Proper planning for major moves in the NHL doesn’t happen in a spur of the moment fashion, but is best when circumstances can be anticipated and worked out ahead of time.
Kris Letang has been a number one defensemen for the Penguins for over a decade. He’s 34 years old and in the final year of his contract, still playing 23-24 minutes per game. The Pens may look to extend him this off-season, or they may see how his season and the team’s season goes to make decisions about the future down the line. But even if this isn’t the last season in Pittsburgh for Letang, his time as an elite first pair defenseman is surely well closer to the end than the beginning.
Another issue is that the right side of the defense looks pretty barren at this point: Cody Ceci is an impending free agent who may or may not be able to be retained. John Marino is solid but took a step-back in his sophomore campaign. Mark Friedman and Chad Ruhwedel are in the picture as depth options.
An opportunity could be available, in the form of Seth Jones. The talented defender plays a huge role, though he has taken some slack for his advanced metrics and work, he still is a 6’4, 215 pound right handed defender at a prime age (26), that moves around the ice at an elite level, and has proven offensive instincts and production to go along with a physical edge while eating even more minutes than Letang has recently.
Jones is also a free agent in 2022 and has told the Columbus Blue Jackets he will not be re-signing with them, a favor really since it gives them a chance to trade him for value now and doesn’t string their hopes along ala a John Tavares in New York situation.
The most common trade partners cited, at least in this league-wide view from The Athletic are Philadelphia, Chicago, Winnipeg and Colorado. Reports from Philly, a believed front-runner for interest, say that young winger Joel Farabee is virtually off-limits and a trade offer would likely include names like Phillipe Myers, Morgan Frost, picks and prospects.
If that is about the market for Jones, and it also indicates Columbus is open to hearing offers from division rivals, this could represent an opening for the Pens to start a shift the Letang era of the #1 defensemen to a new one with Seth Jones.
Would the Pens be willing to make a drastic move? Probably not under the current regime, who has said they’re comfortable with the core of the team and don’t anticipate major changes. However seeing Tampa have success with big-time blueliners like Victor Hedman, Mikhail Sergachev and Ryan McDonagh make it clear that loading up on defense is probably wise. Imagine the Pens in 2021-22 with at least Jones, Letang and Brian Dumoulin? That moves the needle, at least for a hypothetical world.
Pittsburgh is also in a unique position to potentially give Columbus something they want and need: a top four right handed defenseman signed for six more seasons, side-stepping the Jackets’ big problem of watching good players not want to sign with them. That, of course, would be Marino as the major piece going to CBJ. Is that something the Pens would or should entertain? It’s debatable, as Marino at a $4.4 million cap hit could be a very stout player for years to come. Edmonton may be able to offer Caleb Jones (ironically, Seth’s brother), but Marino is a better player than Caleb or Myers from the Flyers, or other probable trade chips.
Swapping Marino for Jones would up the ante in Pittsburgh to secure a star and bedrock defender. In the NHL we’ve seen a sign-and-trade with Vegas acquiring Max Pacioretty in a similar fashion from Montreal and having worked out an agreement, the numbers would have to work for Jones and Pittsburgh, but the Pens are sitting on a ton of cap space in 2022 with Letang’s contract expiring, as well as having Marino’s salary to dedicate to the hypothetical cause too.
Pittsburgh would have to chip in more, likely in the form of Samuel Poulin or the 2022 first round pick to give more value to Columbus. That article from The Athletic suggested that Colorado may or could give Samuel Girard, former first rounder Alex Newhook and another future first round pick. If that truly is what the Avalanche would offer, it’s probably game over at that point. But that package also feels excessive, and Colorado’s cap situation with needing extensions soon for Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar (all of whom will be getting fairly significant raises) might sap the ability and interest in also adding the future big ticket item of Jones.
If Jones was willing to sign an eight year extension for $8-8.5 million per year (roughly on par with what Alex Pietrangelo got on the open market last summer), that would be ballpark fair value for all from 2022-23 and going forward. Jones will play on a $5.4 million cap hit in 2021-22, which is very workable for Pittsburgh. Especially when you consider that basically one of Jones or Letang could be on the ice in 2021-22 for basically the entire game, much the same as Tampa successfully loading up and riding with Hedman/McDonagh on their left side all the way to championships.
Ultimately there are plenty of reasons why this wouldn’t get to completion: the Blue Jackets undoubtedly would prefer to send Jones to a western team, Jones might want to test his pure market value next summer, the Pens are going to feel content with Marino.
A Seth Jones trade would be a major swing for the fences. It would be a lot more of a “Jim Rutherford” type of move in the vein of getting Phil Kessel. On the surface it doesn’t necessarily fit the steadier M.O. of Ron Hextall, who hasn’t shown appetite in his managerial history to act so boldly. Then again, Hextall has also made an off-the-board and not predicted move to bring in Jeff Carter, which has solidified the Pens down the middle of the ice, showing an ability to think ahead and fill needs.
Bold moves, are precursors to bold ambitions — and the Pens still have that. It’s very rare that a player the caliber and stature of Jones becomes available at such a prime point of his career. Even if it’s a trade unlikely to be completed, it’s the type of consideration that is worth following up on to gauge and weigh options. The fit, need and more importantly the forward-looking construction of the team could put a big piece of the puzzle in place for the rest of the decade if the Pens could pull it off.
A Seth Jones (+extension) for John Marino + Poulin or 1st + lesser prospect/pick trade idea would be...
This poll is closed
Great! Sold! Do it if at all possible
Too much in trade cost for the Pens
Too much of a commitment to Jones’ future