As the rumors surrounding the Chicago Blackhawks and their possible sign and trade for Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones get more intense every day, there is also a lot of hand wringing among Hawk fans over “rumored” asking prices, the relative value of Jones and the fact that it would require the Blackhawks to part with assets in a trade.
All those are valid questions. However, the manic, borderline hysterical conclusions people are jumping to based on internet speculation about the Blue Jackets’ asking price and Jones’ ability, something a hockey writer speculates on a podcast or a way-out-of-context analytic take, push this dialogue off the rails.
Folks, calm down. Be rational. Keep reading. You will feel much better at the end. Promise.
I am not typically a Stan Bowman defender. But, I see his logic here and agree with it.
First, there is no “choice” for the Hawks between acquiring Jones or Dougie Hamilton.
There is quite literally nothing indicating Hamilton would sign with the Blackhawks, and there are a lot of indicators he would not.
The Hawks have not signed an unrestricted free agent of Hamilton’s magnitude since 2009—when they were coming off an appearance in the Western Conference Finals and the entire hockey world knew they were posted to win a Stanley Cup in the next couple of years. Enter Marian Hossa, with a massive contract. This Hawk team is far from the level of that team. Get any comparison between the two out of your head. Your IQ will go up 10 points immediately.
Leaving out the spectre of a massive front office sexual abuse scandal, the present Hawks are not a playoff team. They are league worst 5-on-5, their two best players are north of 30, they have holes all over the roster, and especially on defense.
The idea that Hamilton would spurn similar offers in money and term from better, “closer” teams in order to come to Chicago, play with Riley Stillman and maybe miss the playoffs is pretty much asinine.
Jones on the other hand, has less control over where he goes. He has asked to be traded, and he will be. His contract requires him to submit 10 teams to which he would accept a trade, which he has (by all accounts) and the Hawks are rumored to be on that list. Further, Bowman (likely not coincidentally) went out and acquired Jones’ younger brother, Caleb, last week in the Duncan Keith trade with the Edmonton Oilers.
Jones’ agent, Pat Brisson, is also his brother’s agent, and that of Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. Agents always play a larger role in mega deals like these than people realize. It may be all coincidence, but it may not be.
The hurdle here (and it is legitimate and significant) is that the Hawks need to trade assets of some value to acquire Jones. We will come back to that.
But, let’s be clear first: The Blackhawks have a much better chance today of acquiring Jones than they do Hamilton. Jones is younger, and will also likely be cheaper on his extension than Hamilton will be as a UFA.
And with the aforementioned trade of Keith to Edmonton for Caleb Jones, their need for a No. 1 (and a No. 2, and maybe a true No. 3) defenseman is now glaring, and critical.
Second, acquiring Jones makes the entire defense better, not just the top pair.
It is about appropriate slotting and player usage. Keith’s wretched analytics from last year (a constant drumbeat out of Edmonton prior to the trade) do not take into account the fact that he was still being utilized like he was 27 instead of 37. Keith is no longer the Keith of 2005–15, a 25-minutes-per-night top-pair, shutdown defenseman. But, he is still likely an effective second-pair defenseman at 18 minutes per night.
Jones forms at least half of an effective top pair. And, as far as Jones’ uncharacteristically weak individual analytics from last year, just like Keith, context is getting left out. Columbus was an awful team, with a coach in full meltdown mode, and Jones was coming off an injury and surgery at the end of the 2020 season. Look at the arc of the franchise, and specifically at the voluntary exodus of Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois (who totally mailed in his last few games at Nationwide Arena with Columbus), and now Jones since 2019.
Is it possible that the injury suffered in February 2020, or some other injury, has severely and permanently debilitated Jones? Sure, possible. But, so is the Earth getting hit by an asteroid next month. He is 26, not 36. And certainly, the Blackhawks will have done full diligence on his health before any trade or contract extension. So let’s assume he is fine health wise.
And, if he is fine, and just needs a change of scenery, I can tell you from having watched Jones play in person maybe 20 times in the last few years, including three playoff games in 2018 and 2019, he is a two-way force on the ice: Exactly what the Hawks need.
Back to slotting. With Jones on the right side of your top pair, Connor Murphy then becomes your right side defenseman on the second pair—a perfect spot for him. Then, either Adam Boqvist or perhaps Ian Mitchell plays 10–15 minutes per night on your third pair—again appropriate usage and matchups for a young player learning on the job.
The left side of the defense, with Caleb Jones, Stillman, Nikita Zadorov, Wyatt Kalynuk and perhaps Nicolas Beaudin or even (maybe) Calvin de Haan remains, umm, a bit more troublesome, But, overall, solidifying and seriously strengthening the right side of the defense is a big step forward and should not be taken for granted.
If this team does not improve dramatically on the back end, forget about the playoffs. Forget about developing young defensemen. Have Boqvist or Mitchell developed like the team led us to believe they would? No. It will be an epic dumpster fire, especially without Keith for a “replacement.” Losing a lot of games 7–5, with no continuity or success. Until the price is paid to improve it.
Third, some perspective on the actual “cost” of acquiring Jones is needed.
It was literally less than two weeks ago when a writer speculated or even breathlessly “reported” that the Hawks were asking for solid young defenseman Ethan Bear out of Edmonton for Keith. Edmonton fans erupted, and even those of us in Chicago who still believe in Keith said, “Yeah, they will not get that.”
So these “reports” of asking prices are highly dubious, because even if they are actually true, they are typically just PR/negotiating ploys, a “first salvo” if you will, of the GMs.
Yesterday, when there were “reports” that some writers felt the Blue Jackets would ask for basically half the Blackhawks’ roster, including Alex DeBrincat and Kirby Dach, Hawks Twitter erupted.
“Hang up the phone, Stan!”
“Pass. Just sign Hamilton.” (Yeah, they are not going to “just sign Hamilton.” At least not outside of EA Sports NHL21.)
Okay, sure, Columbus General Manager Jarmo Kekalainen is going to ask for a lot. But, he will not ever get that first asking price from anyone, so relax.
Do I trust Bowman to make a shrewd trade? Not really, but let me also caveat that.
So many of Bowman’s trades have been simply trying to reduce costs (which was definitely at the direction of John McDonough and the Wirtzes). Fans have largely missed that part, but the league has not.
From the sell off of 2010, another sell off in 2011, to Patrick Sharp and Nick Leddy in 2015, then Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson in 2017, and Brandon Saad last year, Bowman’s position has been incredibly weak—because the whole league knows going in what the Hawks are trying to do: Reduce salary and move contracts.
This is different. As with marquee unrestricted free agents, this is the first time in a long time Bowman is going out to acquire a top young player, and not trying to cut cost.
Let’s come back to the idea of rebuilding.
Fourth, not every first- or second-round draft pick will develop into what they are projected as.
Yes, you absolutely rebuild through the draft.
But again, the highway to glory in the NHL is littered with the Nikita Filatovs, Robbie Schremps and other heavily hyped high draft picks ad nauseum. Do fans—Hawks fans—tend to overvalue their prospects? Uh, yeah.
Year after year, from Pavel Vorobiev and Mikhail Yakubov (now playing in a Chicago beer league) to Jack Skille, Dylan Sikura, Drew Leblanc, Kyle Beach, Igor Makarov, Ryan Hartman, Nick Schmaltz, Boqvist, Mitchell (tell me when I should stop).
So you definitely also want to keep (or acquire when you can) young, developed, quality players, like 26-year-old Jones, for example.
Thus, DeBrincat, you absolutely do not trade.
But, after that, there is an argument (depending on return) for at least listening on a lot of Blackhawks players, including, yes, Dach, because he is not developed, or even really close to it.
It was just a couple of months ago when The Athletic published an article quoting NHL scouts on a range of the Hawks’ young players, including Dach, about whom they said (paraphrasing): “They (the team) now know he will never be another Toews.”
“He may only be a 55–60-point guy, but he will be a good player.”
Okay, that is good, but “untouchable?” Additionally, while fans and some media have penciled him in as the Hawks’ “future No. 1 center,” there is some legitimate question (at this point, anyway) whether he will even end up as a center, much less a No. 1 center.
Am I arguing to trade Dach for Seth Jones? No. But, the idea that it should not even be considered because of how great a prospect Dach is, well, that is probably a bit off, especially with the Blackhawks’ desperate needs on defense.
Further, if Bowman’s previous larger deals—and especially those with Kekalainen—are any indication, this trade will not be a “one for one” anyway.
My guess, in light of the Hawks’ relative stockpile of young, puck-rushing defensemen (Beaudin, Boqvist, Kalynuk, Mitchell, Wyatt Kaiser) and scoring wingers (or “centers” who may be better as wings), some combination of that will be the return to Columbus, as well as draft picks and swaps of draft pick positions to consider. The Hawks could, for example, deal their 2021 first-round pick (12th overall) for Columbus’ 32nd overall pick (originally belonging to the Tampa Bay Lightning and acquired in the David Savard trade) as a part of a deal. There is a “cost” there, but you still have a “first-round pick.”
Lots of ways to skin this cat, and a value for value deal may not end up being all that “painful.”
In summary, with Keith gone, the Hawks almost have to do something on defense this summer. And, Jones is the best bet.
Change is hard, but often, in the end, worth it.
Further, for reasons cited above (the familiarity of Bowman with Brisson and Kekalainen, the acquisition of Caleb Jones—and the loss of Keith), it is likely that the wheels have been in motion on this deal for a while.
Whether the Hawks had targeted Jones before Keith requested a trade or not (and they probably had), they now have a gaping need on what was already arguably the league’s weakest blueline. Jones is a major step toward solving that problem, not just because of his ability, but the opportunity to now use the rest of the Hawks’ blueliners more appropriately.
And, as we have outlined above, it is also unlikely the Blackhawks have the “option” of acquiring Hamilton, or anyone else of Jones’ ability, in unrestricted free agency.
Let it play out. If the Hawks end up not acquiring Jones, which (until the deal comes through the fax machine in Toronto), is a possibility, then it will be because the price from Columbus was simply too ridiculously high (in reality, not because the Twitterz said so), and then the team stands pat or moves on to some other (less certain) plan B.
All we have for now. Comment below.