With the recent reports (from ‘Change of plans: Blue Jackets likely to trade Seth Jones without contract extension,’ TheAthletic, 05/30/2021) that the Columbus Blue Jackets are likely to trade Seth Jones near the draft in July, speculation has begun throughout the 31 other fanbases regarding if they should pursue the defender, and I’m here to say that it is not a wise idea. Somebody will overpay for him, but it should not be the Pittsburgh Penguins, and here is why.
Jones Has Not Been Good
There seems to be this belief around Jones that he is an elite, two-way defender. I’m not sure where this is coming from — maybe due to his heavy usage time in Columbus or because he is big and hits a lot — but it just isn’t true. In fact, the metrics show that he is one of the worst players defensively in the entire NHL, with a minus-3.40 even-strength defensive goals above replacement (EVD_GAR), ranking 18th worst league-wide. This shows that he is below the level of a seventh defenseman in his own end.
You can argue that Jones just had a bad year and could bounce back, and you would be 100 percent right. However, the problem with this is that even though he can improve to what he used to be, he was never the elite defenseman he was perceived to be in the first place. He has always been a really solid secondary defenseman option, never a top-pairing, top-10 defenseman in the NHL. So, a team would have to know what to expect when trading for him. He’s a complementary piece to a No. 1 defenseman, not the main guy. He can get 35-45 points, be a solid second power-play unit defenseman and provide physicality, but he isn’t a shutdown player by any means — a team would mainly be trading for his offense.
I don’t doubt that Jones will not be as bad as he was. A change of scenery will probably do him wonders, but the fact of the matter is that he hasn’t done anything through his career to justify being classified as “elite.”
Trade Value is Likely Too High
Although many general managers are smarter than the fans, some still don’t use the metrics or have well-built staff around them, and therefore won’t know how to correctly value Jones. I assume a team would have to give up a first-round pick, an NHL-caliber player, and multiple prospects in a deal, which the Penguins just can’t afford to do.
Let’s say, hypothetically, the Penguins do opt to trade for Jones — what do they give up? A first-round pick in 2022 for starters, which would hurt the franchise even further. Along with this, you need to add an NHL player, which probably would end up being Jared McCann, Kasperi Kapanen, or John Marino. Then, furthermore, Pittsburgh’s prospect pool isn’t deep, so you can’t just give up one good prospect, you’d need to give up multiple. Samuel Poulin and Pierre-Olivier Joseph are probably out the door as well. Does this trade really make the team better? The answer is simple: no.
The Penguins just cannot afford to trade all of these assets for Jones if they want to stay competitive in the future. Making this move would almost certainly have them locked in as the worst prospect pool in the league, leave a big hole on the wing or right defensive side, and cause more problems than it would fix.
In For a Huge Contract Extension
As I stated earlier, Jones is an unrestricted free agent in 2022, so any team that trades for him has to pick one of two options at that point. They either re-sign him to a monster extension that he’s likely to want — likely eight years, over $8 million average annual value — or they let him walk in free agency, giving up all of those assets for one year of a player.
The Penguins already have a huge offseason in 2022, with McCann, Kapanen, Kris Letang, Evgeni Malkin, Jeff Carter, Bryan Rust and Casey DeSmith all requiring new contracts. They can’t afford to dish out a huge contract to Jones as well, especially when his addition to the team just is not needed.
Historically, defensemen who make $8 million-plus annually on long-term deals almost always decline and become massively overpaid. Some examples around the league at this very moment include Jacob Trouba, P.K. Subban, Brent Burns, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Drew Doughty, and Erik Karlsson. It just isn’t smart at this moment, especially with the situation the Penguins are in.
Basically, what I’m getting at is that Jones is not needed by the Penguins. Their defense core was fine this season, and they have many deserving defensemen who can’t even crack the lineup, so why trade for an overfilled position and give up numerous pieces from an already weak prospect pool to do so? This trade would set the team back more than it’d bring them forward.