The Columbus Blue Jackets are having to make another difficult decision this off-season, as star defenseman Seth Jones has indicated that he will test free agency next summer rather than re-sign. As The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline writes, barring a change of heart, this means that Jones will be traded, as expected. GM Jarmo Kekalainen has allowed other top players to stay with the team and walk as free agents in recent years, but with the team re-tooling and John Davidson back in his role as team president and focused on the future, Jones will not follow suit.
Fortunately, the Blue Jackets will have no trouble at all trading Jones and will be able to get a major return back. Kekalainen tells Portzline that he has ” heard from just about every GM in the league” since Jones’ availability became public. This could be puffery from the veteran executive to drive up the price, but is also entirely believable. Jones has been playing top-pair minutes for years, produces on offense, is solid on defense, and has improved in his physicality as well. At just 26, Jones is one of the more complete defensemen in the NHL and any club could use him.
Who will be the lucky team that lands Jones though? Portzline has heard four names come up repeatedly in conversations with sources around the league: Chicago, Colorado, Los Angeles, and Philadelphia. The Avalanche certainly stand out as a outlier; the top contenders have plenty of depth on defense and are lacking in cap space, this year and beyond. They would likely be looking at Jones as a year-long rental as they push for that elusive Stanley Cup. Would the cost be worth the short-term investment though? The other three clubs certainly would be eyeing a long-term deal with Jones as they are each in need of a top-tier defenseman. The Flyers have long been searching for a capable player to pair with Ivan Provorov on their top pair and Jones is as good a fit as can be found on the market. The Blackhawks also have been without a truly elite defenseman for some time. Like Colorado, they have salary cap issues but would be more willing and able to make it work. The Kings are the most dangerous buyer on the market, armed with a ton of talented prospects and fueled by a desire to improve before their aging core calls it quits. A top defenseman would go a long way in L.A.’s effort to return to relevance.
Of course, as Jones’ market continues to develop and the asking price becomes more concrete, another suitor could swoop in. Every team in the league will keep an eye on the bidding war over the next few weeks, before the Blue Jackets are expected to pull the trigger, by the NHL Entry Draft if not before.