Saturday, July 13, 2024

The Last Man Standing: Seth Jones And The Chicago Blackhawks’ Rebuild

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The Blackhawks’ roster looks somewhat different than it did when Seth Jones joined the team in 2021. With the amount of roster turnover in the NHL today, that should be expected, right?

However, no one, Jones included, could have predicted it would be this different. When he arrived, the Blackhawks were coming off a 24-25-7 season in 2020-21 and were brimming with potential. They were a franchise with a storied history that was centered around a young core group including Alex DeBrincat, Jake McCabe, Kirby Dach, Dylan Strome, and Brandon Hagel.

The roster was balanced out with some more experienced players that will inevitably be in the Hall of Fame one day. Patrick Kane, Marc-Andre Fleury, and Jonathan Toews all played the role of leader for the squad. This perfect mix represented a clear path to the Stanley Cup, one that Jones wanted to be a part of.

The Downfall

Today, that roster has been flipped upside down. That 2021-22 team stumbled out of the gate, starting 1-9-2. A potential run to a championship quickly turned into a season of change, starting with the quick firing of head coach Jeremy Colliton. Even more quickly, GM Stan Bowman resigned amid sexual assault allegations. The disaster of a season closed with the Blackhawks finishing 28-42-12.

Fast forward to this season. The Blackhawks haven’t truly been in contention since Jones’ arrival. Fleury and Hage were shipped off to Minnesota and Tampa Bay, respectively, at the 2022 trade deadline. Debrincat and Dach were each traded away in separate deals during last year’s draft. As a restricted free agent, Strome wasn’t given a qualifying offer this past offseason and was released. Finally, Patrick Kane and Jake McCabe were each traded before this year’s deadline. From that core 2021 group, that leaves Jones and Jonathan Toews. Toews has been on the roster since he signed an eight-year deal in 2014, meaning even he will be an unrestricted free agent after this year.

“Last Man Standing”

That leaves Seth Jones. Currently 28 years old, Jones was drafted by the Nashville Predators in 2013. He played for the Preds on his entry-level contract until 2016 when he was traded to the Blue Jackets and signed a six-year deal. He supplied strong minutes for Columbus and was a focus of their defense up until the 2021 offseason when he was dealt to the Blackhawks. A week after the trade, Jones signed an eight-year extension worth $76 million.

In the two seasons since Jones joined the Blackhawks, he has been an anchor of the defensive unit. He accounted for 51 points last season and already has 31 this year. He’s constantly skating, with almost 25 minutes on the ice per game this year.

The Cheddar

With everything Jones brings to the table, it’s clear that Chicago is willing to pay him appropriately. Jones’ cap hit is $9.5 million every year of his contract, the second highest number on the Blackhawks (Toews at $10.5 million). It seems clear that he’s here to stay. But what makes him the “last man standing”?

Value

To put it simply, the Blackhawks need leadership. The aftermath of a wild trade deadline can get messy, and players were even noting last week that “nobody knew each other” in the locker room. Jones represents stability at 28 years old.

With a contract of Jones’ size, money is also clearly a factor. If he became “damaged goods”, and the Blackhawks were to attempt to trade him, they would undoubtedly have to eat some of the cost of his contract and get negative value in a trade.

Instead, it seems as if the Blackhawks will look to build around their star defenseman. He’s locked up under contract until 2030, when he’s 35 years old. The faces around him are constantly changing in this stage of Chicago’s rebuild, and that may hold true for quite some time. But the “last man standing” in Chicago is their elite defenseman, and they should have at least that position locked down while they traverse this rebuild.

Can Jones Continue Producing For That Long?

While no one knows what the future holds, Seth Jones seems up to the task. On Monday night, he scored twice in a span of 3:29 in the second period, displaying already-budding chemistry with Anders Bjork, who assisted on both. Jones also extended his goal streak to three games, and nearly completed the hat trick in the third period. Since the deadline, it already seems like he’s helping take over this new roster. This ability to step in and take charge is why Seth Jones should be the cornerstone of the Chicago Blackhawks franchise for years to come.

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