Of the Chicago Blackhawks‘ veterans, Seth Jones is the likeliest to stay around past the March 3 trade deadline. It’s not that he isn’t an attractive chip, however. While attempting to retool, former general manager (GM) Stan Bowman acquired Jones from the Columbus Blue Jackets in July 2021 and later signed him to a massive eight-year, $76 million deal, which began this season.
As the rebuild continues, Jones would ideally be right up there with Patrick Kane, Max Domi, and others as a potential trade piece. However, Jones is more than likely here to stay, and that’s not a bad thing. In fact, he’s more than capable of taking over the captaincy once Jonathan Toews departs, even as a short-term solution. As more prospects come up, his presence could make him the perfect mentor.
Blackhawks May Need a New Captain Soon
The Blackhawks will probably be one of the league’s busiest clubs come deadline day. Though neither Kane nor Toews have publicly waived their no-movement clauses (NMCs), Toews recently said part of him sees “the writing on the wall” regarding the state of the team in a recent interview with NBC Sports Chicago. He added change might be beneficial for both him and the franchise.
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Obviously, there are many scenarios here. The Blackhawks could keep Toews through the end of 2022-23 and let him walk this summer or even bring him back to help get to the cap floor next season. But those comments are the closest he’s hinted at possibly wanting out aside from briefly expressing disappointment last season.
It’s hard to project what the Blackhawks will look like post-deadline, let alone next season. They have eight pending unrestricted free agents (UFAs) and while some will stay and play out the rest of the season, it’s possible more prospects and younger players come up to fill roster spots. If and when Toews leaves, filling the captaincy should be a priority.
This is where Jones comes in. The Blackhawks would have many choices to fill the role; like Jones, Connor Murphy is an alternate captain while Jake McCabe would also be a sensible choice. What makes Jones different, though, is we know he’s here for the long run. Due to his contract, there’s little chance the Blackhawks deal him unless they retain a significant portion of his salary and/or add sweeteners such as draft or prospect capital, which wouldn’t be ideal.
Jones might be years removed from his career season in 2017-18, when he posted 57 points through 78 games and finished fourth in Norris Trophy voting. Yet, he still brings great leadership traits and is generally well-liked. Even if it only lasts a season or two, depending on when the Blackhawks get their next Kane or Toews, his experience and personality could pay off for the team before they begin contending again.
Jones’ Demeanor & Experience Should Benefit Chicago’s Younger Players
Jones is calm, cool, and collected, but he’s thrived in high-pressure moments. Look no further than Tuesday’s (Jan. 17) 4-3 overtime win against the Buffalo Sabres. After tying the game 3-3 in the last minute, he scored the overtime-winning goal, capping off a successful homestand.
Furthermore, Jones is great at leading by example, which the team will need as they get younger. Blue Jackets’ defenseman and Jones’ former teammate Zach Werenski described his personality as relaxed and down-to-earth while still bringing a competitive nature (from “Blackhawks’ Seth Jones is Jonathan Toews’ polar opposite — and his heir apparent as captain,” The Athletic, 12/23/22). Much like Blackhawks’ head coach Luke Richardson, Jones has shown he can keep the atmosphere light, which could go a long way for the team.
What also sets Jones apart is his experience. He’s a five-time All-Star and was vital in helping the Blue Jackets become regular contenders during his Columbus tenure from 2016-2021. Had he not left the team, you’d have to think he would’ve been in the mix for their next captain, which ultimately went to Boone Jenner after Nick Foligno’s departure. Experience isn’t everything, but having an established veteran such as Jones take the role could help what will surely be an inexperienced Blackhawks club these next few seasons.
This season, Jones has 19 points (four goals, 15 assists) through 32 games. He picked it up during the Blackhawks’ recent seven-game homestand, recording nine points. He’s far from perfect, and while it would be surprising to see him sustain this production long-term, he has made the best of the Blackhawks’ situation. Like Toews, you want someone with loyalty leading the way, and Jones has shown exactly that.
A Jones Captaincy Works for the Rebuild
Naming Jones captain makes sense now, but that could change if the Blackhawks land Connor Bedard or Adam Fantilli in this year’s draft. It’s unlikely they’d get the title their rookie season, but there’s precedent with teams naming second-year players captain, including the Colorado Avalanche with Gabriel Landeskog and Edmonton Oilers with Connor McDavid.
That said, as great as Bedard and Fantilli could be, that doesn’t mean they’d instantly deserve the captaincy. There’s always room for uncertainty, too. Just look at when the Sabres drafted Jack Eichel second overall in 2015; many projected him as the next face of the franchise, but injuries and other issues cut his Buffalo tenure relatively short. I don’t think that’ll happen with Bedard or Fantilli, yet anything’s possible.
Jones’ calming presence fits with a rebuilding team such as the Blackhawks. He has a different leadership style than Toews, but it works with where the team’s at right now, knowing there’s not much pressure to compete. Ideally, the Blackhawks will be more competitive in, say, three to four years, and will have developed their next superstar who’ll be capable of facing high expectations and taking accountability.
As bad as the Jones trade may seem, it could be a blessing in disguise for the Blackhawks. Kane, Toews, and others could all potentially go soon, leaving Jones as one of the team’s few players with All-Star potential. Though he wouldn’t be a captain on most other clubs, Jones’ captaincy could work well for the early stages of the rebuild and until the Blackhawks develop their next star.
Connor Smith covers the Chicago Blackhawks for The Hockey Writers. He’s based in the Chicago area and is currently pursuing his master’s at the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University. He received his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University in May 2022 and has experience reporting and editing for The Ball State Daily News, the campus’ student newspaper, along with interning for Best Version Media (BVM) Sports. You can learn more about Smith and his work through his online portfolio, connornsmith0719.wordpress.com.