On May 30, Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones announced that he will not re-sign with them at this point in time. Instead, he will test the waters to see what he can find in free agency next offseason. With a team that is on the verge of a massive shift after walking away from head coach John Tortorella and trading away core members of their squad, it is no wonder Jones may want out of Ohio to avoid a potential rebuild. Not too much longer afterward, sources came out talking about the young defenseman being dealt before the upcoming draft.
Starting next year, Jones will be in the final year of a six-year, $32.4 million contract that carries an annual average of $5.4 Million per season. He is eligible to sign an extension if he were to change his mind, but looking at Columbus’ track record of bringing back star players, a return is unlikely.
One team that comes to mind that he should consider is the rising wagon in the Florida Panthers. This team just made it back to the postseason, finished second in the central and fifth in the NHL. Despite being knocked out in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, it’s clear this team is headed towards winning ways.
Reunited with Zito
Panthers general manager Bill Zito has done wonderful things for this team. In just one season, he made the Cats look like legitimate contenders. Before he got his time started in Sunrise, he was the former assistant general manager for Columbus.
At the time that Jones became a Blue Jacket, Zito was still working with them. With that in mind, it is clear that Zito has a relationship with Jones, and it isn’t the first time he’s brought someone in from his old friends in Columbus as he’s brought in forwards Alex Wennberg, Anthony Duclair, and defenseman Marcus Nutivaara.
Additionally, Zito can help him settle into a potential change of scenery as he’ll get familiar with some of his teammates that he played with back in Columbus.
The Chance to Perform with Great Defensive Depth and Talent
If he were to sign a deal with the Panthers, Jones will get the chance to play with a good nucleus of defenseman. This includes Aaron Ekblad, who has become the top-pairing defenseman on the squad since being drafted in 2015. Furthermore, he’s getting the opportunity to play with players that can put some offensive into their game with players like Ekblad, Gustav Forsling and MacKenzie Weeger. In addition, he’ll get to learn some lessons from players who bring sandpaper and playoff experience, such as Radko Gudas.
More than likely, there will be an open spot for him to plug right into the current roster. Some key players were scratched during the regular season and postseason this past year and might just be on their way out, such as defensemen Keith Yandle, Anton Stralman and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky.
A Change of Scenery Should Improve his Game
Last season, Jones had somewhat of an off-year. He tallied 28 points (five goals, 23 assists) through 56 games, despite being on an underperforming Blue Jackets squad. However, his rating was the second-worst in his NHL career since his rookie season in 2013-14 with a minus-18 rating.
For a lot of players, a change of scenery is just what the doctor ordered. In fact, it worked out great for Jones when he dealt from the Nashville Predators in the 2015-16 season to Columbus as his rating improved and he hit new career highs in points, goals and assists throughout his time there. He could find that spark again if he packed his backs and flew down south for some fun in the sun as he’s still young at only 26 years old.
What Could Florida Give Up?
As previously mentioned, the Blue Jackets are heading towards another rebuild with some of their top players getting traded and the firing of their head coach. With the type of player Jones is, they will more than likely want a high asking price for the young all-star defenseman in the form of picks or prospects to build for the future. Additionally, they’re going to want to maximize his capital before he walks on free agency by the start of next season as.
The Panthers have a lot of draft capital they could deal over to the Blue Jackets like their second-round pick in this upcoming draft. In addition, they have some prospects they’re sitting on that could be used as bait to acquire him, such as Logan Hutsko or Henry Bowlby. Furthermore, Florida may want to get rid of some current players on their active roster that may not be that huge of a loss for the team, such as Nutivaara or Ryan Lomberg. In theory, the Panthers could set up a package deal containing high draft picks, a high-level prospect, and a small contract to take off of their hands.
Will Zito Pull the Trigger?
On paper, bringing in a guy like Jones would be remarkable for the team as they’re currently in a “win now” state of mind, as evident from the success of last season. His performance and his leadership qualities could be just what this team needs for a deep playoff run. The only thing they have to do is make room for his contract. As of right now, the Panthers only have $1.6 million to work with in cap space. However, as previously mentioned, it doesn’t seem too crazy that they may plan to shore up a decent amount of money by moving some key players with bloated contracts.
Additionally, the expansion draft is coming for the Seattle Kraken, which means some of those players left unprotected could mean extra money in Florida’s pocket for spending if the Kraken decides to take a chance on someone. Either way, Zito and the Panthers should look deep into bringing him to Sunrise, as it could mean major success in the immediate and distant future.