The Columbus Blue Jackets didn’t enter the summer with many free agents, but one the team did have, 21-year-old defenseman Seth Jones, was a must-keep player. Before the free agency period began, Columbus accomplished its goal, signing the defenseman to a six-year, $32.4 million contract.
Jones was a pending restricted free agent and the Blue Jackets likely would have matched any offer sheet Jones received from another team, but getting the deal done early prevents that headache for both sides. The 21-year-old will make an average annual salary of $5.4 million through the 2020-21 season.
A former fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, Jones debuted with the Nashville Predators on his 19th birthday in the 2013-14 season. Columbus acquired him by trading top-line center Ryan Johansen in a deal back in January. In 41 games with the Blue Jackets at the end of last season, he had two goals and 20 points with a minus-9 rating.
In the long run, both sides should reap the benefits of the trade, but if the Blue Jackets had failed to re-sign Jones, it would have been an utter disaster. Letting a potential top-pair defensemen at 21 years old leave the organization is obviously a big no-no, but when it took giving up a player such as Johansen to even acquire him in the first place, there is definitely a lot of urgency to get a contract done.
Over three NHL seasons, Jones has 17 goals and 83 points with a minus-34 rating in 240 games, but he has the potential for a lot more moving forward. He didn’t score as many goals as usual, but his 31 points combined in both Nashville and Columbus last season was a career high. Jones also saw his ice time spike to 24:27 minutes per game after the deal. Through 40 games with Nashville at the beginning of the season, he averaged just 19:39 minutes per contest.
Part of the increased playing time came on the Blue Jackets power play. Jones led all Columbus defensemen with 2:40 power-play minutes per game last season. He played a role on the Nashville man advantage too, but it’s hard for any blue liner to crack the top unit with Shea Weber available. He also averaged 2:28 shorthanded minutes per game in Columbus.
No doubt, every Stanley Cup champion has that go-to defender that eats up a ton of minutes, plays in every situation and produces offensively. Columbus is correct to believe Jones can be this guy for them.
But due to the timing of this deal, his contract matters to a lot more parties than just himself and the Blue Jackets. Their agreement will mean quite a lot for 22-year-old defensemen Hampus Lindholm and Jacob Trouba.
Prior to Jones’ deal, Olli Maatta and the Penguins set the precedent by inking a six-year, $24.5 million contract in February. Maatta, who had six goals, 19 points and plus-27 rating, the third-best plus/minus among all blue liners in the NHL, was set to be a restricted free agent like Jones, Lindholm, and Trouba before coming to terms around the trade deadline.
But with Jones’ deal, Lindholm and Trouba will be able to ask for more money than Maatta received. While both Lindholm and Trouba have more goals and points than Jones, they each also have never posted a negative rating in any of their three season. Jones, on the other hand, has been a positive player just once in his three years.
This new precedent could put the two defensemen out of their current teams’ price range, especially in the case of the Jets and Trouba, who reports are already linking to the Boston Bruins.
Jones’ new deal will have ramifications around the league, but it’s a job well done by Columbus for completing an agreement that had to be made.