In one sense, the Blackhawks need Seth Jones. In another sense, the Hawks would be better off without Jones. Both those statements can be true.

He’s the one proven top-pairing defensemen on the current roster. His ability to devour minutes on a nightly basis provides much-needed stability and allows new coach Luke Richardson to shelter many of the weaker defensemen he’s having to also dress. Jones has averaged 25:24 of ice time through the first three games of the season, sixth-most in the NHL, and that’s actually below his 26:13 ice-time average from last season.

Conversely, Jones’ significant on-ice value and talent somewhat work against Hawks management’s unstated tanking objective. And then, of course, there’s the case of his already infamous contract: eight more years at $9.5 million per year.

At the moment, it’s such an albatross that it negates all of his trade value. The Hawks are stuck with him and he’s stuck with the Hawks, even if such a marriage makes little sense for either side. He said during training camp he had “no regrets” about signing it and had embraced its implications, adopting a big-picture viewpoint. It makes him the clear frontrunner to be the Hawks’ next captain once Jonathan Toews departs.

If the NHL salary cap had risen over the past three years at its usual rate, though, the contract wouldn’t look quite so terrible. If not for COVID-19 and its impacts on league revenue, the cap might’ve been around $91 million this season instead of $82.5 million, the actual number.

That doesn’t excuse former Hawks general manager Stan Bowman’s decision whatsoever — he gave Jones the contract more than a year after the pandemic began — but it does suggest that part of the contract’s absurdity is based on context.

And when the cap starts rising again, that could help the Hawks either rebuild around Jones’ contract or trade it without extreme difficulty.

The NHL gave teams estimates of future cap numbers last month, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman reported, and those numbers are encouraging. After another meager $1 million rise to $83.5 million next season, the cap could surge to around $87.5 million for 2024-25 and $92 million for 2025-26.

That potential $9.5 million increase over the next three years would exactly match the annual cap hit Jones will carry through 2030, meaning the Hawks could have as much cap space with him on the roster in 2025-26 as they would’ve had without him this season.

That’s not exactly a fair way to look at it — every team will receive that extra $9.5 million in flexibility, and it’d be preferable to not have it already committed to someone whose career arc likely won’t match the franchise’s long-term trajectory — but that admittedly rose-tinted interpretation provides some reassurance nonetheless.

Furthermore, the Hawks’ cap outlook moving forward actually looks quite favorable other than the Jones dilemma.

They have just $37.5 million in committed salary for 2023-24 and $18.8 million committed for 2024-25, per Capfriendly, the lowest in the league in both regards. Jones, Connor Murphy and Jake McCabe are the only three players contributing to that 2024-25 total; indeed, the Hawks have zero current NHL forwards or goaltenders signed beyond next season.

So while GM Kyle Davidson has no chance to possibly find a suitor for Jones this season or next — and it’s not believed he’ll even try as a result — a return to normalcy in terms of cap-ceiling increases could help that cause down the road.

And even if Jones’ performance declines to the point his contract never does become moveable, it should still be easier to fit other big contracts around him by the time the Hawks start developing and pursuing players worthy of such big contracts again.

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