While the deal isn’t official yet, the Chicago Blackhawks have reportedly traded defenseman Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers, causing many fans to wonder just what it is that the team is planning on doing to rebuild its roster this offseason.
The move gives the Blackhawks a good deal of additional salary cap space, nearly $4.7 million worth, and thus the speculation is now rampant about what exactly it is that they plan to do with it.
Some NHL fans believe that the answer to that question may have been made plainly obvious by the player that the Blackhawks acquired in the deal with the Oilers. According to multiple reports, that player is defenseman Caleb Jones, whose brother Seth is potentially on the trade market as one of the most highly-sought after blue liners in the game.
Seth Jones is set to hit free agency after next season, but he’s reportedly made it clear to the Blue Jackets that he wants to move on and does not want to re-sign with them beyond the end of his current contract.
If that is indeed the case, then acquiring his brother could be a potential move by the Blackhawks to signal their interest in Seth. He has a reasonable cap hit for the 2021-22 season at $5.4 million (coincidentally a little more than $100,000 under what Keith’s cap hit is going to be), and he would give the Blackhawks a top-pairing blue liner that could help to kickstart a rebuild that has been lacking in success in terms of turning out quality defensemen.
There are naturally a few questions that would need to be answered prior to any decision on the Jones front. For starters, would Jones want to play in Chicago? Jones has a modified no-trade clause in his contract, enabling him to reject trades to up to 10 teams. If the Blackhawks are on that list, they would have a hard time convincing him to take them off of it, rendering trade speculation moot.
Another question on the part of the Blackhawks could be one of production. Jones’ points-per-game average has been on a decline over the last three years, with 28 points to his credit in 56 games last season. That is down quite a bit from the 57 he had in the 2017-18 season, when he scored a career high 16 goals for the Jackets.
Was that downturn in production due to the system of former Jackets head coach John Tortorella, or is that a concerning trend for a player who will be entering his ninth NHL season?
Finally, there’s the question of what exactly the Jackets would be able to command in terms of a trade return. If it’s true that Jones has told the Blue Jackets that he does not want to return, that will put some pressure on the team, especially with only one year remaining on his deal. The weak free agent class, at least in terms of blue liners, could potentially bolster the possibility of a good return for Columbus however, and that could require the Blackhawks to give up some decent capital in order to cut the line and give themselves a chance to lock him up long term.
Whatever ends up happening, the Blackhawks have positioned themselves to potentially acquire an impact player this offseason, and the fact that they specifically acquired Seth Jones’ brother could be a signal on what their ultimate intentions are.