When looking at a list of Blackhawks contracts headed into the 2023-24 season, one deal stands out.
Defenseman Connor Murphy, who’s the longest-tenured Blackhawk after the departure of Jonathan Toews at the end of the season, is the only player under contract past 2025, and his deal expires only a year later. The highest contract is Tyler Johnson’s $5 million, which will only be paid for this year, not down the road. The Blackhawks and GM Kyle Davidson will have a blank slate to build this team from the ground up.
Oh, except for 28-year-old Seth Jones, who’s making $9.5 million per year and will be under contract until 2030.
Jones, who was signed by Stan Bowman just a few months before his resignation, has been in the NHL for ten years, and was acquired from the Blue Jackets in exchange for Adam Boqvist along with a bundle of draft picks. He’s had a productive two seasons with the Blackhawks, playing in 78 and 72 games while scoring 51 and 37 points. Jones has been an anchor on the first defensive line, and has been on the ice for nearly half of most games.
Jones is a great player to have on the roster currently. The Blackhawks are returning from a scorched-earth rebuild that saw virtually every recognizable name leave via trade or free agency, and be replaced with a group of young prospects, many of whom have never set foot on NHL ice. That group clearly needs leadership, and Seth Jones’ skill and experience make him the perfect player to do so for a few seasons.
While Jones doesn’t lack experience or production, it’s safe to say he’ll seriously hamper the development of this young team way down the road. He’s beginning to develop into a leader, which is what this group needs. However, his contract doesn’t look great now, when he’s 28 years old. How can we expect it to look when he’s 34? By the time he’s in the final years of his deal, Connor Bedard will be a seasoned veteran. The rest of the prospect pool that’s expected to soon come up will be even older. If everything plays out for Chicago, they’ll need to offer those players massive contracts, similarly to how they did with Toews and Patrick Kane in the same year. The Blackhawks will need to scrape together every penny they can, and $9.5 million on the books won’t help.
Seth Jones’ massive contract represents a double-edged sword for Chicago’s future. In the short-term, the Blackhawks are paying practically nothing in contracts this year and next, and even have to acquire some contracts to hit the salary cap floor. Seth Jones is still a very talented player and can help lead this young team as they find their way in the NHL. However, his contract will eventually be cause for concern in that Chicago may not be able to retain their rising talent when it comes time to renew their contracts. With Seth Jones on the books, the Blackhawks’ front office will need to navigate the salary cap much more carefully for the rest of this decade.