For years, the Blackhawks have been looking for Duncan Keith's successor as the franchise's No. 1 defenseman. And they finally got one on Friday by swinging for the fences.
Moments before the start of the 2021 NHL Draft, the Blackhawks officially acquired defenseman Seth Jones in a blockbuster deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that involved defenseman Adam Boqvist and a pair of first-round picks.
Jones, who has one year left on his contract that carries a $5.4 million cap hit, has reportedly agreed to an eight-year, $76 million extension ($9.5 million cap hit) that will be made official on Wednesday.
The move sent shockwaves across the NHL, so let's unpack this step by step from Chicago's standpoint:
- The Blackhawks landed an elite defenseman without giving up Kirby Dach, Alex DeBrincat and top prospect Lukas Reichel. That should be viewed as a win. Columbus originally wanted Dach and/or DeBrincat, but that was a non-starter for Chicago, for obvious reasons.
- The Blackhawks retained a first-round draft pick in 2021, but it was their position that changed. They went from No. 12 to No. 32, which is a significant jump, but they're still going to get a potential impact-type player added to the pipeline.
- The Blackhawks made sure to protect the 2022 first-round draft pick by making it lottery protected. If the pick falls inside the Top 2, the selection will belong to Chicago and the first-rounder that goes to Columbus will be in 2023.
- The Blackhawks had high aspirations for Boqvist. When they drafted him No. 8 overall in 2018, Erik Karlsson was viewed as a potential comparable if he truly hit his ceiling. But his progression got off to a tough start after he was thrown into the NHL fire a year before he was ready and he's still trying to establish himself as a top-four defenseman. If the Blackhawks weren't going to include Dach, DeBrincat or Reichel, they had to give up one of their young defensemen and Boqvist was the guy.
- The contract extension for Jones is what got the most attention on social media, and understandably so. As of Friday, only 19 other players have cap hits of at least $9.5 million. It's a high number, but the Blackhawks needed to pay it in order to plug in a glaring hole.
- Jones is going to be 35 years old by the end of his eight-year contract. Will he be worth his $9.5 million cap hit in the final couple years of the deal? Unlikely. But this wasn't the Blackhawks handing an aging veteran on the decline a massive deal. He's at the center of his prime right now.
- Yes, Jones had an “off” year by his standards. He would probably be the first to admit it, too. But he’s still one of the most well-rounded defensemen in the league. Let's not pretend like he wasn't a legitimate Norris Trophy candidate going into the 2020-21 season.
Did the Blackhawks pay a big price to acquire Jones? Yes. Did they overpay on the average annual value? Probably.
But at some point, the Blackhawks need to start taking steps forward as a team and they immediately got better with the acquisition of Jones without really mortgaging the future.