Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported last weekend that Jones informed Blue Jackets brass he plans on testing free agency at the expiration of his current contract instead of signing an extension with Columbus.
Jones is set to become an unrestricted free agent following the 2021-22 campaign. The 26-year-old’s annual salary cap hit has been $5.4 million since signing a six-year, $32.4-million deal ahead of the 2016-17 season. He's expected to earn a significant raise on his next contract.
The Blue Jackets are well positioned heading into the 2021 NHL Draft with three first-round picks with which to work, but the team is entering a new phase of an on-the-fly rebuild.
Columbus also needs to make a decision on pending restricted free agent Patrik Laine.
“Seth’s been very open with (Columbus general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen),” the team’s president of hockey operations, John Davidson, told The Columbus Dispatch. “They've had great discussions and they’re going to continue having discussions and they’re going to be in-house. It’s professional. That’s the way we want to do our business. … If (Jones) chooses not to sign a long-term deal, I won’t disrespect him for it. He has that right. I mean, that’s the business of hockey.
“He’s a player we’d love to have for the long-term, but if that’s not going to work out, then we have to do what we have to do to protect our franchise to continue to build a hockey club with players that want to be here. It’s that simple.”
The Blue Jackets let both Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky walk in free agency and got nothing in return for the star Russians. Kekäläinen doesn’t appear willing to let that happen with Jones, nor should he, which is one reason why trade rumours are beginning to ramp up.
In theory, Columbus should get a decent haul for Jones even though he is coming off his worst statistical season with the Blue Jackets and the analytics crowd is not necessarily high on his current trajectory.
Well, analytics be damned, Jones is the type of player that would immediately improve literally every team in the NHL if he were added to the roster. Not all teams will be in a position to make an offer for Jones, though, but talks were expected to increase once the results of Wednesday’s 2021 NHL Draft Lottery were known.
With that in mind, here’s a handful teams that could look into adding the 2014 fourth-overall pick this summer.
Los Angeles Kings
Blue Jackets beat reporter Aaron Portzline of The Athletic wrote earlier this week the Kings are the early favourites — and it is still quite early — to land Jones. Having both Jones and Drew Doughty on the right side of the D-corps would result in an envious top-four.
GM Rob Blake has extra second- and third-rounders in 2021, plus an impressive slew of young forwards and prospects including: Quinton Byfield, Arthur Kaliyev, Gabe Vilardi, Rasmus Kupari, Akil Thomas and Alex Turcotte just to name a handful.
Portzline reported the Blackhawks could become “major players” in Jones trade talks. We know Jones would suit the Blackhawks uniform thanks to his time with the Portland Winterhawks in junior, but how much Stan Bowman or any GM is willing to give up would largely depend on whether Jones signs an extension with the team that trades for him.
The Blackhawks have a couple extra picks from the Mattias Janmark trade they could leverage plus youngsters Adam Boqvist, Nicolas Beaudin, Alec Regula or Ian Mitchell to consider including in a package for Jones. Chicago now holds the 11th-overall pick following Wednesday’s draft lottery results.
With Adam Larsson and Tyson Barrie both set to hit the open market, the Oilers’ back end might require a great deal of work in the summer. Oscar Klefbom with his surgically-repaired shoulder is expected to be ready for the start of next season but if Larsson and/or Barrie, who led all defencemen in points in the regular season, leave in free agency then Edmonton would feel the pressure to add a quality right-shot defender. The Oilers don’t have extra picks to send to the Blue Jackets, so Ken Holland may have to consider parting ways with a young defenceman of his own.
It could be a family reunion of sorts for Jones since his younger brother, Caleb Jones, is currently in the Oilers organization.
Matt Niskanen’s unexpected retirement last year no doubt hurt Philly’s defence this past season as the team allowed an NHL-worst 3.52 goals-against per game compared to the seventh-fewest goals-against per game the season prior. The Flyers aren’t going to lose anyone of consequence in free agency, which means GM Chuck Fletcher could look to move a few bodies to clear up cap space.
Kevin Hayes and Claude Giroux are the only Flyers with no-movement clauses although Fletcher has not been tremendously aggressive on the trade market since joining the organization. A hypothetical top pair of Jones and Ivan Provorov would be a stiff challenge for any forward line in the league. Jones’s father, former NBA forward Popeye Jones, is currently on the Philadelphia 76ers coaching staff so there’s a connection to the city as well.
The Canadiens were also mentioned by Portzline in his article. Montreal has extra second-, third- and fourth-round picks in 2021 as Tomas Tatar, Phillip Danault, Joel Armia, Eric Staal, Corey Perry and Erik Gustafsson are all slated to come off the books at the end of the season.
Maybe it’s too on the nose, but Jones would be an ideal succession plan for Shea Weber if the team looked to move his remaining term that ties up more than $7.75 million in annual cap space. Weber, who turns 36 in August, still has an additional five years remaining on his contract. Jeff Petry and Joel Edmundson are also locked up for at least another three years and Montreal already has more than $24 million on defence committed to next year’s cap.
Detroit Red Wings
It wouldn’t be all too surprising if Steve Yzerman decided to make a splash this summer. He certainly has the draft capital to do it. Detroit currently has 12 picks in the 2021 draft, seven of which are in the first three rounds (two firsts, three seconds, two thirds). Dylan Larkin is the only notable player the Red Wings currently have signed beyond 2022. Ironically, if Columbus is seeking roster players over draft picks, Larkin would perhaps be Detroit’s best trade chip.
Toronto Maple Leafs
If trade speculation involving a star player occurs and the Maple Leafs aren’t included in the rumours, did it really even happen? Leafs Nation is once again reeling following the team’s latest 3-1 series collapse and to no one’s surprise much of the fan base is calling for a significant off-season trade to improve the roster.
The Maple Leafs are light on picks and prospects but if GM Kyle Dubas decides a major shakeup is indeed needed then he could potentially dangle an asset like Mitch Marner, who underperformed in the post-season despite finishing fourth in league scoring during the regular season. Marner has finished top-10 in assists in each of the past three years and Columbus is in dire need of productive forwards.
Do Wednesday’s comments from Dubas and Marner mean trading the star winger is off the table? Even if it’s for a defenceman like Jones, whose dad had a brief stint with the Toronto Raptors in the mid-1990s?