Blue Jackets’ Seth Jones Intends to Test Free Agency

The Columbus Blue Jackets got some very unwelcomed news recently. As a result, this offseason is already off to a rocky start.

Per a report from Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, star defenseman Seth Jones advised the Blue Jackets that he will not sign right now and intends to test free agency once his contract expires.

Here is the full quote from Friedman as stated on Saturday Headlines during the second intermission of the Toronto Maple Leafs game against the Montreal Canadiens.

We can tell you that sometime in the last week or so, Seth Jones informed the Columbus Blue Jackets that he will not be re-signing. I’m saying ’for now’ at this point because I don’t like to deal in absolutes. But it does appear as if he is prepared to test free agency and we’ll see how Columbus decides to handle this over the next little while.

Elliotte Friedman, Sportsnet 5/29/21

So now where will this go? The Blue Jackets already had a crazy offseason coming up. It takes on a whole new level with this news. We’ll help you navigate this as best we can.

Blue Jackets Facing Franchise Altering Decisions

On one hand, it shouldn’t come as a big surprise that Jones is electing not to sign at this time. Friedman did say “for now” in his report. The Blue Jackets don’t have a coach yet. They also have many decisions to make about the direction of the team. If moves are made that show the Blue Jackets are going in a good direction while having a chance to win now, perhaps Jones will think things through again.

On the other hand, if Jones told the Blue Jackets he’s going to test free agency, that implies it doesn’t matter what the Blue Jackets do this offseason. He gets one chance in his lifetime to have this opportunity and perhaps he wants to take full advantage of that.

If the latter is true, the Blue Jackets are in a tough situation. They cannot afford to lose someone of that caliber for nothing. They cannot have an Artemi Panarin situation happen again.

So the Blue Jackets will have no choice but to see what’s on the market that they could get for Jones now and before the trade deadline. It’s important to note that GM Jarmo Kekalainen recently said that they are willing to carry Jones into the new season without a new contract (From ‘Panarin 2.0? Blue Jackets Willing to Keep Seth Jones into 2021-22 Without Extension’, Aaron Portzline, The Athletic, 5/13/2021.)

Kekalainen said at his end-of-season press conference that this was more of a reload than a rebuild. With this news about Jones out there now, does it change the timeline or what the Blue Jackets are going to go through?

The Domino Effect

This news will have a domino effect on the Blue Jackets. New questions will have to be answered at some point. Each answer could have a lasting impact on the franchise for several years to come.

How will this impact Zach Werenski? If Jones is gone, will Werenski have any incentive to stay with the Blue Jackets? He does have one year remaining on his current deal before he becomes an RFA. The Blue Jackets still have control, but he’s close to UFA status. Would he be willing to sign long-term? In theory he could sign for one season and then go UFA. If this becomes a rebuild, does he want to be a part of that?

What about Cam Atkinson? He turns 32 on June 5. Does he want to play through a rebuild? Time is starting to run short on him and he’ll want every opportunity to win the Stanley Cup.

Cam Atkinson Blue Jackets
Cam Atkinson turns 32 in June and might not want to endure a rebuild at this stage in his career. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What about the other leaders on the team? How are they handling this news? To potentially lose a player like Jones will rock the team all the way down to its foundation.

The Blue Jackets aren’t seen as a contender now. Without Jones, they’re even further away. With Jones still under contract for one more season, the Blue Jackets will have to decide the best course of action. Do they cut bait now and get the best possible return? Or do they keep him into the season with the hopes of changing his mind or perhaps even loading up for a run?

The Elephant in the Room

We can’t talk about this situation without talking about the elephant in the room. If Jones is traded or leaves via free agency, it reinforces the fact that star players do not seem to want to stay in Columbus.

This is a devastating problem that continues to plague the team. It seems there are no easy answers on a fix for it either.

Consider this. Had Jones been willing to negotiate a new deal, he would have likely signed the biggest contract in Blue Jackets’ history for eight years. He would also have likely become the captain of the team. No other team could offer eight years. And there is no easier path to become a captain than this one given the circumstances.

But yet, Jones is still opting to test free agency over both of those things. Except for a change of heart later, this is as damning an indictment against a team as you could have.

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Jones is doing nothing wrong here. It’s his right to test free agency and to see what’s out there. The report indicates he won’t sign right now, so the door isn’t permanently closed. But when this situation happens over and over and over again, there’s a bad pattern somewhere that must be addressed.

While every player’s situation is different, the results have ended the same way. What is the issue here? Why do star players want to leave Columbus? If this doesn’t get fixed soon, it could have damaging ramifications on the team and their bottom line.

Star players attract fans. Fans fill seats. Seats earn the team much-needed revenue. If there are no star players, the downstream effect is a loss of revenue. Of course the way around this is to build a winner. But if last season was any indication of how close they are to winning, that’s a recipe for disaster.

The Blue Jackets must address the elephant in the room. This has gone on for way too long. Management must look at themselves in the mirror and ask tough questions. They also must prioritize finding a solution to this. They don’t want situations like Pierre-Luc Dubois again.

Pierre-Luc Dubois #18, Columbus Blue Jackets
Pierre-Luc Dubois asked for a trade at the start of this season. (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

What is that solution? It’s a great question. Columbus does have some significant disadvantages they have to overcome. They’re not New York City, Los Angeles or Chicago. They also don’t have tax advantages like Las Vegas or the Florida teams. If they’re not winning and a player can choose where they go, that’s a lot for the Blue Jackets to have to overcome.

Whatever the answer is, the Blue Jackets have to find it soon. Otherwise it could be a decade or more before they become relevant again. To me, when in doubt, build a winner. Winning solves a lot of problems.

What’s Next?

As for what to expect next, stay tuned on the coaching search. This becomes more important than ever given the circumstances. From there, we’ll speed into the teeth of the offseason with the expansion draft and the entry draft in July.

As a final thought for now. Notice the length of time on the contracts of Davidson and Kekalainen. Davidson’s contract runs for five seasons and Kekalainen’s ends one year before Davidson’s. It says that fixing this team is not going to be an overnight process. It’s going to take multiple off-season’s of making the right decisions to get this ship back on the right track.

The Jones news is certainly not the end of the world. But it’s still a gut punch. It shows that management must make the right decisions at every turn if they’re going to get back to where they want to go. And that’s win the Stanley Cup.