What should Seth Jones’ next contract look like?
That’s the (multi) million dollar question this offseason if you’re following the Columbus Blue Jackets. It has to be enough to be part of a package that is appealing enough to keep the right-handed defenseman; it also has to be not too much as to not disrupt other contracts coming due in the immediate future such as Joonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins, Zach Werenski, Patrik Laine, and so on.
So, we decided to take a look.
What is Seth Jones as a player?
Arguably, the way we measure defensemen is still flawed. After all, how do you measure the prevention of something that was supposed to happen? But that being acknowledged, our default – and most public – measure is points and games played. Cap Friendly has wonderful resources that can use such data to find comparable contracts.
The question is: what has Jones produced (in standard terms)?
Here’s how the blueliner has fared in games played and points produced throughout his career.
NOTE: It bears mention here that the analytics community has not looked favorably on Jones’ on-ice performance. As an example, Dom Luszczyszyn’s GSVA projections show Jones’ market value during his current contract at $3.3MM / year.
We are not neglecting that here, rather, we are using data points most commonly used in contract negotiations.
But wait, the last two seasons haven’t been a full 82 games, and comparable contracts that have been signed in past seasons are going to operate as such. For the 2019-20 season, as far as Jones goes, that’s OK. The defenseman broke his ankle in February and was not expected to return until the projected beginning of the playoffs; this season, he was healthy, yet just clocked in 56 games. Can we try to make this year more of an apples-to-apples comparison?
To get a better estimate, we took Jones’ points per games played this past year (.50) and multiplied it by 78 – an estimate of the number of games he might have played in an 82-game season.
Here’s how that looks.
That’s a much better picture (for Jones at least), particularly considering the turns that the Blue Jackets’ performance took on ice this season.
So now we have an estimate of Jones’ performance on a standard scale, and we can use it to look at some contract comparables.
A key for the Blue Jackets is to get a decision out of Jones this offseason.
Does he want to be a Blue Jacket for the long term? If so, that means signing an extension this summer (the CBA prohibits negotiation prior). Here’s what comparables come up if we use Jones’ point production and age up and until this year (once again factoring in that 82-game adjustment as all other contracts compared operate on that denominator).
Of note, we also limited the field to right-handed defensemen as that is a positional asset for a player like Jones. For juxtaposition’s sake, we added in the most-likely projection from Evolving Wild for the blueliner (both for if Jones extended with Columbus, or if he went elsewhere).
On a cursory review, Jones’ projected contract value looks to be somewhat in line with his colleagues including some variance if he signs with the Blue Jackets or elsewhere. Cap hit-wise, Jones’ current contract comes in at 6.6% of the organization’s total cap hit while this projected contract equates to 9.4% (CBJ) or 8.5% (non-CBJ).
Again, these numbers contemplate that Jones signs an extension this summer (a focus of course for the Columbus front office), but does anything change if Jones decides not to sign this season and instead waits for the summer of 2021-22? After all he is under contract through next season, so nothing has to be signed this summer, technically.
Let’s look at how the comparables shake out in that case. We don’t have an estimate for Jones from Evolving Hockey (we’ll ballpark their estimate for 2021), and we added a year to Jones’ age, plus a projected year of games and performance. We once again used the estimated 78 games played, and added one more year with his career average for points per season (37.47, which is lower than his production over the past five seasons: 42.96).
NOTE: we did not add additional games or points to other players as Cap Friendly takes that into account when we submitted our simulated season for Jones.
The deck chairs shuffle a bit, but the players remain the same. While Tyson Barrie’s contract has to give agents fits, again we see that Jones’ performance to date ranks right among those players earning anywhere from $6.5MM (sorry Tyson, we can’t) to $11MM per season.
We see the match scores here. With such a broad range, of dollars and matches, how close does Jones come to players making top dollar if that, in fact, is part of his request for his next contract?
Let’s look at what the high end of compensation could look like for Jones – our estimate, not his or anyone from the player’s camp or Blue Jackets organization. Here are the comparables if Jones makes $10MM AAV on his next deal.
While we kept Erik Karlsson out of early comparables (because he’s a different type of player, as is Brent Burns, et al) he obviously shows up here due to his price tag, but again, a lot of familiar faces show up from earlier comparables and Jones’ does rate that far off from them using these core measures.
Let’s look at the player that Jones ranked most closely too across all three scenarios: Washington’s John Carlson and let’s do a little more math, because $8MM a year in 2018 with a different salary cap may or may not be close to $10MM a year in 2021 with the current flatter cap the NHL is burdened with at present.
Back when we looked at Zach Werenski’s next contract, the year over year inflation for players’ salaries given cap growth was 3.26-percent. The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously changed that. What was projected to be a project cap of $82-83MM in 2019, is now scaled back to a cap of $81.5MM for the near term. That changes the inflation rate from 3.26-percent to just a 1-percent (.83) year over year increase.
So, if Carlson’s contract was signed today, all things being equal, the contract would increase only to $8.2MM. That puts some shade on Jones’ $10MM.
If inflation had continued at pre-pandemic rates, Carlson’s $8MM would actually be $8.9MM. So that is a little closer to the pre-pandemic prices that players were getting, giving a $10MM some credence.
What does it all mean?
If we look around the league, and compare what Seth Jones has done versus other NHL players, he’s due a raise. While the low end AAV projection of his next contract might be closer to $7.5MM, it’s quite likely that the player can command something in the $8-9MM range per year.
Do the Blue Jackets pay that? Perhaps. The pay raise doesn’t just lock in a player on the ice, it does go towards the intangibles of righting the perception that top players don’t want to stay in the Blue Jackets organization.
And if the Blue Jackets venture into what might be an overpay – closer to $10MM – it’s more than the player might match up to, but it’s not double or triple his worth (at least according to traditional metrics). Where the final numbers end up for you, likely varies greatly depending on your opinion of his play compared to other players making similar dollars as well as your consideration of Jones’ value to his team.
A big Jones contract would eat up a chunk of the total cap, and, as mentioned above, other big signings loom. But if the focus for Columbus is to reload and contend, and therefore keep Seth Jones, a big contract for the defenseman is likely a necessary and deserved step.
All data via Evolving-Hockey.com and Cap Friendly