In a recent episode of his 32 Thoughts podcast, NHL insider Elliotte Friedman reported that the Ottawa Senators called the Chicago Blackhawks about Seth Jones. Although a trade did not come to fruition following those talks, I wonder if things could change on that front once we get closer to the deadline.
It’s clear that the Senators are desperately in need of a top-pairing defenseman, and Jones would provide them with just that. Yet, it is also crucial to note that Jones possesses a full no-movement clause (NMC) for the entire duration of his eight-year, $76 million contract. As a result, he would need to accept a trade to Ottawa for this move to have any chance of occurring. If he were to be open to a trade to the Senators, the Blackhawks should consider targeting three specific players from them in this hypothetical blockbuster. Let’s look at them now.
With Jones carrying a $9.5 million cap hit, the Blackhawks would have no choice but to take salary back in any move centering around him. As a result, one player who stands out is Nikita Zaitsev. The 31-year-old defenseman has a $4.5 million cap hit until the end of the 2023-24, and his spot on the Senators’ depth chart has dropped off immensely. The seven-year veteran’s struggles even led him to be placed on waivers and spend time in the American Hockey League (AHL) this season. As a result, it’s fair to say that he could use a change of scenery.
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Playing for a rebuilding squad like Chicago could benefit Zaitsev. With the Blackhawks possessing a weak defensive group, he would certainly have a legitimate shot of playing top-four minutes with Jones heading the other way. Furthermore, the Blackhawks would certainly rely on him to play on their penalty kill because of his defense-first nature. Perhaps he could even see some minutes on their second power-play unit because of his past offensive success.
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If Zaitsev were to find his old form, he could become a trade candidate for the Blackhawks next season, too. Overall, with his contract nearing its completion and the right-shot defenseman arguably being a bounce-back candidate, I think he’s a player worth taking a chance on. This is especially true when noting that bringing him in would certainly lead the Blackhawks to get an extra draft pick.
Another player who the Blackhawks could consider in a Jones trade is Travis Hamonic. The veteran defenseman does not have any trade protection and his $3 million cap hit would help make this move work financially. Ottawa would likely be open to the prospect of trading Hamonic, too, as he’s a pending unrestricted free agent (UFA), and their playoff hopes are essentially nonexistent. Thus, if it means adding Jones, I think parting ways with Hamonic would make sense.
Like Zaitsev, Hamonic is another player who has the potential to thrive on the Blackhawks’ roster. When looking at Chicago’s defensive group, it’s fair to argue that he would also compete for a spot in their top four if acquired. With that, his strong physical play and reliability in his zone would make him a lock to receive penalty-kill time.
If the Blackhawks made this deal a bit before the trade deadline passes, Hamonic could also become a rental candidate for them. With Hamonic being a veteran defenseman who can play top-four minutes, the Blackhawks could net a third-round pick for his services.
The Blackhawks are going to want at least one notable prospect from the Senators in a Jones trade. One player who stands out as a prime target because of this is Ridly Greig. The 20-year-old center is having a solid season with the Belleville Senators thus far, as he has five goals to go along with seven assists in 16 games. With that, the 2020 first-round pick has been making a name for himself due to his immense physical style of play. This element of his game certainly makes him a more appealing target.
With Greig being so young, the Blackhawks would not need to immediately call him up to their NHL roster if they acquired him. Yet, if he continues to produce at almost a point-per-game pace in the AHL as the year rolls on, it’s fair to argue that he could compete for a spot in the Blackhawks’ bottom six at a minimum. This is especially true if Chicago begins trading their top rental candidates like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Max Domi.
Ultimately, Greig is the kind of prospect that the Blackhawks should be making a major push for in any trade centering around Jones. He has all the potential in the world to become a top-six forward in the NHL and could become a major part of the Blackhawks’ core long-term if he reaches it.
Along with these assets, the Blackhawks would certainly want a first-round pick and a second-round pick. Furthermore, if Chicago does Ottawa a favor and takes on Zaitsev’s expensive contract, that would likely net them another second-round pick. Although this would be a big price for the Senators to pay, it would be worth it because they would finally have another top-pairing defenseman to play alongside Thomas Chabot. As for Chicago, they would land some quality assets for their rebuild and give Jones the chance to play for a team that is on the rise. At the end of the day, it would have the potential to be a major win for both clubs.