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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