Jimmy Vesey will be free to sign with any NHL team starting on August 15, and the Chicago Blackhawks are officially in the running. Vesey's agent, Peter Donatelli, told The Athletic's Scott Powers that the Hawks will be on his "short list" of teams to speak with once he hits the open market next month.
"Chicago will be a team we want to talk to on Aug. 15," Donatelli said. "Chicago will be on the list, but it shouldn’t be read as they’re ahead of anyone else."
Powers says the Hawks, Sabres and four or five other teams are expected to be Vesey's "short list." The 23-year-old winger was drafted by the Predators in the third round of the 2012 NHL Draft and got traded to the Sabres for a third-round pick earlier this offseason. He'll become an unrestricted free agent on August 15 when his draft rights expire, which could give Chicago the opportunity to pounce on a potential top-six forward without giving anything up.
The pitch from Chicago seems fairly obvious. Vesey would have the opportunity to immediately jump into a prominent role on a likely contender, potentially even on the top line next to Jonathan Toews. Because he's signing an entry-level contract, nobody can offer more than a $925,000 salary and performance bonuses, so this is one instance where factors outside money will presumably impact Vesey's decision.
As Powers noted, the Blackhawks haven't been shy in wanting Vesey. GM Stan Bowman has reportedly watched him play multiple times in a Massachusetts summer league, and the team has kept nearly $2 million in cap space available deep into the offseason. That space gives them the flexibility to offer Vesey a good amount of bonus money in addition to a max ELC salary, so you have to imagine Chicago will have a compelling pitch.
Donatelli said that Vesey will meet with 2-3 teams per day once he's a free agent and then go from there. A Massachusetts native who starred at Harvard, the Bruins could be a possibility, and the Sabres will definitely be in the mix after trading for his rights.
"He really has no idea where he’s going to be," Donatelli said. "It’s going to be up to the teams to sell him. … Yes, [we have criteria], but we’re interested in what the teams say rather than telling the teams what they have to say."
The Hawks beat out a number of teams to sign Artemi Panarin partially by selling him on the opportunity to play with high-level talent, so we'll see if that's enough to get Vesey to Chicago. He'll have no shortage of suitors come August 15, but it's encouraging to at least see the team will be in the mix for a young forward who could immediately give an uneven forward corps a boost.