“Yes, I’m going to sign with the Nashville Predators.”
That is what Jimmy Vesey told Nashville’s Paul Fenton not once or twice but three times. To his face. Just weeks ago.
The Predators’ assistant general manager recalled the Feb. 23 conversation to Hockey Central at Noon Tuesday, after news of Vesey’s plan to explore unrestricted free agency this summer went public.
“I spoke to him directly after the [Beanpot Tournament] consolation game at the Boston Garden, outside the locker room, and asked the player three times if he was signing with us,” Fenton explained. “I said I realized he was in a tough position here, that I was asking him this, but we needed to know from a lineup standpoint and our trade deadline plans as to what he was going to do.”
Three times Vesey assured Fenton that he’d be signing with the team that drafted him in 2012, according to the executive.
“We’re disappointed in the whole process here, that we didn’t get the player signed,” Fenton said.
“We think we were promised his services, and at the end of the day, they, like every everybody else, can change their mind in life.”
Forever looking for offence (see: trading Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen), the Predators assured the 22-year-old scoring winger an immediate slot in the team’s top-nine forwards and foresaw him quickly leaping into their top six.
Fenton said the Predators supported Vesey’s decision to return to Harvard University for a fourth year and reminded listeners that committing to the club that drafted him would’ve been best for Vesey’s financial bottom line because he could’ve burned a year off his entry-level contract.
“I don’t see what the benefit of this is,” said Fenton, noting that the Preds would’ve been open to offering Vesey a bridge deal or a long-term extension in just two years. “There’s a big discrepancy at what the numbers would say at the end of the day.”
Frustration among the Nashville brass is compounded for a number of reasons:
1.) Despite requests, the club was never granted a meeting with “all three parties,” meaning Vesey, his father Jim (a scout with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Vesey’s advisor, Peter Fish.
“Honestly, we’re not closing the door on this,” said Fenton, still hoping for that meeting. “We still want the player. We’d like to talk to the player.”
2.) Nashville never pressured Vesey to skip his final year of Harvard to join the NHL early.
“Maybe some teams do it,” Fenton said. “We’ve never asked a kid to come out of college in my 18 years with the Predators. We had belief that Jimmy was loyal to us, wanted to come to us, saw the fit with us. It’s just disappointing.”
3.) When Vesey’s camp reached its decision to test the open market this summer, Nashville wasn’t given an explanation for the player’s change of mind.
“They wanted to test free agency. That was it,” Fenton said. “He has a right to go to free agency.”
4.) Now that Vesey’s plan is public, Nashville has zero leverage if it wanted to trade the prospect’s rights.
5.) The Predators would have sought to add scoring at the Feb. 29 trade deadline if they had known Vesey would not be a Predator.
“That’s the part that hurts the most,” Fenton said. “We had him playing in our lineup here.”
The best bets to land Vesey as a free agent this summer are reportedly the Maple Leafs, who drafted his brother Nolan (sixth round, 2014), and the Boston Bruins, Vesey’s childhood team, which is now run by fellow Harvard alum Don Sweeney.
Nashville remains the only club permitted to court Vesey until Aug. 15.
Sportsnet’s Doug MacLean asked Fenton point-blank if he’s worried about tampering.
“I wouldn’t even go down that road,” Fenton said. “That’s not my job. You guys can speculate as much as you want.”