NHL trade advice: Aim for Matt Dumba instead of Seth Jones

NHL trade advice: Aim for Matt Dumba instead of Seth Jones
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When it comes to building an NHL team, you almost always need an elite center and a great goalie. But when it comes to other positions high-in-demand, it’s difficult to find talented right-handed defensemen. Between 2021 NHL Free Agency, a flat cap, and the unique pressures of the Seattle Kraken expansion draft, it seems like there’s an especially robust trade market for right-handed defensemen.

No doubt about it, Seth Jones — currently, maybe temporarily, of the Blue Jackets — is the biggest name after word surfaced that he won’t sign a new contract with Columbus.

Jones’ name has surfaced, and is likely to continue to bubble up, in plenty of NHL trade rumors until the Blue Jackets finally (inevitably?) move him. Most recently, Pierre LeBrun passed along word from a league source that “the level of interest is off the charts” for a Seth Jones trade (sub required at The Athletic).

In hindsight, we might look at the NHL team who trades for Seth Jones as huge winners. But, all things considered, a Seth Jones trade comes with a huge “buyer beware” label. Here’s why a team looking to trade for Seth Jones should look elsewhere, maybe starting with Minnesota Wild defenseman Matt Dumba.

As a reminder: Jones, 26, will see his $5.45M cap hit expire after next season. So a team would get one cheap year of Jones … but everything else about trading for him sounds expensive.

The burning question: How good is Seth Jones, really?

Here’s a confession: NHL defensemen are hard to predict. In a May breakdown of what Seth Jones’ next contract might look like, Alison Lukan put it well for 1st Ohio Battery:

After all, how do you measure the prevention of something that was supposed to happen?

As early as last June, the debate about Seth Jones really started to heat up. Plenty, especially those in the mainstream, continued and continue to believe that Jones is one of the best defensemen in the NHL. But certain eye tests, and plenty of “fancy stats” argue otherwise.

Compare, for instance, how Seth Jones and Matt Dumba line up at even-strength over the last three seasons by Evolving Hockey’s RAPM charts:

(If you forgive Jones the 2020-21 season, things look slightly rosier, but mainly just bring Dumba down to Jones’ troubling level.)

Now, could it be true that Seth Jones is a right-handed hockey defenseman Transformer? Could there be more than meets the eyes of those charts? Or could it be that Jones is fooling those well-trained eyes?

Often, when you watch Seth Jones play defense, he certainly looks good. His physical skills are considerable. But shouldn’t that translate to better underlying numbers?

If you trade for Seth Jones, you’re making a huge bet that you’re right, and those red flags are instead red herrings.

A trade for Dumba instead of Jones: Lower risk, higher reward?

Make no mistake about it: whoever trades for Seth Jones will almost certainly be making huge investments.

  • Again, LeBrun describes the interest in Jones as “off the charts.” That sure sounds like a bidding war, especially for the Blue Jackets, who probably didn’t want to trade Seth Jones in the first place.
  • Meanwhile, Dumba has bubbled up in Wild trade rumors for a long time thanks in part to the Seattle Kraken expansion draft. So, you might be able to trade for Matt Dumba below his trade value. (Either way, his name just keeps coming up; do not take a shot* every time Dumba’s name comes up in these two articles from The Athletic’s Michael Russo.)
  • A Seth Jones trade is likely to cost a lot in pure assets. Then you must consider how much Jones’ next contract might cost.

Going back to Lukan’s article in May, estimates ranged from the low-end of $7.5M, to perhaps $8-$9M, or even $10M.

And that’s where things get a little scary for a potential Seth Jones trade suitor. Because mainstream perception is so high for Jones, you’ll almost certainly be paying top dollar.

It’s easiest to imagine Jones flourishing if it’s a matter of a system change. Maybe he just looked worse under John Tortorella? But Jones is entering a contract year, and will cost a lot in a trade, so would a team really want to wait to find out?

They’re most likely to pay top dollar with a proactive extension that could look very bad, very soon.

* – Seriously, don’t.

Some buyer beware examples

Consider some of the biggest contracts for NHL defensemen, and you’ll see a lot of big regrets. Some aren’t even that far off from Sergei Bobrovsky territory:

No, not every big defenseman contract instantly becomes an albatross. But any team looking to trade for Seth Jones should tread lightly. (Even when the dollars aren’t as big, the risk can outweigh the reward. See: Justin Faulk.)

Less risky paths than a Seth Jones trade + contract extension

Again, it’s plausible that Seth Jones proves his strongest proponents right. He’s talented, and defensemen have defied expectations before.

Personally, though? I’d prefer going for lower risks, with maybe even better rewards.

  • My first example remains Matt Dumba. They’re both 26, can generate offense, and are right-handed defensemen. Dumba almost certainly would cost less in trade assets, and his $6M cap hit runs through 2022-23. His next contract is almost certainly going to be significantly cheaper than what Seth Jones will get. If somehow Dumba costs more/similarly to Jones, then … you probably struck gold, anyway, right?
  • Now, Dumba isn’t perfect. Maybe you want to swing for the fences? If so, Dougie Hamilton could either be signed as a free agent, or trade for, then signed. (I’d have the same worries about Hamilton souring like Karlsson/etc., though. Hence my preference for Dumba.)
  • Maybe you’re not picky about handedness? Mattias Ekholm could be your man. At age 31, it’s conceivable that he’d cost less and demand less term. (Sometimes, term is the toughest thing to stomach.)

Overall, the point is that there are less risky trade/free agent options than Jones. And there’s an uncomfortable possibility that, even ignoring the cost of a trade and new contract, someone like Dumba might just end up being better than Jones, anyway.

Either way, there’s no denying that it’s pretty fun stuff to talk about. Do you think Seth Jones is worth the risk of a trade, and almost certainly a resulting contract extension?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

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    Penguins plot a way forward as Letang recovers from stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang returned to the ice on Thursday, just three days after suffering the second stroke of his career.

    The “twirl” the longtime Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman took at the club’s practice facility was approved by team doctors, a spin designed to help Letang’s mental health and nothing else. While the 35-year-old remains upbeat, it remains far too early to put a timeline on when his familiar No. 58 will return to the lineup.

    Though Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall indicated this stroke isn’t as severe as the one Letang endured in 2014 – when a hole in the wall of his heart led to a stroke that forced him to miss two months – the six-time All-Star is continuing to undergo tests.

    There are no plans for Letang to participate in any sort of hockey-specific drills anytime soon, with coach Mike Sullivan stressing the club will “err on the side of caution” when it comes to whatever rehab Letang might need.

    While Letang – one of the most well-conditioned players in the NHL – essentially went through the motions by himself, his teammates were 30 minutes south at PPG Paints Arena getting ready for a visit from Vegas and trying to plot a way forward without one of the franchise cornerstones, at least in the short term.

    Letang made it a point to help break the news to the rest of the Penguins following a 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina on Tuesday. Pittsburgh scratched Letang from the lineup with an unspecified illness and he spent a portion of the game watching from the press box next to Hextall.

    Afterward, Letang informed a somber locker room about his condition, a revelation that came as a shock even as he did his best to reassure those around him that he was and is OK.

    “It’s very serious health stuff,” defenseman Chad Ruhwedel said. “You hear about strokes and it’s never really good so we’re just glad to see he’s doing well and everything is good with him.”

    Sullivan understands it would be practically impossible for any of the other defensemen on the roster to replicate what Letang brings to the ice, so he’s not going to ask any one player to try. There are few players at the position in the NHL who have Letang’s mix of speed, skill and almost bottomless energy.

    The highest-scoring defenseman in franchise history is averaging a team-best 23:54 of ice time and has long been a fixture on the power play and in just about every crucial late-game situation.

    “I just think Tanger is not an easy guy to replace,” Sullivan said. “I don’t think from a tactical standpoint things change drastically. It’s just personnel based. But as you know, personnel can mean a lot in those types of situations.”

    It’s more than that, however. This isn’t a routine injury. There’s an emotional component and an unknown element to Letang’s status even as the Penguins insist they don’t believe his condition is career-threatening.

    “This is a whole different circumstance than an ankle injury or a shoulder injury,” Sullivan said. “This is a very different circumstance.”

    Letang’s on-ice presence is just one aspect of his importance to a team that has never missed the playoffs since he made his debut in 2007. He’s become a mentor to younger teammates like 23-year-old defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph, who like Letang is French-Canadian and who, like Letang, plays with a graceful fluidity.

    Joseph, who declined to get into specifics about Letang’s message to the team on Tuesday night, believes the best thing the Penguins can do during Letang’s absence is attack the game with the same passion he’s shown for 17 seasons and counting.

    “The way he plays for the team every single night and the way he puts his heart and soul into the game on the ice, it’s the least we can do is have our thoughts of him whenever we get on the ice,” Joseph said.

    Sullivan shuffled the lineup on Tuesday, elevating veteran Jeff Petry and Brian Dumoulin to the top defensive pair. Petry possesses a skillset that’s not too far removed from Letang’s, but it’s also his first year in Pittsburgh. Asking him to provide the leadership that’s innate to Letang is unfair. It’s one of the reasons Sullivan is insistent that it will take a group effort to fill in for a singular presence.

    “We have some diversity on our blue line right now,” Sullivan said. “We feel like we have guys capable of stepping in and getting the job done for us and we’re going to try and do that.”

    LA Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers

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    LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings put goaltender Cal Petersen on waivers, a surprising move for a player once considered the successor in net to two-time Stanley Cup winner Jonathan Quick.

    Petersen, 28, went on waivers the day after allowing four goals on 16 shots in relief of Quick during a 9-8 overtime loss to the Seattle Kraken. Quick was pulled after giving up five goals on 14 shots.

    Only one NHL goalie has a save percentage lower than Petersen’s .868 this season, Elvis Merzlikins of the Columbus Blue Jackets with .864. Petersen is 5-3-2 in 10 games with a 3.75 goals-against average in his third full season with the Kings and fifth overall.

    L.A. signed Petersen to a three-year, $15 million contract in September 2021, and he figured to take the starting job from Quick, who turns 37 in January and is set to be a free agent after the season. Petersen has two years left on that deal after this one at an annual salary cap hit of $5 million.

    Penguins’ Kris Letang out indefinitely after 2nd stroke

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    PITTSBURGH — Kris Letang plays hockey with a grace and inexhaustible fluidity seemingly impervious to the rigors of spending nearly half his life in the NHL.

    For the second time in less than a decade, however, a major health scare has brought Letang’s career to a halt.

    The 35-year-old Letang is out indefinitely after suffering a stroke for a second time. Letang reported feeling ill and was taken to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    While general manager Ron Hextall said Wednesday this stroke doesn’t appear to be as serious as the one Letang sustained in 2014, the Penguins will have to find a way forward at least in the short term without one of their franchise pillars.

    “I am fortunate to know my body well enough to recognize when something isn’t right,” Letang said in a release. “While it is difficult to navigate this issue publicly, I am hopeful it can raise awareness. … I am optimistic that I will be back on the ice soon.”

    The three-time Stanley Cup champion missed more than two months in 2014 after a stroke, which doctors determined was caused by a small hole in the wall of his heart. He spent Monday feeling off and told team trainers he was dealing with what Hextall described as a migraine headache.

    Penguins team physician Dr. Dhamesh Vyas recommended Letang go to the hospital, where tests confirmed the stroke.

    “He didn’t know (he had a stroke),” Hextall said. “He just knew something wasn’t right.”

    Letang is continuing to undergo tests but felt well enough on Tuesday to be at the arena for Pittsburgh’s 3-2 overtime loss to Carolina. He spent the second period chatting with Hextall then addressed his teammates in the locker room afterward in an effort to help allay their concerns.

    “I think it was important for Kris to be there because his teammates got to see him in good spirits and that he’s doing well,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.

    Sullivan added initial test results on Letang have been “very encouraging.” Letang will continue to undergo testing throughout the week, though he felt good enough in the aftermath to ask Sullivan and Hextall if he could skate, an activity that is off the table for now.

    Hextall said he “couldn’t even guess” how long the Penguins may be without the married father of two, adding hockey is low on the team’s list of concerns about a player who, along with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, has helped the franchise to three Stanley Cups during his 17-year career.

    “First and foremost this is about the person and I told Tanger about that last night,” Hextall said. “This is Kris Letang, the father and family guy, the Pittsburgh Penguins, that’s second.”

    Letang, a six-time All-Star, has been one of the most durable players in the NHL. His 662 career points (145 goals, 517 assists) are a franchise record for a defenseman. He’s averaged well over 24 minutes of playing time over the course of his career, a number that’s ticked above 25 minutes per game seven times in eight-plus seasons since he returned from the initial stroke.

    The Penguins felt so confident in Letang’s durability that they signed him to a six-year contract over the summer rather than let him test free agency for the first time.

    “The level of hockey he’s played for as long as he’s played is absolutely incredible,” Hextall said. “The level he’s continued to play at at his age, the type of shape he’s in … he’s a warrior.”

    Letang has one goal and 11 assists in 21 games so far this season for Pittsburgh, which hosts Vegas on Thursday night. The Penguins are pretty deep along the blue line, but Sullivan knows he can’t try to replace Letang with any one player.

    “It’s not anything we haven’t been faced with in the past and the reality is we have what we have, and we’ll figure it out,” Sullivan said, adding “it’ll be by committee, as it usually is when you replace a player of that stature.”

    Ovechkin tops Gretzky for most road goals, Capitals beat Canucks

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    VANCOUVER, British Columbia – Alex Ovechkin scored twice, passing Wayne Gretzky for the most road goals in NHL history, and the Washington Capitals beat the Vancouver Canucks 5-1 on Tuesday night.

    Ovechkin has scored 403 of his 793 career goals away from home. Gretzky holds the overall record with 894.

    “It’s always nice when you beat the Great One,” Ovechkin said. “It doesn’t matter what kind of milestone it is. It’s history.”

    Anthony Mantha added a goal and an assist for the Capitals (10-11-3). John Carlson and Martin Fehervary also scored, and Darcy Kuemper stopped 31 shots.

    Nils Hoglander scored for the Canucks (9-11-3), who had won three in a row. Spencer Martin made 23 saves.

    “Spencer’s been great for us. He’s probably a bit like the other players tonight. They weren’t ready to play and it showed on the scoreboard,” Vancouver coach Bruce Boudreau said.

    The 37-year-old Ovechkin nearly netted a hat trick when Vancouver pulled Martin for an extra skater with just over six minutes left, but his rocket of a shot skimmed the outside of the post.

    “I think he has 13 goals this year and I want to say like eight or nine have been like a new record. So it’s been cool,” Washington center Dylan Strome said. “Any time you pass Wayne Gretzky in anything, it deserves a standing ovation, which he got.”

    Fehervary was the one who sealed it, flipping the puck high into the Canucks zone and into the empty net at 15:57 of the third period.

    Ovechkin topped Gretzky 11:52 into the first, firing a one-timer from the left circle past Martin to give the Capitals a 2-0 lead with his 13th goal of the season.

    “On his second goal, it looks like, `Oh, maybe (Martin) should have had it.’ But I’ve seen (Ovechkin) score 100 goals like that,” said Boudreau, who coached the Capitals from 2007-11. “He’s got a shot that finds its way in.”

    The star forward from Russia got his first of the night 5:35 in, taking the puck off the stick of Vancouver defenseman Quinn Hughes near the net and batting in a quick shot.

    “It could have been 6-1 after the first period, quite frankly, with the amount of chances (Washington) had,” Boudreau said.

    It was Ovechkin’s 135th game-opening goal, tying Jaromir Jagr for the most in NHL history.

    “(Ovechkin) was really good in the first and I thought we were really good in the first so it was nice to get out and get a jump like that,” Capitals coach Peter Laviolette said. “He certainly led. We knew we needed to have a good first period, have a good game, and you need your best players to do that.”

    Carlson scored the lone goal of the second, chipping in a loose puck from the low hash marks at 18:47 to give Washington a 4-1 cushion.

    “It’s frustrating. Because when you lose games, it should never be about your compete level and battle level,” Canucks center J.T. Miller said. “It’s frustrating because they didn’t out-skill us today, they didn’t out-system us. They literally just outbattled us and created their own chances.”

    NOTES: Washington’s Lars Eller got his 200th career assist. … Miller had an assist, extending his point streak to nine games (four goals, seven assists). … The Capitals swept the two-game season series. … Vancouver assigned winger Vasily Podkolzin and defenseman Jack Rathbone to the Abbotsford Canucks on Monday, then recalled forward Phillip Di Giuseppe from the American Hockey League club on Tuesday.


    Washington: At Seattle on Thursday in the second of a five-game trip.

    Vancouver: Host Florida on Thursday in the second of a four-game homestand.