Not a bad first step, but Blackhawks defenseman Jones knows there's more he can do

  • Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones clears the puck from harm's way April 23 at San Jose.

    Blackhawks defenseman Seth Jones clears the puck from harm's way April 23 at San Jose. Associated Press

  • Seth Jones is checked by Vegas center Chandler Stephenson during Wednesday's game at the United Center.

    Seth Jones is checked by Vegas center Chandler Stephenson during Wednesday's game at the United Center. Associated Press

 
 
Updated 5/2/2022 9:41 AM

Derek King has spoken his mind all season since being named interim coach of the Blackhawks in November.

It was a refreshing change of pace after computers full of vanilla quotes from Jeremy Colliton and Joel Quenneville.

 

King took it to another level last Wednesday morning, though, when asked about defenseman Seth Jones.

"Start of training camp, I was like, 'Hmm, I don't know why they signed this guy,'" said King, who was not at all joking. "Honestly. Just watching him, I was like, 'Uhh.'"

It was a feeling many of us had, but that King expressed it publicly was shocking.

Fortunately for the Hawks, Jones settled in and did what he could to hold the defense together.

Was he perfect? Or even elite? No.

But he did set a career high in assists (46), is 15th among NHL defensemen with 51 points and second in average time on ice at 26 minutes, 13 seconds.

"He (got) comfortable in his surroundings (and) some new faces ... then he just took off," King said. "He's an elite hockey player. He's a stud."

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Jones was acquired by then-GM Stan Bowman from Columbus last off-season and signed an eight-year, $76 million extension, which begins next season.

The Blue Jackets received Adam Boqvist (11G, 11A in 17:03 TOI this season), the Hawks' first- and second-round picks in 2021 and their first-round pick in 2022 (unless the Hawks move up to the No. 1 or 2 pick when the draft lottery is held May 10. If that happens Columbus gets the Hawks' first-round pick in 2023).

No doubt: Bowman paid a steep price.

Asked to assess his play, Jones said: "I had some good moments in the year and had some not-so-great moments. I hit the 50-point mark the other day, but my plus/minus has got to be better. ...

"Five goals isn't good enough for me. I obviously have put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best player I can be. Try to put myself in more (scoring) opportunities."

Jones' minus-37 rating is second-worst in the league, behind only Philadelphia's Keith Yandle (minus-47). Behind Jones on the Hawks are Jake McCabe (minus-27), Calvin de Haan (minus-21) and Patrick Kane (minus-19).

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"There's some plays I could stop earlier and things like that," Jones said. "Any time you're that (much of a minus) it's not a good thing. ... I know a lot of guys are ... we didn't score a lot and we had a lot of struggles.

"But I think we really can all take better steps to be better defensively as a whole team."

Jones would also like to be better on the power play. He admitted there were times during the first half of the season where he got caught watching Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat too much.

As for the transition from Colliton to King, it wasn't an easy one, and Jones admitted communication between coaches and players was "foggy" at times. Forward Tyler Johnson -- who hasn't forgotten when Jones' Blue Jackets swept his top-seeded Lightning out of the 2019 playoffs -- wants the Hawks to play a simpler game going forward.

"When we were in Tampa we were the best team. We cruised through the season and had all the point records," Johnson said. "But we made too many stupid mistakes that ended up costing us against a team that just worried about their own end first. ...

"It was kind of a wake-up call for the guys there. Everyone had to buy into the system ... and we did that. And when we did that that's when we won our championships."

Jones should be at the forefront of pounding that message home to young players next season. Doing so would help implement a culture that revolves around winning and not individual accolades.

Said King: "If he were a little more vocal, which he's starting to be, I wouldn't doubt seeing him wearing a letter -- like, a big letter -- down the road if an opportunity comes because he's a class act kid."

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