Should Blue Jackets rebuild now that Seth Jones reportedly won’t re-sign?

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During Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, Elliotte Friedman dropped a bombshell: Seth Jones reportedly told the Blue Jackets that he won’t re-sign with them.

(Jones, 26, is set to be an unrestricted free agent after his $5.4 million cap hit expires at the end of the 2021-22 season.)

On Sunday, re-installed Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson didn’t flat-out confirm to The Athletic’s Aaron Portzline that Seth Jones will be traded. That said, sources told Portzline that the Blue Jackets are most likely to trade Seth Jones during the offseason, possibly during the 2021 NHL Draft.

Again, Davidson didn’t tell Portzline (sub required) that Seth Jones will be traded. But he didn’t shoot that down, nor did Davidson deny the possibility of a Blue Jackets rebuild.

“The No. 1 thing we’d like to do is keep Seth,” Davidson told Portzline on Sunday. “He has every right in the world to leave if he wants to not extend the contract, but we’ll do what’s best for our team. We just want players who want to be here.”

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In the past, the Blue Jackets held onto pending free agents like Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin, rather than trading them before their contracts expired. Interestingly, Davidson mentioned “that was a different scenario,” though.

Earlier in May, Portzline indicated that Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen might consider repeating that experiment with Jones as a pending UFA. That now seems largely unlikely.

Now, there’s the outside chance that Jones has a change of heart. But all signs point to Jones leaving the Blue Jackets, whether it be via a trade this offseason, sometime in 2021-22, or leaving through as a UFA.

Let’s discuss some of the most important aspects of the Blue Jackets – Seth Jones situation.

Top defenseman, or possibly overrated?

How good is Seth Jones, really? The answer hinges on who you ask.

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For quite some time, an argument’s been building that Jones’ underlying work doesn’t match the perception that he is an elite defenseman. “J Fresh” dove into that last year, and the 2020-21 season was even more unkind to Jones.

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Truly, based on a lot of analytics metrics, the Seth Jones outlook can be outright jarring. His three-year “player card” from Evolving Hockey should give any even vaguely analytics-minded suitor at least a moment of pause:

Troublingly, it’s not just about “fancy stats.”

Almost a year ago, Jack Han broke down subtle issues with Jones’ defensive skating. So there’s even some at-least-mild cause for concern for those who want to scream “watch the game!”

Now, does this mean that Jones is for sure no-good? Not necessarily.

But keep in mind the stakes. The Blue Jackets were on the verge of handing Jones what would almost certainly be the biggest contract they ever signed.

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And consider how many teams are regretting the extensions they handed out to defensemen:

People are making an argument that being forced to trade Seth Jones might be a blessing in disguise for the Blue Jackets.

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Jones trade the catalyst for a Blue Jackets rebuild?

So, could Seth Jones’ free agency/trade situation push the Blue Jackets into a rebuild? Maybe it’s that last extra push, actually.

During the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline, Kekalainen and the Blue Jackets made the best of a bad situation. By trading pending free agents Nick Foligno and David Savard, the Blue Jackets jump-started a “reload” with complex deals headlined by first-rounders.

Even before a possible Seth Jones trade, the Blue Jackets already have two extra first-rounders. Cap Friendly presents an eyeball-friendly outlook of their next three years of picks:

In all of this, ask yourself a key question.

Even if the Blue Jackets kept Seth Jones, and even if you assume Jones is better than the analytics indicate, were they really going in a direction to truly compete?

Sure, it’s easy to talk yourself into rosier situations. Maybe you’ll just look at the team’s handful of upsets, and think that brighter days are ahead.

But look at that roster and try to picture it truly morphing into a contender anytime soon. This is a franchise that’s never finished second in its division, let alone won a division title. Just one 100-point season to its name.

It sure didn’t look like help was on its way, either. Back in January, Scott Wheeler ranked the Blue Jackets’ prospect pool 27th at The Athletic (sub required). Earlier, Elite Prospects placed the Blue Jackets’ farm system dead-last.

There’s an uncomfortable scenario where the Blue Jackets felt like they needed to sign both Seth Jones and Patrik Laine to risky, long-term deals. Maybe they would have had to overpay Zach Werenski to stick around, too.

Instead, the Blue Jackets might be forced into prizing long-term gains, even if it means short-term pain.

Jones could fetch a hefty price in a trade. Laine’s situation is tricky, but isn’t it better not to be locked into a no-win scenario? Werenski, 23, might not be as sour on Columbus as others.

Looking back at Kekalainen’s background as a scout — and recalling the coup that was choosing Pierre-Luc Dubois over Jesse Puljujarvi* — imagine what he could do with a bucket of picks? Again, the Blue Jackets already have a lot of ammo after trading Foligno and Savard. Things could get even more interesting if they trade Jones, and possibly others.

(In a recent mailbag, Aaron Portzline provided an amusingly short answer for the question of whether Laine would be back: “No.”)

* – Fascinatingly, Puljujarvi might work out nicely for Edmonton, but it took a long time.

Silver linings, but questions down the line

Now, there’s no doubt that the Blue Jackets face big questions about keeping players in Columbus long-term.

Plenty of people love Columbus, but it’s true that it doesn’t have the same cache as, say, New York or Boston. Ohio doesn’t have those sweet tax breaks. And no one’s going to mistake the weather for the jet-ski-friendliness of Florida.

But, if there’s any truth to John Tortorella being a repellant factor, well … that’s one issue out of the way.

Eventually, the Blue Jackets need to nurture an atmosphere where they keep Grade-A talent.

It’s possible that they might be better off just blowing up this current setup, and trying to lay down a better foundation. Consider it the hockey equivalent of being forced to pull off the Band-Aid.

Nope, none of this seems like it will be easy. Yet it might have been better than the Blue Jackets boxing themselves into a corner, especially if Jones isn’t as good as many think he is.

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James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Should Blue Jackets rebuild now that Seth Jones reportedly won’t re-sign? originally appeared on NBCSports.com