other teams have. Realistically, the Devils could have won a half dozen of the games they lost in regulation last year. With 96 points, and just three of the wins coming in regulation, they would have beaten out the Philadelphia Flyers for the second wild card spot last spring.

This is an occasional feature that will take a look at multiple issues, each in 100 words or less.

Chicago Blackhawks Captain, keystone, and bubbly play maker*, is slightly dinged up with the highly contagious “lower body injury“. Please remember to wash your hands after interviewing.

 

One of the Dallas Stars summer reinforcements is going to be down-checked for almost a month. Rich Peverley, former Boston Bruin, Atlanta Thrasher, and Nashville Predator had surgery to repair a heart condition. The former St. Lawrence Saint came over with Tyler Seguin as part of the effort to establish depth at center.

 

The war is over now, and Alex Pietrangelo is signed to a new seven year deal with the Saint Louis Blues. Capgeek lists his hit at $6.5m per year, and that gives the Blues the 9th highest payroll in the NHL, with six teams still having to make moves to bring them under the cap by opening night.

 

Darryl Sutter was understood to utter the word “awesome” at the Los Angeles Kings training camp. He says this years camp has guys playing for jobs. With at least four forwards, and two defensemen who saw light if any use during the post season last year, we expect the competition to be awesome.

 

Also caught by the dastardly “lower body injury” is Nashville Predators goaltender prospect Magnus Hellberg. Viktor Stalberg is said to being fitting in great after one training camp practice by Barry Trotz who will no doubt be shamed into upping the superlative compete level when he hears what Darryl Sutter said.

 

*One or more of these may require additional verification.

The NHL Draft isn’t a day where easy grades for all 30 teams can be made. Some moves do standout though and the teams that make them deserve to be singled out.

Losers:

Colorado Avalanche: Not only did they deliberately pass on a franchise quality defenseman in Seth Jones, the defense they took later in the draft lacks upside. Most look to be fringe NHL players who will likely never play above bottom pairing quality. Nathan MacKinnon is undoubtedly a quality player, but those outside the Avalanche war room are largely scratching their heads today.

Boston Bruins: After Nathan Horton’s announcement that he would go to free agency, and then rumors surfacing of Tyler Seguin’s availability, the Bruins not only failed to replace their departing top line right wing, or trade his rights for a draft pick or another players rights they didn’t do much to appear competitive this offseason. After receiving due criticism that the front office was failing to compete the summer they won the Stanley Cup, it appear the same is true this year. While Chicago, New Jersey, Toronto, The Islanders and the Canucks all made moves that address current or near future talent and salary cap needs, the Bruins sat on their hands. Arguably by publicly attacking Tyler Seguin’s professionalism they even poisoned their own well if they do decide to trade him.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Clearly the Lightning leadership have great faith in the defense they drafted last year. That draft class is highlighted by their tenth overall pickSlater Keokkoek who in the last three OHL season has played a total of 68 games, only two of which were in the most recent season. Or perhaps it is Radko Gudas that inspires their faith in their defensive talent pool. I can’t think of another reason for a team that has finished 26th and 30th in goals against the last two seasons, to fail to draft a single defenseman they also failed to trade for an NHL ready or veteran defenseman.

Winners:

New Jersey Devils: The Devils opened the day with Lou Lamoriello swindling Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis out of Cory Schneider. That one move to solidify the post Martin Brodeur era means any NHL regulars who turn up out of this years draft are icing on the cake. They also got the NHL’s best father son moment when Martin Brodeur got to call his sons name at the NHL draft picking up Anthony Brodeur in the seventh round of Shattuck Saint Mary’s.

Chicago BlackHawks: On and off the draft floor the BlackHawks took care of business this weekend. They traded away David Bolland for two picks in this years draft and one in next years to the Toronto Maple Leafs, they then moved Michael Frolik to the Winnipeg Jets and picked up an additional two picks. They resigned Bryan Bickell who was second on the team in scoring over their run to the Cup. At the end of the first round they picked up Ryan Hartman a veteran of the USNDT in the USHL, and well known pest.

New York Islanders: The Islanders did some of their addition by subtraction this weekend. Swiss left wing Nino Niederreiter was clearly unhappy with the Islanders brass, and they with him. In moving him for Minnesota Wild they get a potential problem out of the system and pick of a physical, aggressive forward who will force opposing defenses to double check before grabbing the puck. Perhaps their two best pickups at the draft were Eamon McAdam, and Stephon Williams. The two goalies project as starters. McAdam’s athleticism is cheered, and Williams led Minnesota State at Mankato to the Frozen Four tournament as part of roster that had just three NHL draft picks on it. On top of the crease they drafted Ryan Pulock, a hard shooting, right handed thick set defenseman with a rep for skating well and hitting hard.

Good News Bad News For Both the Bruins and Capitals

Item 1: The Bruins solved Holtby.

Item 2: The Capitals won anyways.

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With Raffi Torres gone for the foreseeable future it will be interesting to see if the much discussed penalty free buyout is included in the next CBA if the Coyotes or whoever they are and wherever they are by next fall, decide to use this on him. His contract isn’t outrageous unless of you believe he shouldn’t have one at all, so it is possible a buyer would decide to bury him in the AHL if he didn’t change his game.

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Missing defensemen are becoming more common. The Florida Panthers are playing without Jason Garrison. The Philadelphia Flyers are definitely missing the services of Grossman. The Boston Bruins will very likely not put Corvo on the ice next game after he blocked a shot earlier today.  Hal Gill hasn’t played in a while for the Nashville Predators.

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The Florida Panthers series against the New Jersey Devils has to be the most entertaining series in the opening round. The tempo has been solid, the play tight. There’s been offense, there’s been defense and lots of drama. You might not be used to seeing half of one roster on TV and in arena advertisements a few dozen times on your way to your seat, but hot damn the actions been good.

The Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins on the other hand have been painful to watch. The sloppiest hockey the NHL has seen since the preseason following the lockout. Stupid penalties by players who should know better, and goaltending who’s most consistent well executed play is digging the puck out of the back of the net.

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For those who missed it, the NHL network is playing OHL games midday you can get a look at top prospects like Cody Ceci in action.

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How good it is for the NHL as a whole and the teams individually for both the Florida Panthers and Phoenix Coyotes to win their first division titles can’t be understated. Florida will probably not ever produce NHL superstars at the rate that Ontario does, but there is a big enough population there so that even if only 1% of teens reach the USHL, division one college or CHL level hockey, that is still a very large number of young men. Arizona isn’t a small state either and it could if the Coyotes stay and are successful match Saskatchewan or Newfoundland. Between the two states you’ve got a population almost equal to all of Canada which is why they ar ethere in the first place: advertising and tv money if nothing else.

It’s time to for a mad dash across the internet to stay up on what’s new in the hockey universe.

The Dallas Stars aren’t buyers or sellers (or in the playoffs) but they at least know who they are. Ben Kuzma

Ben Bishop was traded from the St Louis Blues to the Ottawa Senators. Peter Raaymakers

An interesting list of forwards only who might be moved before the deadline. A.K. Bennet

Calgary is not in a good position right now. Jay Feaster is rightfully unhappy. Derrik Newman

Some of the prospects who may be in motion include some rather large bodies. Christopher Ralph

Wonder why the New York Rangers might be willing to part with Dubinsky as  part of the #Ransom4Rick? Hockey Rodent

A certain unnamed internet blogger from Vancounver recently posted this in a well known location claiming Zdeno Chara lost the fight.

A fight in which Neil doesn’t ever land a punch…HockeyFights.com

A plea not to fix what isn’t broken from an Anaheim Ducks blogger. Jen Neale

A run down of this seasons NHL trade deadline. Hockey This Week

Officiating in college hockey. Eric Burton

AJ Ried has made a commitment worth saluting.  Nathan Fournier

Paul Kelly talks about his resignation. United States of Hockey

The Fargo Force are looking good. Ryan Clark

It’s hump day and a that means only one thing. I probably can’t recall how to spell today’s name.

“In your opponents head” was redefined last night. The Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens each chirped each other by referencing the same team not in the game. Joe Yeardon

The tension between college hockey and major junior is something that results in a lot of angst and questioning of who a player is, but what’s the impact on the game overall? Justin Walden

Oh look, despite the kvetching of advertisers that some guy from the D.C. team wasn’t at the All Star weekend, a player from a team that doesn’t get much national attention was profiled by a national media outlet. Mike Brehm

Two guys you should hope your team is selecting or trading for in the next NHL entry draft have their blogs up about the top prospect game.  via @NHLAdamK

A recap of the top prospects skills competition featuring some future competition for Zdeno Chara and Carl Hagelin.- Dominic Tiano

The dog days of the season have a slightly different meaning for the captain of the St Louis Blues. via Deadspin

No Show Joe was at it again last night in Columbus. – Fear The Fin

If your team is in need of some size and shutdown ability on the blueline, this guy might just be the answer. – Dan Sallows

With the trade deadline rolling down on us, its time to add a defensemen to the list of guys who want to be elsewhere currently headed by Jeff Carter and Antero Nittymaki, Marek Zidlicky has apparently started the blowback in Minnesota. – Hockey Wilderness

Thanks to everyone who linked here or retweeted me, I hit a new high in traffic last month.