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Does the Jimmy Vesey decison change the way NHL teams draft?

by Bill Placzek on Mar. 29, 2016

When Jimmy Vesey decided not to sign with Nashville after his junior year at Harvard making him a free agency after he graduates, the decision might have changed the future of the NHL Draft. Former Chicago draftee, Kevin Hayes, Anaheim Duck’s Justin Schultz, Blue Jackets' Mike Reilly, and Blake Wheeler, have all invoked the four year loophole, with Wheeler being the first in 2008.


Vesey's right to go to “first contract free agency” comes via a clause in the collective bargaining agreement as it pertains to college hockey prospects. A team has four years to sign a prospect they drafted, so long as the player remains a college student. If he finished his 4th year of eligibility, and waits until Aug. 15, 2016, he can sign with teams other than the one that drafted him.


Mark Jankowski is a Calgary Flames first round reach who also remains unsigned as a Flames' draft pick. Yet it is a reach to attempt to compare his 43 goals and 67 points to Vesey's college career with 80 goals and 144 points in less games.


The true irony of the situation is, if the Flames lose out in signing Jankowski, they will at least receive compensation in the form of second rounder 51st overall, because they selected him in the first round 21st overall.


The Predators though will receive nothing if Vesey decides to sign elsewhere. Mike Reilly signed with the Wild and Columbus got nothing except the right to use a pick to select him. The collective bargaining agreement loophole doesn’t provide compensation for players who are not first round selections. 


Past history takes us back to the 1950’s, when the original six simply owned you by virtue of their agreements with area junior teams with whom they had strong relationships. Almost all natives of Quebec placed you on the Bleu Blanc Rouge negotiation list, unless the Habs had little interest in you. To secure the rights of a veteran puck hander Pierre Pilote, the Chicago franchise bought the AHL Buffalo Bisons to own his exclusive rights.


Yes, things have changed.


So this latest invoking of player freedom from protected lists invites the question:


Will NHL GMs start devaluing their post first round lists of college bound players over prospects in Europe and draftees the teams know are going to continue in the CHL and USHL leagues?


A college bound player provides the team drafting them with up to four years of post draft development. This can work in the drafting team's favor, because after a couple years of college playing experience, the NHL team starts to have a better picture of what they have as a potential pro. The NHL club gets to decide which draftees are more valuable to sign, and which simply haven’t put things together. Just how many prospects from later in the draft are going to be significant upgrades of NHL rosters? Even if you count Vesey as a “can’t-miss,” are you still counting Justin Schultz, Kevin Hayes, and Mike Reilly as impact adds, when their careers will most certainly equal Blake Wheeler’s? That doesn’t necessarily seem to be the case.


It is clear that an improving prospect can use the four year plan to gain leverage to start inside an organization that they feel will fit in and develop. I am not so sure that GM's and their scouting staffs will timidly shy away from college bound draft prospects. Yet it also does seem unfair that teams lose both prospects and draft slots to this loophole. At very least, the teams need the league to help them re-coup their initial investment, even if the compensatory pick comes a round later. The best solution might be a compensatory draft pick at the end of the round the player was originally selected in.

This loophole that lets a 4th year college player be an UFA in August is a result of closing a loophole that allowed Mike Van Ryn to be an UFA in 2000. In closing that Loophole in the current CBA, the unintended consequence was this new loophole. 

With expansion on the horizon, this loophole could send team-building via the draft backwards if the rule is not amended or the teams are not awarded compensatory selections when prospects snub them.