Revisiting the Seth Jones trade as Blackhawks visit Blue Jackets

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If you are a Chicago Blackhawks fan the most frustrating part about the team’s 12-18-5 record is that the front office actually tried to build a competitive team this offseason. This is not the result of a summer of subtraction, or significant free agent departures, or a complete teardown to kickstart a rebuild. This is the result of real effort. They tried to be good, and they seemed to think they would be.

Along with getting captain and No. 1 center Jonathan Toews back following last season’s absence, the Blackhawks went out and spent major money this offseason. They acquired a top goalie in Marc-Andre Fleury. They added Tyler Johnson from Tampa Bay. Then they made the boldest move of them all by trading Adam Boqvist and a package of draft picks to the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenseman Seth Jones, and then immediately signed him to a stunning eight-year, $76 million contract.

You do not make moves like that if you do not intend to win, and win this season.

Chicago is making its first visit to Columbus since the trade on Tuesday night so it is worth looking back at how this trade has worked out so far for both teams.

It is also worth noting that Jones will not be in the lineup due to a positive COVID-19 test.

The trade

To Chicago: Seth Jones, 2021 first-round pick (No. 32 overall), 2022 sixth-round pick
To Columbus: Adam Boqvist, 2021 first-round pick (No. 12 overall), 2021 second-round pick, conditional 2022 first-round pick

Columbus ended up moving up 20 spots in the 2021 first round (drafting Cole Sillinger), and picked up two additional picks along with the swap of defenders. The condition on the 2022 pick is that if it is is in the top two it will become a 2023 first-rounder.

Seth Jones and the Blackhawks

It became obvious the Blue Jackets were going to trade Jones when it was made known he had no interest in signing a long-term deal. We just did not know where he was going to end up and what he was going to sign for. It turned out to be Chicago, and for Jones a huge win personally given the contract.

The big question with Jones was whether or not his last two years in Columbus (where his overall play had significantly regressed) were a concerning sign for what was ahead, or if he simply needed a fresh start on a new team with new surroundings. The Blackhawks obviously felt it was the second option given the contract they gave him. Keep in mind, that contract does not actually start until next season. He is playing this season on his old deal that carries a $5.4 million cap hit.

It would be fair to say that the early results have been mixed.

On one hand, Jones’ overall offensive performance has bounced back from where it was the past two seasons and he is actually on pace for close to 60 points over an 82-game season thanks in part to some big numbers on the power play. That is good. But that is also only part of the equation, as there was always the matter of 5-on-5 play and defensive impacts to worry about.

Statistically speaking, Jones’ defensive impacts have been a little better in terms of suppressing shot attempts, chances, and expected goals than they were in previous seasons. His offensive impacts at even-strength have been pretty similar to recent seasons but still a significant drop from his peak years.

Here are his year-by-year numbers via Natural Stat Trick:

In other words: Maybe not as bad as critics of the trade and contract expected, but not exactly a game-changer, either. Still probably not ideal given the contract and the price paid to acquire him.

Speaking of that price paid to acquire him.

Early returns make Columbus look like big winner in trade

All of this brings us to the Columbus side of this deal, where it probably would have been impossible for the Blue Jackets to do better than they did.

Let’s start with Boqvist, the NHL player acquired in the deal.

After showing some promising signs in Chicago in his first couple of years, Boqvist was going to get a real opportunity to play a major role with the Blue Jackets, and so far he has excelled when he has been in the lineup. He has been limited to just 23 games this season but has already scored seven goals and tallied 14 total points in those games, while posting outstanding underlying numbers and being one of the Blue Jackets’ top overall blue liners. He has been fantastic in the role has been utilized in.

Given the age and contract difference that alone is a victory for the Blue Jackets. But that was not the only aspect of the deal.

They also moved up 20 spots in the draft, sending the first-round pick they acquired from Tampa Bay (David Savard trade) to Chicago in exchange for the No. 12 overall pick. The Blue Jackets used that pick to select center Sillinger.

Sillinger, 18, is already a regular in the Blue Jackets’ lineup (and the youngest player in the NHL), making positive contributions, and looks to be a significant part of the team’s future.

There was also a second-round pick (No. 44) involved in the deal, which Columbus immediately flipped to Carolina for defenseman Jake Bean.

Bean, 23, plays the second most minutes on the team (behind only Zach Werenski) and as of Tuesday has four goals and eight assists on the season.

When all of the subsequent moves are added into the trade tree, the return today looks like this:

To Chicago: Seth Jones (eight-year, $76M contract), Nolan Allan (No. 32 overall pick), 2022 sixth-round pick
To Columbus: Adam Boqvist ($867,000 cap hit; RFA after this season), Cole Sillinger (No. 12 overall pick; entry level deal), Jake Bean (three-year, $7M contract), 2022 conditional first-round pick.

Columbus completely overhauled a significant part of its defense with two younger, cheaper players (and one that might already be Jones’ equal, if not better) and already landed another potential cornerstone player in Sillinger. Given the Blackhawks’ current place in the standings, they might have another top-10 pick coming their way from Chicago in a few months.

Pretty good return for a player that was not going to re-sign with them after this season.

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