Philadelphia Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher has indicated that he’d like to make significant changes to his roster this offseason.
He should start with a call to general manager Jarmo Kekalainen of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Seth Jones Becomes Available
Elliotte Friedman of Sportsnet is reporting that stud defenseman Seth Jones has informed that Jackets that he does not intend to sign a contract extension to remain with the team. The 26-year-old is one year away from becoming an unrestricted free agent.
Jones is a smooth-skating, big-bodied, right-shot defenseman. He can play huge minutes and has been in the Norris Trophy conversation. He’s just what the Flyers need.
The situation in Columbus is different from two years ago, when the Blue Jackets lost Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin to free agency. Their intentions to leave weren’t made clear this early. Even at the 2019 trade deadline, Kekalainen was still holding out hope that his group might stay together and do something special. He added impending free agents Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel, rather than shipping out his rental players.
The reward for his boldness was massive but fleeting. The Blue Jackets pulled off that first-round upset of the Tampa Bay Lightning, but the stars did move on. After a qualifying-round win over the Toronto Maple Leafs in the bubble, the Blue Jackets sunk to 28th overall this year.
The club is also currently coachless, struggling to light a spark under Patrik Laine after dealing away young center Pierre-Luc Dubois, and captainless after dealing Nick Foligno to the Toronto Maple Leafs at the trade deadline.
Kekalainen picked up a 2021 first-round draft pick in exchange for Foligno. He got another one from the Tampa Bay Lightning in exchange for David Savard, so his asset cupboard is far from bare. It should get even fuller if he deals Jones before the draft on July 23, as is now expected.
What Jones Brings
Jones was originally drafted fourth overall by the Nashville Predators in a very good 2013 draft, behind Nathan MacKinnon, Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Drouin. He was born in Texas on October 3, 1994. At the time, his father, Popeye Jones, was playing power forward for the Dallas Mavericks.
Jones’ hockey path took him to the U.S. National Team Development Program, where he won back-to-back gold medals at the World U18 Championship. In his draft year, he moved over to the Portland Winterhawks of the WHL. He won a league title in 2013 under now-Vancouver Canucks coach Travis Green. He also won more gold with Team USA, at the 2013 World Junior Championship.
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In the NHL, Jones already has 580 career games under his belt. His 286 points are tops among any defenseman in his draft class. The Blue Jackets acquired him from Nashville on January 7, 2016, in exchange for center Ryan Johansen.
Since then, Jones has played in four All-Star Games. He finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting in the 2017-18 season, when he put up career highs in goals (16) and points (57).
Like most Blue Jackets, the 2020-21 season was tough for Jones. He finished the year with five goals and 28 points, and was an uncharacteristic minus-18. A fresh start will serve him well.
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The Cost Of Jones
According to CapFriendly, Jones’ current contract carries a cap hit of $5.4 million for next season. He can also submit a 10-team no-trade list. He’ll likely be seeking a landing spot on a team that he believes could contend — and the Flyers’ performance last season suggests that they’re not too far away.
It could also help the Flyers’ cause that Popeye is already in Philly, as a first-year assistant coach with the 76ers.
What’s the asking price? That depends on whether or not Jones will sign an immediate contract extension. An acquiring club could lock him up for as long as nine years in total — the last year of his current contract, plus an eight-year extension. Kekalainen would love to see it — that would maximize his return for Columbus.
Because Jones is such a desirable asset, a bidding war could ensue. If he finds himself among the final suitors, Fletcher will need to tread cautiously to ensure that he overpays by as little as possible.
Heading into the trade deadline, there was talk that the Flyers could be interested in trading for Mattias Ekholm or Ryan Ellis from the Nashville Predators. Free agency could also be an option. But Dougie Hamilton of the Carolina Hurricanes and Adam Larsson of the Edmonton Oilers are the top two right-shot blueliners who could test free agency. There’s a sense that both could end up staying with their current teams.
The salary cap is expected to stay stagnant at $81.5 million for the next several seasons as the NHL works to re-balance its books after Covid-19. That’ll be an ongoing challenge for general managers — and for agents.
Fletcher will need to keep his overall asset allocation in the front of his mind as he searches for the right players to improve his on-ice mix.