For the last few hours, I have been digesting the trade for Seth Jones, what was given up, the contract extension and oh boy, where do the Chicago Blackhawks go from here?
On Friday, in their first blockbuster trade in some time, the Blackhawks acquired Jones, a 2021 first-round pick (32nd overall) and a 2022 sixth-round pick from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for defenseman Adam Boqvist, Chicago’s 2021 first-round pick (12th overall), a 2021 second-round pick (44th overall) and Chicago’s 2022 first-round pick. Chicago then signed Jones in principle to an eight-year contract extension with an annual cap hit of $9.5 million.
That’s right, $9.5 million per year, for eight seasons! The reaction of “Wait, what? $9.5 million per season, is any defenseman worth that much?” is a completely natural reaction. I, for one, am not completely sold on the idea that at that price and term, anyone is worth that much. Adding the layer of trading Duncan Keith’s contract of $5.54 million per year, and Brent Seabrook’s retirement, relegating his once albatross of a contract to a minimal, long-term injured reserve cap hit, and the Hawks finally seemed to be rid of two bulky contracts that they could no longer afford to carry. And now this? With Jonathan Toews “possibly” coming back with a $10.5 million cap hit, Patrick Kane at the same price and now you have over $30 million wrapped up in three players for a team that technically should be “rebuilding?” Again, a natural reaction, and those that feel this way, you are not necessarily wrong, and I was certainly there with you and still may be there eventually.
If you pump the breaks and think about this further though, what Stan Bowman and company did was address a glaring need, and gave up a list of “possibles” for the “proven.” And, when you dig a little deeper and break down the dollars and cents, it is not as bad as it seems and there is one hell of a hockey player now on his way to the Windy City.
What did they lose here?
Okay, Chicago gave up Boqvist, a former top-10 pick, who may or may not pan out to be a legitimate NHL defenseman. Yes, he has upside, but he has also not found the game that many have hoped he would at this point. He is undersized, and frankly may continue to have a tough time in this league physically. It is as much or more of a gamble counting on his development than throwing a lot of coin at a proven professional. The picks Chicago gave up are just that, future scratch tickets and a lot of hope. A first-round pick between 10–20, which the Hawks dealt in 2021, and may have foreseeably dealt in 2022, could turn into significant NHL assets, but picking in that frame of the first round is not a lottery pick. However, you need to win the lottery for that player you pick to pan out. It is never a sure bet like a first or second overall draft choice.
What the Blackhawks did not give up in this deal were Alex DeBrincat or prized prospect Kirby Dach, many of whom feared would be included in a move to land Jones. And, if you are a firm Boqvist supporter, it was not that long ago that a similar Blackhawks’ prospect, Henri Jokiharju, once thought “untouchable,” was dealt to the Buffalo Sabres. Jokiharju has struggled since then and it is a wonder as to how much time he has left in the NHL.
What did they get? A real hockey player.
So, what did the Hawks get with Jones? Hockey-wise, they got a stud, and that is not debatable. Jones is a top-10 NHL defenseman, who plays over 20 minutes a night, has a strong offensive component to his game, is physical and not a whole lot of fun for the opposition to play against. Jones is a massive upgrade to a Chicago blueline that is in significant need of help. Still shy of his 27th birthday, we still may have yet to see him at his best. The idea of possibly having Jones and Connor Murphy as the Hawks top two right-handed defensemen over the next few seasons is very appealing.
What about the contract?
On the contract, yes, every time I look at it, I wince, but let’s break it down. You now have your No. 1 defenseman stapled for eight more seasons following his last remaining year on his current contract and that extension expires when Jones is 35, not 39 or 40, which was the case with Keith and Seabrook. When the $9.5 million cap hit kicks in for the 2022–23 season, the contracts of Murphy, Calvin de Haan, Dominik Kubalik and Dylan Strome ($15.1 million per year combined) will all come off the books that summer. On the defensive side, Murphy probably would be one to re-sign, while it is realistic that de Haan could be trade deadline bait in the spring of 2022 or they let walk. Either way, there will be money to play with while the likes of Nicolas Beaudin, Wyatt Kalynuk and Ian Mitchell continue to mature and improve. Only Kalynuk will be a restricted free agent at that time and perhaps due for a small increase in pay and bridge deal. Then there is the current wildcard of restricted free agent Nikita Zadorov. He could be moved, and hopefully so, but Bowman certainly should not be in a rush to pay him right now.
And what about the three mega-deals with Jones, Kane and Toews? There is one year, the same year that de Haan and Murphy come off the books—2022–23—where that $30+ million is in effect…if that. Both Kane and Toews’ contracts expire after the 2022–23 season, one year into Jones’ lucrative extension. And, while we are all rooting for Toews to have a successful return to the team and the league, is it conceivable that he still may not be able to play, rendering his contract a marginal LTIR cap hit in 2022–23? Ah…you bet. And sadly, that may actually be very realistic at this point.
The Blackhawks needed an upgrade, and a splash if you will. We will not know how to accurately judge this move for a long time, and I definitely continue to go back and forth when thinking about it. That said, embrace the “proven” talent that is now on his way to West Madison Street. Jones is a dynamic player and a leader that will be the Blackhawks’ premier stalwart for the foreseeable future.