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The Heroes of 2020
Jimmy Vesey has a bit of a unique plan in mind once he hits the ice with the Maple Leafs.
“I’m going to come out with my hair on fire,” Vesey said on Thursday. “Before signing, I had a conversation with (general manager) Kyle (Dubas) and (coach) Sheldon (Keefe) and they both made me feel really good and really comfortable.
“I thought it was a great fit for me to come to Toronto, a team that I think is on the cusp of breaking out and going deep in the playoffs.”
Vesey signed a one-year, $900,000 US contract with the Leafs as Dubas continued to re-model a club that has not advanced beyond the first round of the post-season in the past four years.
The list of new Leafs acquired in the past week includes Vesey, defencemen TJ Brodie and Zach Bogosian, forwards Travis Boyd and Wayne Simmonds and goaltender Aaron Dell.
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound Vesey could get a shot on a line with Alex Kerfoot if the Leafs decide to stick with Kerfoot as their third-line centre. Teammates for three years at Harvard, the two played on the same line for two full seasons. In 2015-16, Vesey led Harvard in scoring with 46 points, with Kerfoot next with 34 points.
“I have a high level of respect for how good of a player he is,” Vesey said. “He can really pass the puck and sees the ice well and fortunately in college I was the beneficiary of a lot of that.”
There’s a bit of a chip on Vesey’s shoulder, as he acknowledged he was not overly happy with his 2019-20 season with the Buffalo Sabres. In 64 games, Vesey’s nine goals and 20 points were personal National Hockey League career lows in four seasons.
Twice, Vesey scored 17 goals in a season with the New York Rangers after he had 16 as a rookie in 2016-17.
“My third year in New York, I was on pace (for) 20 goals and 20 assists, and then it got away from me,” Vesey, 27, said. “Maybe I was thinking too much about hitting those plateaus and then I got traded (to Buffalo) in the summer (of 2019). I had a tough start.
“I got hurt in the beginning of the year (and) I’m not sure if I was looking around, waiting for someone else to (produce) since I was unfamiliar with the team. I’ve been putting it in my mind this summer that this year I can’t do that.”
The signing brings Vesey to the Leafs four years after Toronto pursued him before he signed with the Rangers.
“Funny the way it works out,” Vesey said. “I have no regrets about the decision I made in 2016. My dad (Jim) is a scout for the Leafs and this time around he was all about it. He was my coach growing up and I like to lean on him on a lot of stuff, especially hockey-related, so it was nice to have a positive reinforcement in my corner.
“They say hockey and life is about the journey and the process and I am happy where it has taken me so far.”
THORNTON LOOKS AHEAD
Joe Thornton is hearing the chatter about his hockey future all the way over in Switzerland.
The 41-year-old has joined HC Davos with the intention of continuing his career in the NHL once the 2020-21 regular season begins.
Would that be with the Leafs? We could find out before too long.
“I got that, all the questions about what will happen to me,” Thornton was quoted Thursday, via Google translate, as saying in Tages-Anzeiger, a Swiss German-language newspaper. “The desire to continue playing there (in the NHL) is there. I will be able to prepare well for this here in Switzerland.”
There was an indication in the story that Thornton could make a decision on his NHL future in the coming days.
The Leafs have talked with Thornton, as Dubas and Keefe have pitched the benefits of playing in Toronto to the veteran of 1,636 NHL games.
This will be Thornton’s third stint with HC Davos of the Swiss National League. He initially played for the team during the 2004-05 NHL lockout, and spends time in the area during NHL off-seasons as his wife, Tabea, is from the region.
Thornton had just seven goals and 24 assists in 70 games for the San Jose Sharks last season, but the thinking in Toronto is that his savvy and leadership could provide another piece in the Leafs foundation.
A return to the Sharks for Thornton apparently also is on the table.
“I can still go back there, it’s all open,” Thornton was quoted as saying. “I also saw that my old colleague Patrick Marleau will play in San Jose again (after signing a one-year contract).”
Thornton would give the Leafs depth down the middle as well as another look on the power play.
As it stands now, the Leafs don’t have much space (approximately $400,000) under the $81.5-million US salary cap. Restricted free agents Ilya Mikheyev and Travis Dermott need new contracts.
With some depth on the blue line, it’s possible Dubas moves a defenceman to clear up some cash.
The Toronto Marlies retained one of the more popular players in the team’s recent history, announcing they have re-signed forward Rich Clune to a one-year American Hockey League contract.
The 33-year-old Clune, whose leadership with and impact on the younger Marlies has been a boon for the organization, had three goals and one assist in 16 games last season.
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