After Friday's big news and seemingly a full month of arguing with people on the internet about whether or not Seth Jones is good, I took a deep breath yesterday and I suggest all of you do the same. The recaps, tweets, and headlines were ABSURD. I really like Ben Pope. I think he does good work. This though...
Catastrophic to add a top pair defenseman?
It would be catastrophic to NOT have a top pair defenseman. That's what the Hawks were staring in the face. They haven't been able to draft or develop a true top pair guy since they drafted Keith, Seabrook, and Hjalmarsson over 15 years. They've tried to find them. They've drafted defensemen high in recent drafts. You can't win unless you have bonafide #1 type guys. Under no circumstances is adding a player as good as Jones catastrophic. I am higher on him than most. I've read and studied all the same analytics the internet loves to reference. I've also talked to Analytics people who sell data to NHL teams. I've talked to people in hockey ops from four other organizations(one west, three east). I've talked to guys who played against him. Universally, Jones is lauded as a stud. I've said I have one concern about his ability to stay connected and take away space in transition. People in hockey have told me that some of that is by design because CBJ concedes the blue line more than most teams. Who knows. I am willing to trust my network of experts and friends in the game as well as my own eyes that have come with 30 years now of playing and watching hockey. That "WAR" stat is simply not something that NHL teams use because hockey is so fluid with so many variables that you can't boil a player down to one simple stat. I wish you could. So do NHL teams. It would be a lot easier to evaluate players if that were the case. They'd save millions of dollars on scouting, their own internal tracking/analytics, and third party proprietary data.
This does not impact the "rebuild" mindset as Jones is young and here for the long term. He's a pillar of the next generation of Blackhawks teams with Debrincat and hopefully Dach. I don't understand the vitriol from the internet about Jones. People would rather point to something "simple" and be with the "majority" on the internet instead of breathing deep and acknowledging that they may not know everything and a talent like Jones might be more like what he was in 2018-19(a top 5 dman) than what he was in a weird, shortened season on a shitty CBJ team in 2021(not speaking about Pope here, more so the people on twitter).
I had a flash of sticker shock at the $9.5 AAV as well, but I don't know what people think a top UFA dman should cost. We just saw Karlsson who was older and with a more one-dimensional game and an injury history get $11M. Cale Makar as an RFA got $9M. That's the going rate for top defenseman and once you acknowledge that Jones is likely that you won't worry about the cost because EVEYRONE is off the books soon anyways.
And now...acknowledging another great defenseman
From the new 4 to the old. I LOVE Nik Hjalmarsson. I think that anyone who got all three should have their number retired. I would hang Hjalmarsson in the rafters. An ELITE shut down style defenseman. God willing we can do the same thing with 4 that we did with 3 in Chicago. Double retired.
Now…a few people brought this Laz tweet to my attention
I think this is the incorrect way to look at this trade. I LOVE Murphy. Very good player. Leader. All of that is good. With that being said, it did take Murphy a few years to settle in here and become a top 4 defenseman and Hjalmarsson continued to be an effective player for the Coyotes for several more seasons. Draft Day 2017 when Stan traded Panarin and Murphy inside of a minute officially ended the dynasty and the team never recovered. They haven't made the playoffs since. They wasted the last great years of 19 and 88 because they were looking at the future and Murphy's "cost controlled" contract. Well…that contract is in its last year and the Hawks never made the playoffs. So now the Blackhawks are in a similar position with Murphy that they were with Hjalmarsson without any of the playoff memories to go with it. Murphy will turn 29 this season and he took more hits than any defenseman this year. All the same questions about wear and tear with Hjalmarsson as they look to build for the future are there with Murphy. As much as I love Murphy, trading Hjalmarsson and abruptly ending a golden era was not a "win".
And now your questions…
They're closer than they were after the Jones trade, but realistically there's no evidence that they're close. They have front office issues(to say the least), coaching issues, personnel issues, and prospect pool issues. There's no clear path. The most optimistic view would be mayyyybbbeee 2024? Dach becomes a true #1 center. Toews and Kane re-sign at lower cap hits and are still effective at age 36. Reichel becomes a key top 6 piece. Overall though if I had to guess the Blackhawks aren't getting to a championship level any time soon with the current management. They've proven that they're lost.
I think they'd like some veteran insurance/help for Lankinen. Stan talked about "young goalies becoming available next summer" when he was explaining why he couldn't give Crawford a two year deal. "Opportunity cost". So now the Blackhawks are looking to sign a veteran(or trade for one) who will be likely more expensive and worse than Crawford was. Again…woof for Stan. Could've had Crawford(I know he retired but he would've signed here and played with a 2 year deal. He just couldn't find the motivation to play in fucking Newark and who could blame him). A tandem of Lankinen and Crawford would look pretty good right now. But, ya know…Stan.
It's something they should look at. It would mean trading Strome, finding a way to get rid of Brett Connolly, not giving a QO to Suter, and having an understanding of what you're going to do in the future with Toews, Murphy, Lankinen, etc. So…it won't happen. Danault has been linked to LA where he will slot in with Byfield and Turcotte and the Kings will be contenders before the Blackhawks because they've executed a plan better.
The more you look at things with this group the more you realize things need to go pretty perfectly here for them to be where they want to be. The Hawks are in a division now with Colorado, Minnesota, Winnipeg, and Dallas. We'll see how things shake out, but right now they look like the 5th best team in the division. No guarantee that they're better than St Louis or Nashville either. I don't know what it will take for Stan to get fired. Hopefully the Jones deal is the final major move of his smoke and mirrors tenure.