Predators Should Steer Clear of Seth Jones

One notable narrative of the offseason so far is regarding Seth Jones, who has not yet signed an extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets and plans to test the free-agent market in 2022 (from Change of plans: Blue Jackets likely to trade Seth Jones without contract extension, The Athletic, 5/30/2021). With that news, the likelihood that Jones will be traded before next summer skyrocketed. But expect the Blue Jackets to ask a hefty price in return for the revered defenseman.

Jones is a minute-munching blueliner with excellent puck skills and skating ability. General managers, coaches, and players have praised him for being a pain to play against but fun to watch. Why would any team not want a player who is ranked top-five on the NHL’s top 20 defensemen list? The Nashville Predators, who selected Jones fourth overall in the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, could very much be interested; however, trading for him would not be in the team’s best interest.

Seth Jones Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones, Columbus Blue Jackets (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Yes, he’s praised by everyone, is still relatively young, and has a history with the team, which would make him a perfect fit. But that is until you look at the details.

What Would The Predators Have to Trade?

The first and most obvious problem is the amount the Predators would have to give up to acquire Jones. Jarmo Kekalainen is not one to mince words in trade talks, as the past two trade deadlines have been jam-packed with Columbus trades. The young defenseman’s asking price is most likely a first-round pick and two B+ prospects. It could easily be more depending on how negotiations go, but that seems like a strong baseline.

Seth Jones
Seth Jones says success on the penalty kill came once everyone started playing together. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images)

For the Predators, these prospects could come in different forms. With his outstanding performance at the recent World Junior Championships, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Jarmo ask for defenseman prospect Semyon Chistyakov. I can also see him asking for a player like Egor Afanasyev, Luke Evangelista, or even Marc Del Gaizo. The prospects in the system outside of Philip Tomasino, Yaroslav Askarov, and David Farrance could all be bargaining chips for a Jones trade, and at this stage, it wouldn’t be optimal to sell some key players in the farm for him.

Massive Contract

The Predators’ cap management has not been great, and with the Seattle Kraken expansion draft approaching, they might have to expose one of their two $8 million centers, Ryan Johansen or Matt Duchene. However, if Johansen and Duchene are both protected or if Kraken general manager Ron Francis decides not to select one of them, Nashville will be in a bind. With many restricted free agents to re-sign, it would take a miracle for the Predators to get Jones onto the roster and keep him for an extended period. At his current $5.4 million AAV, he would become the third highest-paid defenseman on the roster, and that’s without Mattias Ekholm’s extension.

Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones
Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri, File)

Also, Jones’ next contract is expected to be extremely high. While Evolving-Hockey projects it to be around $7 million per season, Aaron Portzline of The Athletic mentioned the possibility of a $10 million deal (from Blue Jackets Sunday Gathering: Re-signing Seth Jones already looms large, plus more notes, The Athletic, 03/14/2021). Paying Jones roughly the same amount or more than Roman Josi is not a good idea. Not only would it reflect poorly on management if they put Jones at the same level as their captain, but it also wouldn’t work with the team’s other contracts.

The Predators’ two overpaid centers will prevent pretty much any thought of this trade happening. Even if we don’t consider the centers, there’s Ekholm’s extension and the looming extension for Filip Forsberg – who could be looking for a big payday – to keep in mind. So, even if the Predators seriously inquire about getting Jones back on the roster, it would take a lot of cap maneuvering.

Jones’ Production

Jones is a polarizing player. Traditionalists consider him an elite defenseman ranked in the top 15 in the league due to his insane time on ice totals. The analytics community believes he is overrated and that the ice time totals take away from the fact that his production is rather mediocre. I think it’s always important to consider the other side, watch the game, and see if the numbers reflect what I see. In this case, the numbers and eye-test are synonymous for the most part. While he is a good skater and decent puck mover, he doesn’t actually get a lot done in terms of generating chances or stopping them.

Jones definitely isn’t as bad as some make him out to be, but he’s also not as good as others make him out to be; he’s somewhere in the healthy middle ground. Between 2018-21 – among defensemen with a minimum of 3500 minutes – Jones is 23rd in points. General managers won’t take that for granted. However, of 84 defensemen, with a minimum of 3000 even-strength minutes, he ranks 70th in expected goals for percentage (xGF%) with 48.1%. It’s a number that jumps off the page but not in a good way.

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It continues with the regularized adjusted plus-minus (RAPM) stats, which do their best to isolate the player from their linemates and competition. Jones’ goals for per 60 (GF/60) ranks 53rd among the same 84 defensemen, his expected goals for per 60 (xGF/60) is 69th, and Corsi for per 60 (CF/60) is 53rd. On defense, his expected goals against per 60 (xGA/60) is 59th. All of those numbers are either mediocre or below average. Here’s his RAPM chart:

Seth Jones RAPM chart 2018-21
Seth Jones RAPM chart for 2018-21 (Credit: Evolving-Hockey)

Essentially, the traditionalists got it wrong. Most of the praise stems from the fact that Jones can play big minutes. While that is impressive, it can’t be the only metric because that leads to other problems. If a player plays a lot of minutes but is ineffective, why would you put them out there for long shifts? Overall, the analytics crowd may be too harsh on occasion, but their analysis of Jones is accurate.

A Coveted Roster Spot

The Predators need to start putting their young stars in the lineup. There is no need to sign veterans like Brad Richardson or Erik Haula or trade for a player like Luca Sbisa when younger players can take the spots they occupy and be more effective in them too. Consistently signing depth forwards to short-term deals has prevented players like Rem Pitlick and Eeli Tolvanen from getting a crack at a full-time spot. The same will happen if management decides to pursue Jones.

Seth Jones
Seth Jones (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

If Jones returns to the Music City, he will play in the top four. With Matt Benning on the third pairing for at least another season, there is only one spot for Alexandre Carrier, Jeremy Davies, David Farrance, and Dante Fabbro to fight over. Some believe the Predators need a youth movement, and it would not go over well if that continues to be delayed, even for a player like Jones.

Overall, adding Jones will do little for the Predators except maybe restore their elite status on defense if they aren’t there already. By all indications, trading for Jones is a bad idea, and Predators management mustn’t be blinded by the positive storylines, like his return to Nashville. There will be suitors for the former Predators defenseman, but Nashville shouldn’t be one of them.