The Blackhawks just traded two first round picks, a second-rounder (promptly used on Carolina’s Jake Bean) and Adam Boqvist to the Blue Jackets for Seth Jones, the 32nd overall pick in 2021 and a sixth. They also gave him a NMC.
So ... that happened.
If you want to look on the bright side (hey, we’re trying), Seth Jones was at one time a legitimate No. 1 defenseman in the NHL, which shouldn’t be ignored. It was three seasons ago, but it’s still objectively true. However, the Blackhawks are banking a lot on Jones being able to return to that form and that’s especially risky given his fall from grace the last few seasons. And making matters worse is the cost of his acquisition: Adam Boqvist and two likely high first-round picks, along with the albatross of a contract extension Jones signed.
The case against Jones is easy: he’s been bad in recent years. We’re about to throw a lot of charts at you because pretty much every public analytical model does not like Jones.
Chicago gets Seth Jones, whose value depends on who you ask. His last season was Not Good, but he was a legitimate No. 1 D before that and still has potential to return to that level. pic.twitter.com/jTpfj2x6B4— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) July 23, 2021
Seth Jones, acquired by CHI, is a big minute defenceman coming of a catastrophic season with Columbus. Prior to that his numbers were fine but not in line with his reputation as an elite two-way defenceman. #Blackhawks pic.twitter.com/vM7GQzgF8T— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 23, 2021
Jones was worth minus-5.6 goals above replacement last season, according to Evolving-Hockey.com, and minus-1 win above replacement. He actively cost the Blue Jackets a win. That’s because, at even strength, Jones was worth minus-3.7 expected goals offensively and minus-3 expected goals defensively. His saving grace was the power play.
Boqvist has been a better player than Jones by xGAR each of the past two seasons. Last season, Boqvist was worth 2.0 xGAR and 0.9 expected goals offensively at even strength. The Blackhawks gave up the better player, two first-round picks and a second they could have used on a young defenseman in Jake Bean that would have helped the team now and in the future. Boqvist was also trending in a positive direction, unlike Jones. While Jones may never evolve into the player Jones once was, these are two players who are clearly trending in very different directions.
Adam Boqvist, still just 20 years old, has top pair upside and an Extremely Interesting top comp. pic.twitter.com/8NytaDe2kt— dom at the athletic (@domluszczyszyn) July 23, 2021
The Blackhawks have also still not drafted and developed a defensemen since Niklas Hjalmarsson, who was was drafted 16 years ago.
That’s before you even get into the contract, which is worth an annual cap hit of $9.5 million for eight-years. Jones will have the third highest cap hit for a defensemen in 2022-23 behind Erik Karlsson ($11.5 million) and Drew Doughty ($11.3 million). Considering both of those guys are on deals that became horrible for their teams almost immediately (though to be fair, one was due to injury), that’s not exactly great company to be in. The next defensemen on that list is Roman Josi at $9.06 million and he’s still great at 31, but he never saw a plunge in his performance like Jones at an earlier age.
Moving down the list of guys who signed when they were 26 or older through 2022-23, it goes: Oliver Ekman-Larsson at $8.25 million, John Carlson at $8 million, Brent Burns at $8 million, Victor Hedman at $7.875 million, Kris Letang at $7.25 million and Marc-Edouard Vlasic at $7 million. There are some guys in this mix that are good and at least one that is excellent, but the overwhelming trend is these contracts sunk in value quickly. The fact that Jones will have a larger cap hit than Hedman just seems wrong, even when you adjust for the difference in signing years.
On top of all this, the Blackhawks will have three of the top 15 cap hits in the league in 2022-23 with players like Kirby Dach and Dominik Kubalik needing extensions. Luckily, Alex DeBrincat doesn’t need to be paid until the season after.
Here's how Jones' new batshit crazy extension projects: pic.twitter.com/gp8LJY0S0Y— JFresh (@JFreshHockey) July 23, 2021
The Blackhawks mere weeks after finally managing to get rid of their last outrageous defensive contract pic.twitter.com/r8wXzTMkXo— Pete Blackburn (@PeteBlackburn) July 23, 2021
Shepard: Honestly, LBR, is this the worst trade Stan Bowman has ever made? It seems a lot like it, and it could end up being the worst contract he’s signed. That’s taking into account the Brent Seabrook contract, which may honestly save Seabrook’s legacy.
Wait, is this all to save Seabrook’s legacy? It is, isn’t it? Alright, then I’m fine.
LBR: At least Seabrook did something of significant value before signing his deal. But yes, this is arguably Bowman’s worst contract. There’s only a small window during this contract’s lifetime in which even-at-his-peak Jones would be useful, but the Blackhawks aren’t close to being at the stage of contention. They’re not even in contention for middle of the pack yet. And that contract in this economy?
Shepard: I’m being told it’s not all an effort to return Seabrook to glory. Well, back on the rails then.
The Blue Jackets’ defense, as seen in the two charts below show, got better when Jones left the ice in 2021. Many will argue that’s due to the Blue Jackets’ being a bad team, but as we mentioned in other articles, Jones is the only one of the Blue Jackets top-four defensemen to be negatively impacted to this degree year-over-year, while Jones' main partner -- Zach Werenski -- barely saw a slip. But are we too focused on recency trends?
Nope! Over the course of his career, that’s still the case: the Blue Jackets were better without Jones at 5-on-5 than they were with him, both offensively and defensively:
The one thing he’s excelled at is penalty killing, which is a problem area for the Blackhawks. And before you tell us nerds to watch the games, we have. We're willing to admit that Jones may not be as trash as some of these stats suggest, but they’re still accurate of the trend that Jones has been declining and his team was better without him on the ice more often than not.
Jones has simply not earned the elite two-way defenseman reputation the Blackhawks just traded and then paid for — at least not at a consistent enough basis in recent years. Jones’s biggest career achievement is arguably playing 65:06 against the Lightning in a quintuple overtime game -- a game the Jackets lost, by the way. Jones finished that game with just one assist. One point per 60 is uh ... rough, especially for a guy now making $9.5 million.
Maybe the guy from 2017-18, when Jones scored 57 points in 78 games and finished fourth in Norris voting at just 23, would have been worth that money — but 27-year-old Jones, who’s been carried by Werenski for the past few seasons? Nope. Again, it’s a huge risk for the Blackhawks to hope Jones regains that form with disastrous years-consuming fallout if it doesn’t work.
This trade likely sinks the Blackhawks’ chances of getting back in contention while Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane are still around. It leaves less money for Kubalik and DeBrincat, who have actually earned big-money contracts soon, and it leaves the Blackhawks without Boqvist, their most promising young defenseman. The guy drew comparisons to Erik Karlsson, and not San Jose Karlsson, mind you, Ottawa Karlsson, one of the best defensemen of the past decade. Just have to hope this isn’t the Blackhawks Martin Erat/Filip Forsberg moment in history.
The cherry on top is the Blackhawks are gambling on Jones returning to his younger days in the worst defensive system in the NHL. With Jeremy Colliton, the worst defensive head coach in the NHL. We’ll reiterate: the Blackhawks are not within grasp of Cup contention. This move does not get them there, even if five teams from the Central make the playoffs.
And it costs the Blackhawks far more than Dougie Hamilton would have. Hamilton likely makes $9 million on the open market before this deal, now it’s significantly more (or, at least, should be). The Blackhawks could have signed Hamilton, kept Boqvist, and traded for Bean. They could have also drafted Cole Sillinger — a power forward type of player the Blackhawks don’t have in-system — or Jesper Wallstedt or Sebastian Cossa — two potential franchise-altering goalies. At least one of the top-nine skaters in the draft didn’t fall.
The good news is, if the Blackhawks win the lottery next season, they top-two protected their first-rounder. They’re not losing Shane Wright or Brad Lambert over this. That’s the only sigh of relief we have within us.