The Columbus Blue Jackets have been known in recent seasons to have a strong leadership group. Captain Nick Foligno along with alternate captains Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner have helped lead this team through many ups and downs as they seek a fifth consecutive playoff appearance.
But in recent games, one of the other alternate captains has stepped his game up to a whole new level. He was one of the big reasons the Blue Jackets were able to win two games in Raleigh against the Carolina Hurricanes. His heroics have helped the team at least for now hold on to a playoff spot.
Seth Jones is making it happen everywhere on the ice.
Jones scored two goals Thursday night including the game winner in overtime to lift the Blue Jackets to victory. Then he followed that up by scoring the game-tying goal in the dying seconds Saturday night to force overtime. The Blue Jackets eventually won that game in a shootout.
Not including that shootout, the Blue Jackets scored five goals in the two games in Raleigh. Three of those five were scored by Jones. But his play goes way beyond what he’s been doing offensively. He’s showing just how dominant he can be.
Jones Will Be an NHL Captain Someday
Jones’ recent play got me to thinking about something. Those two games in Carolina showed me clearly what path he’s on. Sooner rather than later, he will be a captain in the NHL.
Jones literally put the team on his back and helped carry them to two crucial victories. These wins could ultimately dictate which direction management decides to go at the trade deadline. That’s the stuff of the captaincy. Head coach John Tortorella alluded to the leadership postgame Thursday night.
“We needed someone to take control of the game for us. I thought he stood up and said I’m going to be the guy tonight,” Tortorella said of Jones. “That’s one of the better games I’ve seen him play since he’s been here and at an important time.”
But let’s be honest for a second. This season for Jones overall has been a struggle for long stretches. Early in the season, the top four struggled to find any consistency. Jones and his defensive partner Zach Werenski were not making the impact we’re normally used to seeing. But in recent games, Jones has been the best player on the ice. It seems he’s found his way back from whatever was ailing him early on.
I went back and watched the two Carolina games again. I then went back and watched some clips of games early in the season when they were struggling. I wanted to see if the tape confirmed my thinking. As it turns out, it most certainly did. It reconfirmed my feeling that Jones will wear a ‘C’ someday. Whether that is in Columbus with a new contract or on a different team remains to be seen. But the leadership he has shown all season long deserves recognition.
Jones Already Playing the Part
I wanted to go back to some of his quotes and some games when he was struggling to get a more complete picture of how he handles himself in both good and bad situations. The main takeaway here is that no matter what has been thrown at Jones, he’s been ready to deal with it head on. He’s handled everything like a true professional.
Early on when things were not going well, Jones got questions about his game and why he thought it wasn’t at the level it needed to be at. On many nights, he looked lost on the ice. Simple plays were difficult to complete. But he never dodged questions and was honest about his assessment. That reinforces that even in the bad moments, Jones could be counted on to lead. He is accountable to the team and to himself, a huge quality in an NHL captain.
“Me and Zach have to do a little better job defensively and offensively. We’re not joining the rush probably as often as we should be,” Jones said back in February. “We get shifts here and there in the zone, but not consistent enough.”
Now here’s Tortorella on Werenski and Jones’ struggles and one very important part of all this. “…but I’m not going to stray too far away from those two, because I trust they’ll get their games in order.”
Jones is established enough and good enough to figure things out when the results aren’t there. After enduring tough times the first month or so of the season, it’s pretty obvious he’s starting to figure things out. More importantly, he’s starting to figure out just how good he is.
When everything is going right, Jones is so good that he can take over a game at will. Whether it’s a long and dominant shift where he’s controlling the puck or it’s him finishing a two-on-one odd-man rush to win a huge game in overtime, Jones can dictate the pace of the game in many different ways. This is exactly why many in the hockey world believe Jones will win a Norris Trophy someday. Once he is able to consistently play like this night in and night out, he’ll be a yearly candidate to win.
His Body of Work Deserves Praise
No matter how you view Jones, whether it’s his on-ice play or the way he handles himself off the ice, he’s the kind of player you want to be the face of your franchise as a captain. When you need to win a game, he has shown he can be counted on to make a big impact. When you need someone to be the voice of the team no matter the situation, he can rise to that occasion too.
Jones leads by example in everything he does. Ever since arriving in Columbus, he has been an ambassador to this team. Remember the time he got to announce the Blue Jackets’ first-round pick back in 2018 when the draft was in Dallas?
The crowd gave Jones a huge welcome back to Texas. That was a neat moment for him and the Blue Jackets, but it puts into perspective just how much the team thinks of him to have him announce that pick.
So it only makes logical sense that Jones is destined to be a captain. The Blue Jackets obviously hope it’s with them someday but there are hurdles. He needs a new contract. If he signs in Columbus, it will most likely be the biggest contract ever signed with the Blue Jackets. It will be at least $10 million per season but likely more.
But no matter where he ends up, he will be worth every penny. Whether it’s on the ice anchoring the top pair on the right side or off the ice being a role model and ambassador, Jones fits the role perfectly. He checks off all the boxes you look for when making that important decision.
Foligno will not be the captain of the Blue Jackets forever. He’s built his own legacy with the team. But when you combine all of the elements of being a leader on the ice by taking over a game to being a leader off the ice being a leading voice in the room, there is nobody on the Blue Jackets that can bring what Jones brings.
They can start to begin negotiating a new contract soon. The Blue Jackets will do everything they can to bring Jones back on a long-term extension. But given recent history, eyes will be watching this situation to see if there’s a chance he doesn’t want to stay. But if he does stay, expect him to be the next captain of the Blue Jackets after Foligno’s time.
If this does happen, it will be one of the biggest moments in franchise history. The onus is now on the team to find a way to make this happen.
Jones will be a captain someday. The only question remaining is where.