The Chicago Blackhawks don't appear to be messing around with their interest in young forward Jimmy Vesey. The 23-year-old will become an unrestricted free agent this week and the Hawks plan to have captain Jonathan Toews involved in their pitch, per Bleacher Report's Adrian Dater.
It's unclear how involved Toews will actually be in the process, but this is going to be a big selling point for Chicago. Vesey's rights have been held by Buffalo over the past few months and he's a Boston native, so the Sabres and Bruins have naturally been considered top suitors for him. The Hawks keep getting mentioned, though, and as we close in on his actual free agency, all indications are that they're still very much in the mix.
Last month, Vesey's agent told reporters that the Blackhawks were among several teams on Vesey's "short list" of teams he planned to speak with. This week, one report said the Bruins weren't in Vesey's top three, knocking one potential option lower on the list, and another said the Hawks and Devils were leading the pack.
So the possibility of Vesey choosing Chicago over everyone else seems very real, especially if reports of Toews trying to recruit him are true. Every team is limited in what they can offer Vesey financially because of entry-level contract rules, so this is a situation where other variables will play significantly into his decision. That's why everyone pegged Boston as a obvious potential landing place.
But the Hawks are clearly establishing what they can offer over everyone else. Come here and be the final piece we need to be win another Stanley Cup. Come play on a line with one of the best in the world from Day 1. Nobody else can offer a better, faster route to NHL stardom (and the money that comes with that). It's almost the exact same pitch they presumably made to Artemi Panarin, except with Patrick Kane instead of Toews. That time it worked, and we'll see if it does this time, too.
Why I'm on board with the Vesey pursuit
Now, let's also take a moment to talk about expectations with Vesey here. He was a third-round pick in 2012 and developed into one of college hockey's best players at Harvard. The Hawks' serious interest in him clearly shows that they believe he can help them. With all that said, please do not expect the next Panarin here. That was some "once in a decade, maybe" kind of craziness landing someone that good and that fun almost out of nowhere. Vesey likely isn't that kind of talent. The reasons why acquiring Vesey is exciting, to me, come with that in mind.
Chicago badly needs depth on the wings, and Vesey is a big, young player with real potential. The way his contract will likely be laid out, with some performance-related bonuses attached, means that the Hawks will only really have to face any salary cap risk in this scenario if he performs well. If he can't cut it, then he's just another guy making $925,000 in Rockford. This is a high-upside, low-risk gamble, which is why teams have lined up to sign Vesey. If he's so good that he earns his bonuses, it'd be worth it, just like it is with Panarin.
This is a better idea than going after another veteran who may not have the legs to get through 82 games plus a full playoff slate. The Hawks need someone who could potentially be a reliable contributor next to Toews, and while that's a huge thing to put on Vesey, the team's giving all indications they believe he might be able to do it. Joel Quenneville might not be the easiest coach for some young players, but he's embraced certain guys. Vesey's willingness to play a physical game probably helps him there. Right now, when the alternative is Richard Panik, that's enough for me to give the idea a hearty thumbs up.
Vesey doesn't need to score 30 goals next season, and he almost certainly won't. But if he can help Toews play a strong possession game and bring stability to the first line -- essentially a poor man's Brandon Saad -- that'll go a long way toward avoiding some of the headaches next season. It seems like that's possible, and at this price, you're usually not going to get a sure thing anyway.