On Saturday night, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman dropped the news that Seth Jones is unwilling to sign a contract extension with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Let's be clear, there is plenty of obvious downside to this news. The franchise is once again under the microscope, as the struggle to keep key players in Columbus long-term continues. From a pure hockey standpoint, Jones is arguably the Blue Jackets' single most important player. Lastly, with Nick Foligno out of the picture (at least temporarily), the captaincy has all but been assured to go to Jones.
But it's not all doom and gloom. To rip the bandaid off entirely, Jones probably isn't as good as many Blue Jackets fans believe him to be.
yeah uhh I wouldnt really be that interested in Seth Jones in UFA, and I wouldnt trade much for him tbh pic.twitter.com/D3FiagirHM— Rhys Jessop (@Thats_Offside) May 30, 2021
This article isn't intended to argue the 'eye test vs. analytics' war that has been waging for years, of which Jones is a central character. The truth is probably somewhere in the middle, and even though many in the public space believe he's overrated, it's hard to imagine that 31 other NHL teams feel the same way, particularly after his showing in Toronto's playoff bubble in the summer of 2020.
Instead, let's talk about what this means for the Blue Jackets, both in the short and long term. At the trade deadline, Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen made sure to distinguish between a 'reload' and a 'rebuild', arguing that the organization is interested in the former, but perhaps not the ladder.
"We wouldn't call it a step back," Kekalainen said of this season, which appears likely to snap the franchise's four-year round-of-16 playoff streak matched by only two other teams in the NHL. "Obviously we've had a disappointing season, but with these moves, I think we can do the reload. We can decide the pace of it with the moves we make in the offseason, and we'll be better for it."
With the Jones' news, that thinking should change.
With or without Jones, the Blue Jackets roster isn't close to competing for a Stanley Cup. If you watched a hockey game over Memorial Day Weekend (did you see the Colorado Avalanche?!), you'd know that, too. Sure, the roster may look completely different by the time the puck drops in 2021, between the Seattle Expansion Draft, the impending trade of one of the club's netminders, and three first-round picks (that may or may not be used for immediate help). But even the most pollyannish of Blue Jackets fans can't expect this team to have a legitimate shot at the Stanley Cup in 2021-22, or even the year after.
Im tearing it completely down if Im #CBJ. Jones, Laine, Werenski, Atkinson. Do what the Rangers did. Trade away veterans for draft picks and prospects. It was a decent four-year run relatively speaking, but its over.— Tom Reed (@treed1919) May 30, 2021
And while tearing a roster down isn't fun, the Blue Jackets frankly don't have that much work to do. There are a couple of veterans left on the roster, like Cam Atkinson and Gus Nyquist, but by trading Foligno and David Savard at the deadline, this young team got even younger. After that, there are really only a handful of players who have established themselves as key players - Oliver Bjorkstrand, Patrik Laine, Jack Roslovic, Max Domi, Boone Jenner, Zach Werenski, and Vladislav Gavrikov - and it's safe to wonder how many of those players are even considered part of the solution. Others, like Alexandre Texier, Andrew Peeke, Liam Foudy, Yegor Chinakhov, and Emil Bemstrom, are part of the next wave, in theory. The organization has some impressive prospects playing in the KHL, including Kirill Marchenko and Dmitri Voronkov, but beyond that, the cupboard is relatively bare.
To put it succinctly, this isn't a team with a particularly strong core of 'today' players OR 'tomorrow' players. Trading Jones and committing to a rebuild, while painful, would actually establish a chance of creating a strong core, even if it's not imminent.
The Blue Jackets recently extended GM Jarmo Kekalainen through 2024-25 and signed President of Hockey Operations John Davidson to a five-year deal. By committing that many years, ownership has all but said that they understand that the prudent, long-term view of the franchise should trump any potential shortcuts.
The next season or two could be tough sledding, but let's not pretend this team was ever that close. This is a franchise that has never finished second in its division, let alone won a division title. And unlike the upcoming draft, there is a consensus franchise player at the top of both the 2022 and 2023 NHL Drafts. Rebuild's can be painful, and they don't always work out, but we're seeing in real-time how a team can go from rock bottom to Stanley Cup favorite in a relatively short period. Treading water for another season would continue to put the Blue Jackets out of the playoffs but not picking high in the lottery.
Trading Jones will be painful. So, too, will be the subsequent moves. But it's the right move at the right time for a franchise that clearly needs a reset.