Seth Jones has told the Columbus Blue Jackets that he intends to test free agency. Cue wild and outlandish trade proposals on Twitter. These fantastical trade proposals came from both sides of the aisle, whether it was the fans who say he is a horrible player or fans proposing huge overpayments for the polarizing defenseman. Proponents of the eye test say he’s one of the best blueliners in the game, while the analytic folks say he is one of the worst. Some Toronto Maple Leafs fans have proposals involving him for Mitch Marner, which are ludicrous.
Although Marner had an abysmal showing against Montreal, he led the Leafs in points in three out of the past four seasons, including the 2020-21 campaign. Additionally, he is two years younger than Jones, who could theoretically walk away from the Leafs should he not enjoy playing there upon the 2021-22 season’s conclusion.
On the other hand, the analytics crew would consider practically any trade involving Jones to be a negative for the team acquiring him due to his less than stellar analytics. They would point to the chart below and to his goals above replacement (GAR) of 1.9 over the past three seasons, which ranks 184th in the league among defensemen in that timeframe to justify their negative opinion of him.
Jones is overrated by some fans but over-hated by others. Is he a top 10 defender in the NHL? No, but he is a very skilled player, which is why he’s received Norris Trophy votes in each of the past four seasons and teams will be lining up to acquire him. However, despite what some fans think, the Los Angeles Kings should not be one of the teams looking to acquire Jones.
Kings Don’t Need a Right-Shot Blueliner
LA has numerous holes to fill if they hope to become Stanley Cup contenders, but Jones doesn’t fill any of them. The Kings’ blue line has a solid right side consisting of Drew Doughty, Matt Roy and Sean Walker. Firstly, Doughty is a similar player to Jones. Both produce offensively, throw hits, block shots, log big minutes and are loathed by the analytics community.
Doughty’s Numbers (2020-21)
56 games played (GP)
34 Points – 0.6 points per game (P/G)
83 blocked shots (1.48 per game)
91 hits (1.63 per game)
Plus/Minus of Minus-14
26:22 Time on Ice Per Game (TOI)
Jones’ Statistics (2020-21)
28 points – 0.6 P/G
101 blocks (1.8 per game)
102 hits (1.82 per game)
Overall, they had fairly similar numbers. Doughty was slightly better offensively and got more playing time, while Jones was a more physical player and blocked more shots. Doughty beat Jones in the advanced stat department in the majority of categories such as Corsi (CF%), Fenwick (FF%), Shots (SF%), Goals (GF%), Scoring Chances (SCF%), and Expected Goals (xGF%).
Related: Drew Doughty: Hall of Fame Worthy?
After considering all of this, Doughty had the better season, thus Jones would be a second pairing blueliner in LA. Bringing in Jones to play this role doesn’t make sense. Roy finished 13th in Calder Trophy voting in 2019-20 and has thrown well over a hit and block per game in each of the three seasons he’s skated in. Although he’s not flashy offensively, his great defensive play allows the Kings to gain and maintain possession of the puck.
Walker is on the third pairing and, similarly to Roy, is an animal at getting into shooting lanes and imposing his physical presence. In each of the three seasons he’s played, Walker has blocked a shot per game and has thrown a hit per game in two of them. Furthermore, he has an offensive flair. In the most recent two seasons, he’s racked up 42 points in 117 GP. For comparison, Mathew Dumba, regarded as one of the NHL’s better offensive blueliners, has 45 points in 120 GP in that timeframe, meaning Walker, by extension, is a pretty good offensively.
Although seeing Jones in a Kings uniform may be a cool concept, the team really doesn’t need a right-handed blueliner. LA is more in need of a dynamic left-handed defenseman to pair with Doughty than another talented right-handed defender.
“Rob Blake of the Los Angeles Kings is another one looking for a defenseman in the category that Pierre just described, 25 and under. But he specifically wants a dynamic, left-shot defenseman”.TSN Insider Trading, Darren Dreger
Additionally, LA’s woes are mainly from a lack of scoring. The Kings scored a total of 142 goals in 2020-21. Only four teams scored fewer goals. Only two Kings’ forwards (Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown) hit over 30 points this season, while Alex Iafallo had exactly 30. The Kings had seven forwards who hit over 20 points this season, and three of them were centers. With center prospects such as Rasmus Kupari, Quinton Byfield and Alex Turcotte poised to make an impact next season, the Kings’ biggest hole is filling out their wings.
Andreas Athanasiou, who signed a one-year deal with LA last off-season, has yet to sign a contract extension, meaning LA only has three wingers who produced 20 or more points this season under contract heading into next season. Prospects Samuel Fagemo and Arthur Kaliyev could crack the roster next season, but LA will have to do more than hope for the best with them to make their wingers a threatening, offensive presence.
If LA Wants a Big Name Right-Handed Defenseman, Target One in Free Agency
In the aforementioned section, I wrote about why LA doesn’t need a dynamic right-handed defenseman at this time. However, if they wanted to acquire one, it would make much more sense to do so via the 2021 free agency class. Firstly, it would allow the Kings to lock up the blueliner for more than next season, as Jones could walk after 2021-22. Additionally, LA wouldn’t have to give up any assets should they sign someone, whereas Jones would command a first-round pick and a high-end prospect in a deal.
Two big-name right-handed defenders poised to be available in free agency are Tyson Barrie and Dougie Hamilton. Barrie is an offensive defenseman who is not known for his defensive prowess. However, he generates tons of offense. Over the past four seasons (2017-18 to 2020-21), he has posted point totals of 57, 59, 37 and 48. His 48 points this season led all blueliners, and over the past four seasons, he ranks fifth among defenders in points, while Jones ranks 18th throughout that same period. Furthermore, he ranks ninth in P/G and assists per game among defensemen in said time. Due to him only being known as an offensive defenseman, his next contract should be cheaper than Jones’, thus he’d make more sense to target.
Hamilton is a hulking, 6-foot-6 blueliner who is a better overall player than Jones. He has received Norris votes in each of the past four seasons, as Jones has done. Hamilton leads blueliners in goals and goals per game over the past four seasons while ranking second in goals per 60 minutes behind Wyatt Kalynuk. In one more game than Jones in that timeframe (266 games to 265 games), Hamilton has 165 points compared to Jones’ 161. Additionally, over the past three seasons, his analytics in categories such as CF%; FF%; SF%; GF%; SCF%; xGF%; high danger chances for (HDCF%); medium danger chances for (MDCF%); and low danger chances for (LDCF%), all boast better percentages than Jones, despite Hamilton starting less frequently in the offensive zone than Jones.
Although LA has more pressing priorities than finding a right-handed blueliner, should they decide that acquiring one is a team need, they could utilize their cap space in free agency to do so; rather than trading assets for Jones.
Los Angeles has several holes to fill on its roster, ranging from filling out both of their wings and bolstering their left-handed defensive corps. Adding a right-handed defender is near the bottom of the list of the Kings priorities, but, should they choose to do so, they could add a big-name target via free agency rather than trading away a bunch of assets for Jones, who may not even stick around with them for a second season.
Stats per: Natural Stat Trick, QuantHockey & Hockey Reference