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The Runner Up

August 22, 2016, 6:26 PM ET [91 Comments]
Ty Anderson
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The circus has finally left town. North Reading, Mass., native Jimmy Vesey, the talk of the National Hockey League in what’s typically a nonexistent month in terms of hockey news, put an end to the league wide tour by way of a signing with the New York Rangers on Friday night.

In the 23-year-old Vesey, the Rangers get a 6-foot-1 winger that put up an impressive 80 goals and 144 points in 128 NCAA games with the Harvard Crimson. He took home the 2016 Hobey Baker as college’s top player in his senior year with Harvard behind a lethal 24 goals and 46 points in 33 games played. And the Blueshirts, who won the Kevin Hayes sweepstakes after Hayes refused to sign with the Chicago Blackhawks, the team that drafted him in the first round in 2010, back in 2014, get Vesey at an affordable $925,000 cap-hit (though bonuses could earn him another $2.85 million).

It’s a major coup for the Rangers, and a serious downer for the rest of the league, especially the Boston Bruins, the team many consider to have been the runner-up in the Vesey sweeps.

In a pitch that was good but wasn’t enough, the Bruins did just about everything they could to have enticed Vesey to remain in his hometown. The B’s reportedly brought the core of their NHL team to the meeting, and the front office and coaching staff pitched Vesey as a fit on a line with David Krejci. The Bruins also have more than enough cap space to make a significant financial commitment to Vesey if and when his second contract earns himself a big payday, something that was a focus.

Still it wasn’t enough to interest Vesey in Boston over New York -- where he’ll likely play with either Derek Stepan or Mika Zibanejad as his center -- where there’s a local, but not too local feel. New York general manager Jeff Gorton (Melrose, Mass.), Hayes (Dorchester, Mass.), and Chris Kreider (Boxford, Mass.) are all fellow Massachusetts natives. That local flavor is any interesting angle, too. Vesey’s camp told the Detroit Red Wings they were too far away from Vesey’s home, which instantly made everyone think the Black and Gold were a favorite, but that wasn’t accurate. At no point in this entire process did Vesey say that he wanted to play in his hometown, but rather close to it.

If it’s pressure from everyone he’s ever known that Vesey wants to avoid, then Boston is not the fit. (Though part of me does feel as if it’ll be impossible for Vesey to avoid pressure or even living up to the expectations in front of him now given the way this whole thing was handled, which has little to do with him and more of the overall boredom of a hockey offseason.) And if it’s proximity to the Hub that Vesey wanted, then it’s either New York club or the New Jersey Devils that made sense for Vesey.

That’s ultimately how it played out when decision time came, too.

So, with Vesey now out of the picture, where do the Black and Gold go from here?

Well, probably the same way they’ve gone all offseason.

Priority number one, especially when you’re talking about the left side of their offense, has to be on negotiating a new deal with pending unrestricted free agent Brad Marchand. The 28-year-old struck for 37 goals a year ago, the most by any Bruin since Glen Murray scored 44 in 2002-03, and with a Team Canada appearance slated for Marchand in the World Cup of Hockey, there’s a chance that the price will only go up on No. 63, a glove-like fit next to Patrice Bergeron on Boston’s first line.

Winger Matt Beleskey is a guy that in his first year in Boston, gave the Bruins everything he had in his tank on a nightly basis. He had chemistry with both Krejci and third-line center Ryan Spooner, so be it on the second line or the third line, there’s little to worry about with his game.

Beyond that combo, the Bruins need to figure out what they have in Frank Vatrano.

A year after Vatrano lit the American Hockey League up for 36 goals and 55 points in 36 games, and scored eight goals and 11 points in 39 contests with the Big B’s, I think it’d be easy to do everything you were going to do for Vesey -- like power play time and a spot next to Krejci -- for Vatrano. Maybe the club doesn’t see the same ‘pedigree’ they saw in Vesey with Vatrano, but the biggest difference is that the 22-year-old Vatrano has actually, y’know, played an NHL game. So, the potential is there.

Now, the Bruins have to find the proper way and role to further develop his game.

It’s also expected that Danton Heinen, a 21-year-old, two-year standout with the University of Denver drafted by the Bruins 116th overall in 2014, will compete for an NHL job in training camp. Heinen scored 20 goals and 48 points in 41 games with Denver a year ago, and added two assists in two regular season games with the Providence Bruins to close out his season.

Between the veterans and the youth, Vesey was never anything more than a bonus for the Bruins.

If it’s experience the Bruins crave on their left wing this year, though, there are options remaining on the scrapheap of NHL free agents. Jiri Hudler (somehow) remains unsigned despite an impressive six goals and 11 points in 19 post-deadline games with the Florida Panthers. Brandon Pirri, who scored 14 goals and 29 points in 61 games between the Panthers and Anaheim Ducks a year ago, is another option that could be had for pennies on the dollar. That list goes on, too.

But it’s not a dire need for the Black and Gold. Far from it, actually.

Like it was before Vesey.

Ty Anderson has been covering the National Hockey League for HockeyBuzz.com since 2010, has been a member of the Pro Hockey Writers Association's Boston Chapter since 2013, and can be contacted on Twitter, or emailed at Ty.AndersonHB[at]gmail.com.
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