Flyers

Why new senior advisor believes Jones could be a 'big, big plus' for Flyers

Flyers

Over the last six seasons, no NHL goalie has played in more games than Martin Jones. In that span, the former Sharks netminder has racked up 327 games, with 326 of them being starts. Connor Hellebuyck comes the next closest in games with 315 while Braden Holtby owns the second-most starts with 309.

During the first four seasons of that stretch, Jones was very good. He started 60 or more games in each of those seasons and won 30 or more of them, as well, while posting a combined 2.53 goals-against average and .910 save percentage.

In the final two seasons of that stretch, Jones was not the same goalie. He went 32-34-6 with a 3.12 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. San Jose, which missed the playoffs only once in the previous 15 seasons, sat out the postseason in consecutive years for the first time since the mid-90s.

Following those six seasons with the Sharks, Jones had the final three years of his contract bought out by San Jose this summer. On Day 1 of free agency, the 31-year-old signed a one-year, $2 million deal with the Flyers.

At this stage of his career, can less be more for Jones? And can the Flyers' new look in front of their goalies go a long way in helping him return to form?

Those will stand as the two big questions facing Jones and the Flyers entering the 2021-22 season.

Before Jones went to the Sharks ahead of the 2015-16 season, he came up in the Kings' organization. He worked with current Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh, who oversaw goalie development in Los Angeles. Jones started his pro career in 2010-11 with the Manchester Monarchs, the Kings' AHL affiliate at the time. Mike O'Connell, the Flyers' new senior advisor to the general manager and player development, was also with Los Angeles, working in player development.

 

O'Connell, who has over 30 years of experience in various roles, got to know Jones well during their Kings days. He believes the change of scenery can be good for Jones.

"He had some outstanding years in San Jose," O'Connell said last week at Flyers development camp. "We didn't get to see him as much because of the trade, but outstanding hockey. I watched a lot of his hockey when he was in San Jose. Wasn't the greatest structure to play goalie for last year in San Jose. I think that the structure, the defensive structure of a team, has a huge impact on the goaltender’s performance.

"When we signed him, I was extremely happy for him. He's an outstanding teammate, an outstanding person, understands the roles of a No. 1 goalie, he understands the role of a No. 2 two goalie and he also understands how to be a great teammate. Works hard in practice, dedicated himself to his profession — I think he could be a big, big plus here for the Flyers."

Jones is now shifting to a backup role with the Flyers, at least to open the season. If things go well and as planned for the Flyers, Carter Hart is their No. 1, with Jones as the veteran No. 2. Both goalies are vying for bounce-back seasons. If Hart can surpass his career high of 40 starts — say he's somewhere in the 45-50 range — then Jones could be in the 32-37 range. The Flyers would probably be happy if the duo played out that way. Jones never started fewer than 34 games with the Sharks — and that number came last year in the condensed, 56-game regular season.

"He has a strong relationship with Kim and I think Kim knows his game and feels that he can work with him and help him get back to where he was," Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said July 28. "This is a guy that's used to playing 60 games a year, so he's coming into a tandem situation now; I think there'll be opportunities here to get practice time and to work on things. Sometimes a chance to reset and recharge in a new environment is a good thing, too."

Fletcher revamped his blue line this offseason with the additions of Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Keith Yandle. In 2020-21, the club surrendered an NHL-worst 3.52 goals per game. Their goalies need to play much better and the Flyers are hoping the changed makeup and mindset in front spearhead the turnaround.

 

"They've been a good team for a long time and it feels like they've been sort of just right on the cusp of kind of breaking through," Jones said July 28. "They've added some pieces on the back end, which I think are going to be obviously super helpful. If I can come in and kind of stabilize goaltending, that's going to help as well. I think we're positioned really well this year to have a good season."

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