There have been rumors percolating for months that Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones could be on the move. On Friday, those rumors became reality.
The Chicago Blackhawks landed Jones, along with a 2021 first-round pick (32nd overall), and a 2022 sixth-round pick from Columbus, in exchange for defenseman Adam Boqvist, Chicago’s 2021 first-round pick (12th overall), a 2021 second-round pick, and their 2022 first-round pick. Following the trade, Chicago signed Jones to an eight-year contract extension.
Which GM came out looking great after this trade? Here are our grades for both sides:
There’s a lot to unpack here.
Let’s start with Seth Jones. He has a lot of detractors, especially in the analytics community. They watched his production slide over the last three seasons before hitting the ground with a thud in 2020-21, with a negative-5.8 goals scored above average, and having cost the Blue Jackets with his sub-replacement play on offense and defense.
Granted, it was a lost year for the Blue Jackets and the second straight season played during a pandemic. We’re going to wager that those performances were anomalous and that Jones, who turns 27 in October, is actually the Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman we believed him to be in previous campaigns. He’s entering his prime as a defenseman. He’s a heck of a player, and we haven’t even seen his best.
Is a $9.5 million average annual salary on an eight-year term, starting in 2022-23, for a Norris Trophy-caliber defenseman an overpayment? It’s slightly higher than that of Nashville Predators defenseman Roman Josi ($9.059 million AAV), who won the Norris last season. It’s slightly higher than Alex Pietrangelo, who signed for seven years at an $8.8 million AAV as an unrestricted free agent with Vegas and is 31. If Jones hit the open market next summer, that $9.5 million cap hit would have come from somewhere.
The Blackhawks also get Jones at $5.4 million for the 2021-22 season.
And they paid dearly for all of it.
GM Stan Bowman got the player the team has wanted for years, to move down the draft board by around 20 picks in 2021 and for a first-round pick in 2022 that’s not guaranteed to be outside the lottery. Plus, defenseman Adam Boqvist, as promising a blue-line prospect as the Blackhawks have.
It’s a win-now move, with Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews surrounded by younger players. But the reality is that Kane is an unrestricted free agent in 2023. So is Toews. It’s entirely possible that Seth Jones is the face of the Blackhawks by the second year of his contract, leading the team to its next incarnation.
If that’s the case, we may look back at this trade and this payment a lot differently.
As you read this, Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekalainen should be penning a flowery “thank you” note to Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams.
Earlier on Friday, the Sabres sent defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen — same age as Seth Jones, same cap hit as Seth Jones — to the Philadelphia Flyers for the 13th overall pick, a 2023 second-rounder and defenseman Robert Hagg. Whatever the ask on Jones, that Flyers package became the minimum trade request for acquiring one year of his services.
But the Blackhawks weren’t just trading for one season; they were trading for the chance to sign him to eight seasons beyond that. So Kekalainen was able to squeeze Boqvist and another first-round pick out of the Blackhawks as well.
What. A. Haul.
Kekalainen had no leverage outside of threatening to move Jones to another one of his preferred destinations, like Colorado or Dallas — neither of whom might have been able to go to $9.5 million for him, for what it’s worth. Jones wasn’t coming back. Having him on the Blue Jackets’ roster this coming season was untenable. So he had to go.
With that in mind, Kekalainen pulled off an absolute treasure trove from Chicago. It gives the Jackets the chance to use those picks to rebuild. It gives the Jackets the treasure to acquire a young star of their own — perhaps one that doesn’t want to leave Columbus. Or, at the very least, one that will be under contract for a while.