Blackhawks clear losers in Blue Jackets trade, regardless of Tuesday’s Seth Jones-Adam Boqvist matchup

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When the Blackhawks’ Seth Jones and Blue Jackets’ Adam Boqvist face their respective former teams for the first time Tuesday, the blockbuster trade they headlined last summer will reenter the spotlight.

But the narrative will remain the same. No matter how well Jones plays for the Hawks — and he has played very well so far — he’ll never be able to equal the value of the assets ex-Hawks general manager Stan Bowman gave up to acquire him. That’s not his fault, but it’s true.

Boqvist is one thing. Cole Sillinger, the dynamic forward who already looks like a steal at 12th overall, is another. And the Hawks’ 2022 first-round pick — which would be sixth overall if the season ended today — irreversibly tips the scales in the Jackets’ favor.

The question now is how heavily tipped the scale will appear in retrospect. As new Jackets coach Brad Larsen said Monday, the exact impact of the trade won’t be known until “two, three, four years down the road.”

There are still many unknowns. Jones could conceivably justify his eight-year extension if he keeps playing like this for a decade, or could turn into a Brent Seabrook-like cap liability in his 30s. Boqvist, meanwhile, might develop into a Jones-like elite offensive defenseman or might never take that big, final step.

The same goes for Sillinger, whose range of outcomes is as wide as a just-formed hurricane despite his lofty pedigree — it’s difficult to extrapolate too much from his 12 points in 33 games to date. And the likely-top-10 pick the Jackets will receive, barring a miraculous lottery win that would allow the Hawks to keep it, could turn into anyone.

Tuesday’s matchup — and Jones, Boqvist and Sillinger’s performances in it — won’t realistically clear up any of that. But it will be meaningful and somewhat emotional for at least the two defensemen.

“My mindset is going to be like every other game: just go out there and play at my best and be smart, be strong,” Boqvist said Monday, his signature goofy grin looking out of place in a dark-blue hoodie. “But it’s going to be a little different with Chicago on the other side.”

The 21-year-old Swede remains close with a number of Hawks; he spent Christmas with Alex DeBrincat, for example. In Sweden last July, though, he was blindsided by the trade, first finding about it on Instagram.

“It was a little bit surprising,” he said. “We didn’t know anything, actually. My agent talked to [Bowman] right after the season or so, because there were some rumors around, and he said, ‘We won’t trade Adam.’ But it’s a business and there’s nothing you can do about it. I’m happy in Columbus.”

He has averaged 16:41 of ice time through his first 23 games for the Jackets, slightly down from his 16:59 average with the Hawks last season. Tuesday will coincidentally mark his 100th career game.

Although his stats this season do look impressive — he leads all Jackets regulars with a 52.0% even-strength scoring-chance ratio, and he’s tied for sixth among all NHL defensemen with seven goals — Larsen’s evaluation of him Monday sounded remarkably similar to many old Jeremy Colliton quotes.

“As an undersized guy, we know he’s going to have to defend, and if you want a top-four role, you’ve got to make sure that part of your game is tight,” Larsen said. “There’s a lot of room for growth there. It’s not a knock on him; it’s just he’s still a young man.”

Boqvist seemed more encouraged personally about his progression, saying his “overall game has been better” and his “strength is better, as well.”

The Hawks will get to evaluate that firsthand Tuesday. But even if they like what they see, they won’t be able to ask for him back.

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