A Seth Jones Lesson for Cubs Fans in an Underwhelming Winter

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A Seth Jones Lesson for Cubs Fans in an Underwhelming Winter

Chicago Blackhawks

As I have watched the MLB offseason roll through and the Cubs miss on some of the top targets, there has been a growing conversation about the cost of doing business. And the Cubs not spending big money on a superstar has become an enormous pain point for fans in this city (and some of my colleagues).

But something has stuck in my mind as we watch a winter with four top-tier shortstops sign contracts with huge dollars and ridiculous terms. It goes back to the summer of 2021 in the NHL, when a run on signing defensemen established a new market for players at a premium position on the ice.

Between unrestricted and restricted free agents, there were six significant contracts given to defensemen, including one that involved a big-time trade involving Chicago.

  • Zach Werenski, Blue Jackets — 6 years, $9.58 million AAV
  • Seth Jones, Blackhawks — 8 years, $9.5 million AAV
  • Darnell Nurse, Oilers — 8 years, $9.25 million AAV
  • Cale Makar, Avalanche — 6 years, $9.0 million AAV
  • Dougie Hamilton, Devils — 7 years, $9.0 million AAV
  • Miro Heiskanen, Stars — 8 years, $8.45 million AAV

These players hit on these deals at different ages and stages in their careers. But the response around the NHL was similar to the reaction many in baseball have had to the shortstop market in baseball since Francisco Lindor signed his amazin’ deal with the Mets: holy cow, that’s a lot of money for a lot of years.

What made these deals even more significant was where the NHL was as a league financially. Because of COVID, the salary cap in the NHL was going to stay relatively flat for at least two more years, if not three or four (depending on how quickly the escrow debt incurred by the players during the pandemic was paid off). With the cap only going up $1 million per year for at least a couple years after these deals were signed (five of which began this season, one year after they were signed), the jump into this level of cap hit in bulk represented an even more significant investment.

The biggest headline-grabbing deal was with Jones in Chicago; the Blackhawks traded defenseman Adam Boqvist (the eighth overall pick in the 2018 NHL Draft), the 12th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (Cole Sillinger), a second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft (No. 44 — Aleksi Heimosalmi) and a first-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft (No. 6 overall — David Jiricek) for Seth Jones, the final pick in the first round of the 2021 NHL Draft (Nolan Allan) and a sixth-round pick in the 2022 NHL Draft (No. 173 — Dominic James).

Looking back at the Jones trade a year and a half later, most believe the Blackhawks grossly overpaid. If we include the reality that Boqvist was a top-ten pick, the Blackhawks traded three first rounders and a second for a player who was given a $9.5 million cap commitment, a later first and a sixth rounder.

Earlier this week, The Athletic updated player cards for every player in the NHL. As you can see below, Seth Jones’ evaluation has not been kind to date.

The perspective of the former Blackhawks’ front office at the time was going for it with a remixed lineup bought with cap space — cap space they had for the first time in more than a decade. Sadly, perspectives change. And decision makers change. The Blackhawks’ new front office inherited a mess of a roster left behind by the previous regime and is now acting out a plan to tear things down and start fresh.

In his year and change with the Blackhawks, Jones has played heavy minutes. And some have justified his cap hit with the reality that defensemen who skate 24-25 minutes per night generally cost around (at least) $9 million.

But there are times when we, as fans, need to take a step back and question if the player is the right guy for the right place at the time of the deal. And if the deal makes sense at all.

It’s become clear as the Blackhawks bury themselves in a more intentional rebuild that Jones’ contract makes the most sense in it’s role in getting the Blackhawks to the salary floor in coming seasons.

The moral of the story here for me as a sports fan in Chicago is to have a little pause when hoping — praying — my team goes out and gets a big-ticket player at a premium position. Sometimes a front office values a player more than they should. Sometimes, a front office might see the value proposition being imposed by a hot buyers market and decide the juice isn’t worth the squeeze. And, sometimes, desperation leads to overpaying in assets and contract.

Author: Tab Bamford

Tab is the Lead Blackhawks voice for BN. He is the author of two books about the Blackhawks, most recently "Chicago Blackhawks: An Illustrated Timeline" (Reedy Press, 2021). Find him on Twitter at @The1Tab