The Philadelphia Flyers bought low on Martin Jones to be their new backup netminder. Can he pair well with Carter Hart, or will his poor numbers in recent years carry over to Philadelphia? (Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports)

Flyers Find Their Backup Goaltender In Martin Jones

The Philadelphia Flyers have had a busy offseason, to say the least. The team filled their holes on the right-side on defense, cleared cap space, and addressed their lack of a shoot-first winger. The moves have not all been perfect, but Chuck Fletcher’s work was almost done heading into Wednesday. Philadelphia’s cap situation likely prevents them from adding a quality third-line center, so the only real move for Fletcher was the signing of a backup goaltender. With Carter Hart coming off an abysmal 2020-21 campaign, nailing this issue was both important and fairly easy considering the number of options on the market. But which netminder did Fletcher go after?

Come on, man.

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman was the first to report the Flyers inking Martin Jones to a 1-year, $2 million contract. The Jones signing clearly fits in the Ristolainen bucket of betting on a player coming off multiple terrible years bouncing back in a better environment. Over his first five years in the NHL, Jones was legitimately solid as a backup for LA (2013-15) and later as San Jose’s starter. He finished with at least a .912 save percentage in four of those seasons and finished top-ten in Vezina voting in 2016 and 2017. Jones stopped 13.9 goals above expected combined from 2015-2018, and he was excellent in each of his first three playoff trips with San Jose. Jones posted at least a .923 save percentage in each of those playoff appearances, even reaching the Final in 2016.

All that being said, Jones has been absolutely abysmal each of the last three years. Jones’ .896 save percentage since the 2018-19 season ranks 56th out of 59 NHL goaltenders with at least 50 games played in that span. He has allowed a whopping -58.6 goals above expected in that span, the worst mark in the NHL. In 2020-21, Jones’ .896 SV% ranked 49th of 58 NHL goaltenders (min. 15 games played); his -18.9 goals saved above expected was second-worst in the league. His tenure culminated in the Sharks buying him out of his contract, opting to pay between $1.6 and $2.5 million across the next six years not to play for them.

Is there reason to believe Jones could be better in Philadelphia? Sure. Most of the backup options on the market do not have a three-year run like Jones’ first three years in San Jose on their resume. It is also worth noting Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh worked with Jones in Los Angeles. San Jose also has not been the best defensive team over the last two years, to say the least, and after acquiring Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis over the last two weeks and officially signing Keith Yandle today, the Flyers have reason to believe their defense will be much better than it was last season. Jones also played 62, 41, and 34 goalies over the last three years, so it is reasonable to think he will be at least a little bit better in a less strenuous backup role.

But again, like with Ristolainen, this just does not look like a bet worth making. Much better goaltenders like Antti Raanta (2 x $2 million to Carolina), James Reimer (2 x $2.25 million to San Jose), Laurent Brossoit (2 x $2.325 to Vegas), and Braden Holtby (1 x $2 million to Dallas) signed similar or exactly the same contract as Jones. None are risk-free, of course, but they bring better numbers (and other varying qualities) to the table than Jones. Maybe none of those netminders wanted to come to Philadelphia, but that feels unlikely. The Flyers looked poised to significantly upgrade on Brian Elliott (who signed for 1-year, $900K with Tampa Bay earlier today), but Jones feels like a slight one at best.

The Dillabaugh connection is at least a little intriguing, but Jones was probably the wrong choice considering the other options available. A little bit better than very below average still is not good, and that is assuming that Hart fully bounces back to pre-pandemic form. For the record, I think that will happen for the most part, but it is not guaranteed. At the very least, Jones currently poses little to no threat of taking the starter’s role from the 22-year old Hart.

Finally, after their recent flurry of signings, the Flyers have roughly $8.75 million in cap space with 14 forwards, seven defensemen, and one goaltender under contract. That should be enough to sign RFAs Travis Sanheim and Carter Hart to new deals. But if Fletcher wants to make any more earth-shaking moves, he will need to clear cap space via trade to do so.

It’s all Flyers, all the time here at Vendetta.

The Jones signing is just the latest example of Chuck Fletcher signing a player for a clear role that he thinks will succeed. Having a good backup goaltender probably will not win you the Cup, but having a bad one could lose it for you. The latter is what Jones has been the last three years; there is no doubt the Flyers are expecting the 31-year old to be better than that. Not great, but better. The Flyers are counting Martin Jones to make that moderate leap this year and return back to his mid-2010s ways.

Flyers Sign Nate Thompson To 1-Year, $800K Contract

In the original draft of this article, I wrote the Flyers should use some of their limited remaining funds on a cheap veteran forward for added depth. Turns out, they took my advice.

Of course, what I was not expecting (nor necessarily recommending) was a reunion with Nate Thompson for 1 year at $800K. In case you forgot, the Flyers acquired Thompson from Montréal for a fifth-round pick at last year’s deadline. He dressed in all seven regular-season and sixteen playoff games Philadelphia played during his tenure. The results were not great; Thompson was caved in by advanced stats and chipped in just two points.

The Flyers are not bringing the 36-year old back for his offense, though. Thompson can still function as a useful 13th or 14th forward who can win face-offs and kill penalties in a pinch. And his 48.08% Expected Goals For actually ranked fifth among Jets forwards in 2020-21. What he should not be is a fourth-line staple, which is how Alain Vigneault used him the first time around. Avoid that trap, and Thompson is a fine low-risk depth signing. Philadelphia’s outstanding forward depth should prevent that from becoming an issue.

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Skater Advanced Stats are 5-on-5, Score and Venue Adjusted, unless otherwise stated and via Natural Stat Trick; Goalie Advanced Stats via MoneyPuck.com