There’s plenty to get you excited about the upcoming season with the Chicago Blackhawks. They have a fresh look at defense and at the net, Jonathan Toyos is very much back, and they have a number of young players looking to head in the right direction in their nascent career in the National Hockey League.
But, look beyond this season and things will start to get complicated.
Chicago decided, seemingly overnight, that the “reconstruction” process was over and went hard this summer with the addition of Seth Jones, Jake McCabe, Tyler Johnson and Marc-Andre Fleury. These additions are a large part of the reason why there is optimism that the Black Hawks could return to being contenders in the Stanley Cup this season. But starting in 2022-23, Seth Jones’ contract extension (an eight-year deal with a $9.5 million cap) kicked in and things started to shrink financially. Even with the league’s salary cap potentially increasing by $1 million next season, Chicago still has to make some tough decisions.
Athletic’s Dom Luszczyszyn released his annual “The 10 Worst Decades in the NHL” article earlier this week, with Jones’ extension reaching the top of the list. Now today, according to his model, he shows that the Blackhawks are one of the worst teams in the NHL when it comes to their spending efficiency.
You will scroll a little.
Ranking (roughly) each contract in the league and measuring each team’s overall contract efficiency.
Unsurprisingly, it’s the Colorado with the best card in the league. https://t.co/4JeJLFtpyA pic.twitter.com/ZItrY0NBjk
Dom at the Athletic (domluszczyszyn) August 12, 2021
As Luszczyszyn points out, the Blackhawks have been heading in the right direction this off season with their roster moves. They did not overpay Nikita Zadorov and transferred Duncan Keith to the Oilers team. While Keith has been out of trouble defensively in the past few seasons with the Blackhawks, his production and value commensurate with his contract hasn’t been favorable to either the Luszczyszyn or the Blackhawks. They added a more effective defensive-minded player in Jack McCabe at a reasonable rate as well.
Then came Seth Jones’ trade and extension.
From Luszczyszyn’s post:
They then signed Seth Jones for another eight years, whose contract alone saw the team drop 12 places in these rankings. Without Jones’ extension, the Chicago cover sheet looks relatively clean, with Brandon Hagel’s latest extension looking solid as well.
I understand that Jones’ rhetoric is disgusting to many. It’s better than its numbers say, it’s worse than the eye test suggests. Let’s live in that middle and simply appreciate that Chicago gave him the third-highest salary for a defensive man, for eight years, starting in 2022-23, the year following his worst season, before he plays one game for the team.
It’s a big gamble for the Blackhawks to rest nearly $10 million on a player like Jones to be one of the catalysts for change for a franchise that has fallen off the top of the NHL mountain quickly since the end of the 2015 season, notes Luszczyszyn’s exit on Jones’ deal:
The $9.5 million deal carries an expected value of about 2.2 wins, which is the norm for an elite defensive man. Not the top pair, not number one, but the elite. It’s a benchmark that Jones hasn’t achieved since the 2017-18 season according to the GSVA. In the subsequent two seasons, he was close enough that it was fair to argue that he qualified given the possibility that he underestimated the numbers. last year? He wasn’t even close, and he’s been struggling to control play and establish a somewhat troubling trend streak: three straight seasons with a consistently negative relative target average. This means that the Blue Jackets have had a better difference in opportunity over each of the past three seasons with Jones on the bench. Given how weak the team was last year, that’s a worrying sign.
Jones’ best season of his eight-year NHL career so far came in the 2017-18 season, ranking 10th among defenders by points (57) and fourth in Norris’ votes behind PK Subban, Drew Doughty and Victor Hedman. The Blackhawks are putting a lot of stock in the fact that with the change of scenery and system, it could go back to the 2017-18 model. The prospect of that turnaround and Jones returning to elite level this season or next season is much better than it would have been after turning 30 during the 2024-25 season.
As it stands now, the two longest Black Hawks on record are Jones and fellow defender Jake McCabe. Chicago will have to be smart and strict as their financial decisions move into the summer of 2022. It’s possible that Marc-Andre Fleury will not return and Andrew Shaw’s contract expires after this season, so there will be flexibility available to them. But decisions must be made about Kirby Dash, Dominic Kopalic (qualified to arbitrate), Philip Kurashev, Kevin Lankinen, Malcolm Soban, Colin Delia, Dylan Strom (qualified to arbitrate), and Conor Murphy to name a few. only few From players on deals that expire in the UFA and RFA.
Not to mention Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane entering the final years of their current deals. What are the Blackhawks doing with the last two remaining members of the Chicago Blackhawks era of “One Goal” hockey and two members of the “Mount Rushmore” Chicago Blackhawks hockey team?
That’s why I’m not envious of being a General Manager.