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This is not the defenseman you’re looking for

The Blackhawks need help on the blue line but Seth Jones isn’t going to provide the kind of help they need.

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Columbus Blue Jackets v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

The rumors have been all over the place lately.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones reportedly wants to be traded and the Chicago Blackhawks have reportedly been aggressive in pursuing upgrades to their blue-line corps.

It’s an easy connection to make given those circumstances but a more thorough inspection reveals shows that, no, this is not the defensive help they should be looking for.

On Thursday, this joint article from Craig Custance and Dom Luszczyszyn of The Athletic said: “The Blackhawks may be the front-runner,” citing how much players love playing in Chicago. This comes right after the article cited another source who said the Blackhawks’ recent acquisition of Caleb Jones — Seth’s younger brother — has nothing to do with an attempt to entice Seth Jones to accept a trade to Chicago. Scott Powers, also of The Athletic, wrote the same thing late last week (is it the same source? It could be the same source).

Jones averaged 25:14 of ice time per game last season, again leading the Blue Jackets’ in ice time — a title he’s held in each his six seasons in Columbus since being acquired from Nashville for Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, 2016. While his ice time hasn’t decreased, Jones’ performance has. Diving deeper into the possession numbers (via Natural Stat Trick, of course), shows that Jones has been on a steady downward trend in the last four seasons:

  • His shot attempt share was at 54.28 in ‘17-18, then dropped in each of the next three seasons: 52.28. 50.08, 48.22
  • His shot share followed a similar route, starting at 55.33 in ‘17-18 before heading south: 52.56, 52.65, 47.83
  • Expected goals share? More of the same: 53.40, 50.30, a slight uptick to 51.24 in ‘19-20 before falling off a cliff in 2021 to 45.52.
  • Share of scoring chances? Same story: 52.06, 52.04, 48.95, 46.09
  • High-danger chance share? You betcha: 51.37, 49.09, 47.69, 43.18

And Jones’ usage hasn’t changed all that much. His offensive zone start percentage has hovered around the mid-50s in each of the last four seasons: 58.40, 54.26, 57.34, 55.50.

In one way, acquiring Jones in a trade is going to be replacing Duncan Keith in the Blackhawks lineup — and that’s not a good thing. It’d be adding another defenseman who used to be worthy of No. 1 minutes but hasn’t been playing to that level for several seasons.

The possession numbers via Natural Stat Trick are just one of several places that have documented Jones’ recent decline. Here’s data from @JFreshHockey on Twitter:

Now, one counter to that could be that Jones’ numbers declined because the entire team’s numbers went down. It’s a similar argument that’s been utilized here to explain why the aforementioned Keith’s numbers have looked so awful of late.

Well, the problem with that is the most common D partner for Jones in Columbus — Zach Werenski — hasn’t experienced a similar decline:

Not the massive difference in the “2021 WAR%” figure, which is a number that attempts to assign individual values to players based on a whole slew of data. Werenski is in the 86th percentile. Jones is in the 2nd.

For a more film-based study of what’s been ailing Jones recently, this deep dive from Broad Street Hockey sheds more light on that part of the discussion.

The real problem with Jones

In a vacuum, adding Jones to the Blackhawks roster could make sense. Jones turns 27 in October and was a No. 1 defenseman in earlier stages of his career. With one year remaining on a contract with a $5.4 million cap hit, it’d be worth a one-year flyer to see if Jones can rediscover the form that made him one of the league’s most promising young talents.

But this Saturday article from The Athletic says that the Blue Jackets wants “some combination of established young NHL players, top prospects and early-round draft picks.”

Jones just isn’t worth that much right now.

Given how much his on-ice performance has declined over the last few seasons, he isn’t worth a package of, say, Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach. Of course, that could just be the starting point of negotiations for a Jones trade. If that price comes down significantly, then it’d be worth exploring more.

With what’s been reported so far, though, Columbus’ asking price for Jones is way, way too high for a player who’s been on a steady downward trend and it wouldn’t do Chicago any good to acquire him unless that the asking price plummets.