Seth Jones isn’t a forgotten man in Columbus.
The contributions the defenseman made to the Columbus Blue Jackets on and off the ice loom large for the franchise even after Jones was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks on July 23, 2021.
The 27-year-old returns to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; BSOH, NBCSCH, ESPN+, NHL LIVE) to face the Blue Jackets for the first time.
“You can see what he brings to the game, he does so much,” Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner said. “Offensively, he’s really good but defensively he shuts down so many plays, he’s so hard to get around, blocks shots, does the hard things as well. We saw it day in, day out here, going against him in practice and battling with him during games. Definitely a special player.”
The Blue Jackets received defenseman Adam Boqvist, a first- and second-round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, and a first-round choice in the 2022 or 2023 NHL Draft, for Jones and two draft picks.
Chicago (12-18-5) is seventh in the eight-team Central Division and 26th in the NHL.
Jenner, defenseman Zach Werenski and other members of the Blue Jackets have stayed in touch with Jones since his departure, often trading emails or texts, or sitting down for some video game competition. Werenski revealed “Call of Duty” is often the game of choice. He often played with Jones on a defense pair after joining the Blue Jackets for the 2016-17 NHL season.
“I have a little edge up, a little bit, but he’s getting better,” Werenski said.
President of hockey operations John Davidson told ESPN that Jones did not want to sign an extension with Columbus. Facing the possibility of not being able to re-sign Jones before he reached unrestricted free agency, the Blue Jackets traded him to the Blackhawks following the 2020-21 season. He’s in the last season of a six-year, $32.4 million contract ($5.4 million annual average value) he signed with Columbus on June 29, 2016.
Five days after the trade, Jones signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension ($9.5 million AAV) with Chicago that begins in 2022-23. He has scored 25 points (three goals, 22 assists) in 35 games this season, playing the same solid game that had seen him garner significant support for the Norris Trophy during his time with the Blue Jackets, including a fourth-place finish in voting for the best defenseman in the NHL after the 2017-18 season.
Jones scored 223 points (50 goals, 173 assists) in 381 regular-season games for Columbus. He was part of four of the Blue Jackets’ six Stanley Cup Playoff appearances and scored 20 points (five goals, 15 assists) in 31 playoff games following his trade to Columbus by the Nashville Predators for forward Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, 2016, He’s scored 311 points (68 goals, 243 assists) in 615 NHL games.
Columbus coach Brad Larsen said Jones hit his stride the second season after the trade. Larsen was a Blue Jackets assistant for seven seasons before replacing John Tortorella on June 10, 2021.
“[Jones] was focused, dialed in and ready to go every game,” Larsen said. “Sure, we had some ups and downs, but he really took pride in being a hard, 200-foot defender. He’s got legs, he can skate up and down the ice, but his ability to defend is what I thought separated him and should be put in that conversation of Norris Trophy, because of how well he plays on that side of the puck. He’s a great young man.”
Werenski said he learned a lot from Jones while being his defense partner for five seasons.
“On the ice, unless you watch him every day and see him in practice, see him in games, I don’t think a lot [of people] appreciate the game he plays,” he said. “The way he can control a game, slow things down, take over games when he wants to. Whether something good happens or bad happens, in his mind he always stays the same, never too high or too low.
“As a young guy, he was the perfect partner to have, with how talented he is and how he handled himself, on the ice or off the ice. Everyone had a ton of respect for the things he does on the ice and how he acts off it.”
Though the reunion will be short, Jones’ former teammates are looking forward to welcoming back such an important part of the franchise and their lives.
“Over the six years, the ups, the downs, just going through the process together and battling with him every day, it was good,” Jenner said. “I think we pushed each other on the ice, and we tried to make each other better. We’re obviously good friends off the ice because of it. Definitely hope to catch up with him.”