Two months ago, on Friday, July 23rd, right before the NHL Draft, the Chicago Blackhawks made probably the most controversial, divisive and polarizing move of the offseason, acquiring defenseman Seth Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets. The words “controversial”, “divisive”, and “polarizing”, might actually be putting it lightly. This could be either a grand slam, or an unmitigated disaster for that franchise.
Many Blackhawks fans thought the trade was brutal, myself included. But what’s done is done. From a pure fan perspective, all you can do is cheer for Seth Jones. However, I want to dive into a more objective perspective.
Seth Jones is an incredibly fascinating case study in the eye test vs analytics debate. On one hand, mainstream media (such as NHL network) say he’s a stud number one defenseman who can play 30 minutes a game and be in the running for many Norris Trophies. I’m assuming the Blackhawks front office thinks that way too. On the other hand, analytics writers say he’s barely a capable NHL defenseman. He must be somewhere in the middle…right?
There’s a ton to unpack with not only how good of a defenseman he actually is, but the assets the Blackhawks gave up to get Jones and the massive contract extension they offered to him.
First things first, Seth Jones was awful last season. There’s no way around that. He basically said that himself in an interview with Mark Lazerus of The Athletic. To be fair, Columbus was also awful last season. Surprisingly, more than Chicago. Just by that virtue, he’s almost guaranteed to bounce back in 2021-22. When’s the last time a 26-year-old hockey player completely fell off a cliff and never came back?
I’m starting to be a big believer of being more lenient towards NHL players who struggled in 2020-21. Not being able to do anything, playing the same six or seven teams, not playing in front of fans, as well as not being around family and close friends, can impact you in such a negative way. I totally sympathize with that.
Let’s take a look at Seth Jones’ advanced stats from 2020-21.
- Corsi: 48.22%
- Fenwick: 47.91%
- xG: 45.52%
- HDCF: 43.18%
Compare it to his 2017-18 advanced stats, where he finished fourth in Norris voting.
- Corsi: 54.28%
- Fenwick: 55.64%
- xG: 53.40%
- HDCF: 51.37%
Stats via naturalstattrick.com
Jones’ Corsi and Fenwick from 2020-21 are below average, but where he really struggles is allowing tons of high danger area chances, which was the first time that’s happened in his career. The Blackhawks have struggled with that mightily under bench boss Jeremy Colliton.
I don’t have access to his 2020-21 micro stats, but here are his micro stats between 2017-2020 and during the 2019-20 season.
Jones is great with the puck on his stick, whether that’s in the offensive zone, or in transition. He’s able to combine his straight line skating and puck handling abilities to his advantage. That’s probably why he passes the eye test from the lens of so many people.
The micro stats dipped quite a bit this year compared to the four year average, but I think playing in Jeremy Colliton’s system, as well as being on a team in Chicago with lots of offensive weapons will help raise that.
The big area of concern is Jones’ ability to defend off the rush. I had Scott Powers of The Athletic on my podcast and he said that executives around the league think that’s a weakness in his game. It’s also a weakness for the Blackhawks as well, who were near the bottom of the league last season in that regard.
Seth Jones also won’t be playing with his long time partner Zach Werenski. Take a look at his 2020-21 stats with and without Werenski below.
- Corsi: 50.23%
- Fenwick: 50.42%
- xG: 45.81%
- HDCF: 40.78%
- Corsi: 45.90%
- Fenwick: 45.04%
- xG: 45.21%
- HDCF: 45.56%
While his partner will be downgraded from Zach Werenski to Calvin de Haan, the hope in Chicago is that the Jake McCabe-Connor Murphy line will draw the hardest competition, which will then free up Seth Jones to play against easier competition. Which goes back to my point. He’s not a replacement level defenseman, but he’s not a top pairing defenseman who can shut down top players from other teams.
I have no doubt in my mind Seth Jones will bounce back offensively from a raw points total. Playing with Patrick Kane, Alex DeBrincat, so on and so forth will certainly help.
Seth Jones in a nutshell is not a bad hockey player. He’s a freak of nature athlete with his high-end ability to skate and handle pucks. But elite talent doesn’t always equate to elite results. Can he play the position he plays even just adequately? That’s the big question.
Regardless of what you think about Seth Jones, the assets the Blackhawks gave up to get him – Adam Boqvist, the 12th overall pick and a 2022 first-round pick, and the contract – eight years, $76 million dollars ($9.5 million AAV), it was an overpay.
One thing for certain is we know that Chicago is going all in this year. That 2022 first-round pick is only top two protected, they traded for Marc-Andre Fleury, Tyler Johnson and signed Jake McCabe. I’ll go over those additions in later articles.
Will this massive gamble pay off for Stan Bowman? Only time will tell. We can only wait for the regular season to see it all pan out.