SAN JOSE - A funny thing happened at the 2019 All-Star Game showdown - a guy actually played some defense. That player was Columbus Blue Jackets blueliner Seth Jones and the fact he was willing to hound puck-carriers and hustle back on odd-man rushes was almost amusing for the NHL’s showcase event, where the usual energy for defense among the participants is, shall we say, lacking. But thanks in part to Jones, who also had some very nice offensive contributions, Team Metropolitan ended up winning the tournament.
“We talked about it before as a team,” Jones said. “Everyone was playing ‘D’ and back-checking - we were just having fun out there and being competitive.”
Jones also acknowledged how fun it was to have so much space out there with the 3-on-3 format and for a player gifted with his array of talents, being able to show off his offensive creativity was satisfying, too. But with the weekend now over, the task returns to matters in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets are in the thick of a wild race that has seen first (and last) place in the Metro changes hands many times already.
“We’re worried about ourselves and what we can do every day to get better,” Jones said. “It’s individually as well: each guy has to be ready to go every night and that’s going to make our team better. We look to be successful down the stretch and put ourselves in a good position come playoff time.”
Of course, there are a couple narratives that won’t go away just yet in Ohio, the first of which is the fact Columbus has never won a playoff series in franchise history. So what’s the level of urgency right now?
“Very urgent,” Jones said. “The past two years we’ve made the playoffs and that’s great and all, but we want to compete for a Stanley Cup. No one is going to sit here and tell you they want to wait to win the Cup, right?”
On top of that, it’s simply impossible not to consider what will happen in the near future with the team’s roster, since star winger Artemi Panarin and Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky are both heading to unrestricted free agency this summer - and chances of contract extensions in Columbus are looking bleak. For their teammates, there is nothing to do but soldier on.
“We’re keeping it in-house,” Jones said. “We know those two guys are going to be at the top of their game every night. It’s not like we talk about it every day or think about it every day; we’re going to go about our business and win hockey games. Whatever happens after this year happens, but our goal is to win a Stanley Cup.”
And while the road will be tough, the fact is Columbus has an incredibly good defenseman in Jones. Though he may not win the Norris Trophy this season, he could easily grab the honors next year, or the year after that: the gifted two-way blueliner is just entering his prime.
“He does everything extremely well,” said teammate Cam Atkinson. “He’s not just an offensive D-man: he’s got a long stick and with the way he plays the game with his defensive mindset, but also leading to offense, he does everything top-notch. I’m obviously biased, but I think he’s the best defenseman in the league.”
Atkinson sees a guy who brings it for every practice and that makes the players around him better. And hey, if Jones is making an effort at an All-Star Game, just imagine what his compete level will be like come playoff time this spring.