Two years ago the Columbus Blue Jackets saw two of their biggest stars walk in free agency. This time, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen got his money's worth.
Friday night, shortly before the 2021 NHL entry draft began, the Blue Jackets traded star defenseman Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks. Jones, who has one year left on his six-year contract with a $5.4 million cap hit, had previously informed Columbus brass that he would not sign a contract extension to stay with the team on a long-term deal. The only option the Jackets had was to trade him, and he had a 10-team no-trade list. But the Blackhawks weren't on that and have now offered him a massive extension.
It was a wild day to cap off a wild week in the NHL. But it's an expansion year, with the Seattle Kraken joining the league as the 32nd team. Like we saw four years ago when the Vegas Golden Knights joined the league, things get a little screwy and very spicy in these years, so here we are.
We'll recap it all, but first let's break down this Jones deal.
We don't usually see this kind of action in the NHL. Three-team trades such as the one executed July 17 between the Philadelphia Flyers, Nashville Predators and Vegas Golden Knights are usually reserved for the NBA. But between the expansion draft and the first day of the entry draft, several players switched teams, some of them a few times, including legitimate stars.
Unless your name is Taylor Hall, this rarely happens in the salary-cap era. NHL teams hang on to their stars for as long as possible, and stars have incentive to sign multiyear extensions with the teams that hold their rights because they can sign longer—and often more valuable—contracts than they usually would in free agency.
Jones is entering his prime at 26. He wanted some control over where he would play his best hockey. Chicago recently traded away longtime franchise cornerstone Duncan Keith to the Edmonton Oilers, so there was a need on the blue line. Plus, Jones' younger brother, Caleb, was one of the players sent to Chicago in the Keith trade.
"It's tough to say goodbye to a player like Seth Jones," Kekalainen said in his post-first-round Zoom press conference. "He's not only a great player but a great teammate, and he'll be missed."
The full breakdown of the trade is as follows: Columbus received defenseman Adam Boqvist, a first-round pick (12th overall) and a second-round pick (44th overall) in the 2021 draft, which was flipped to the Carolina Hurricanes for defenseman Jake Bean, and a first round pick in 2022.
In addition to Jones, the Blackhawks received a first-round pick this year (the 32nd overall pick that Columbus acquired at the trade deadline from Tampa Bay Lightning for defenseman David Savard) and a sixth-round pick in 2022.
The moves to bring in Boqvist and Bean were aimed at improving the power play. The Blue Jackets had one of the league's worst power plays last season, converting on 15.4 percent of chances to rank No. 27 overall. Kekalainen felt Boqvist and Bean could help address that deficiency.
"We're getting Adam Boqvist who was eighth overall (in 2018) and is a very talented player who can run a power play," Kekalainen said. "With the two great defensemen that we have, Zach Werenski and Seth, we haven't had a very good power play. He's going to get a great chance to excel in that role and share it with Zach."
The Blue Jackets got exactly what they wanted, but as for what Chicago is getting, it's unclear why they gave up so much. Jones was disgruntled and wanted out of Columbus, he was coming off a down season and the Blue Jackets had little leverage.
It's no secret that player retention in Columbus has always been a problem. Pierre-Luc Dubois wanted to be traded so badly he pretty much stopped skating in a game last year, which saw former head coach John Tortorella staple him to the bench before the club traded him to the Winnipeg Jets as part of the trade for Patrik Laine.
But next year's draft class is loaded, and the Hawks gave up their first-round pick to bring in Jones and hand him a big contract. It's a risk. But if Chicago becomes a contender immediately, then maybe it will be worth the reward.
"You're always looking for opportunities to accelerate your team's progression," Bowman said. "There are so few opportunities to add a player of this caliber that you have to take them when they come around."
OEL and Garland to Vancouver for All of the Bad Contracts
Vancouver Canucks general manager Jim Benning solved a short-term problem by creating a long-term issue. The Arizona Coyotes got a first-round draft pick after all, but they took on bad contracts in order to get one.
The Coyotes forfeited their first-round pick this year because of combine-testing violations, but they traded defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson and winger Conor Garland for Vancouver's No. 9 pick Friday night, as well as depth forwards Jay Beagle, Loui Eriksson and Antoine Roussel. Those contracts were stopping the Canucks from re-signing Elias Pettersson and Quinn Hughes, both restricted free agents.
But Ekman-Larsson, 30, isn't the player he once was and still has six years left on his contract with an $8.25 million cap hit and a no-movement clause. Garland is a 25-year-old top-six forward, so to give him up and take on bad contracts evokes memories of the Coyotes of old. It's not clear whether the club intends to be competitive anytime soon, but this move could reasonably lead fans to believe that it won't be.
Buchnevich from the Blueshirts to the Blues
The New York Rangers traded forward Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for Sammy Blais and a 2022 second-round pick. Yes, you read that right: The Rangers traded a top-line winger for a bottom-six forward.
Buchnevich, a restricted free agent, will probably command $5 million or more in arbitration, and the Rangers might be facing a cap crunch—but not for a few years. So if they weren't gearing up for a blockbuster trade, then this just looks like bad asset management on the part of general manager Chris Drury, who is leading his first draft in that position.
Drury probably isn't done yet. He needs to get a center for Artemi Panarin. Time will tell whether or not this was a good deal.
Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers for…a lot
Shortly before choosing Michigan defenseman Owen Power with the first overall pick, Buffalo Sabres general manager Kevyn Adams sent Rasmus Ristolainen to the Philadelphia Flyers for defenseman Robert Hagg, the 14th overall pick in this draft and a 2023 second-round pick.
Following the conclusion of the draft's opening round, Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman reported a deal was in place for Buffalo to send center Sam Reinhart to the Florida Panthers for goalie prospect Devon Levi.
Philadelphia general manager Chuck Fletcher said he had looked at Ristolainen for three years, but there are some who feel the Flyers overpaid for the big blueliner. Scouts and analysts tend to disagree on Ristolainen. Analytics show he has been poor in his own end. But scouts love the way he moves for his size (6'6") and his physicality.
Clearly, there is a market for defensemen this year.
It was a good start for the Sabres, who needed to bring in some kind of capital for the players who didn't want to be there, but captain Jack Eichel is the biggest domino. And if he doesn't get moved during the second day of the draft, then he may end up back in Buffalo next season whether he likes it or not.
Hall Finds a Home
The Boston Bruins winger and pending free agent signed a four-year deal contract to remain with the Bruins for four more seasons. But what's interesting about this contract is that he's being paid the same amount he was two contracts ago, $6 million AAV.
Last year, the 2018 Hart Trophy winner signed a one-year, $8 million contract with Buffalo to reset his market. He maneuvered a trade to the Bruins after an awful first half of the season and regained his form in Boston.
Two years ago, Hall's agent, Darren Ferris, was seeking a large payday for his client, but no numbers or term were ever exchanged with the New Jersey Devils. He's since played for three teams, including his disastrous stint in Buffalo, so he wants some stability.
The AAV is probably what he deserves, but the key part of the contract is the full no-trade clause and no-movement clause next season, per CapFriendly.
"I think most of my focus throughout this whole process was directed at playing for the Boston Bruins next year and for years to come," Hall said. "My last go at free agency didn't really go the way I wanted it to. That's just my personal experience. After playing in Boston for that period of time, I knew that was where I wanted to play. Fortunately enough, I was able to deal with some good people."