Martin Jones’ career has been trending the wrong way for the last three seasons, so you can understand Flyers fans’ concerns when their franchise signed the veteran goaltender as an unrestricted free agent on July 28, giving him a one-year, $2 million deal.
Jones, 31, is expected to serve as Carter Hart’s backup this season. Considering Hart is coming off a disastrous season, the Flyers may need Jones to play a lot if the No. 1 goalie’s struggles continue.
That doesn’t worry Kim Dillabaugh, who is entering his seventh year as the Flyers’ goaltender coach. He traveled to Edmonton this summer to work with the 23-year-old Hart and believes he is ready for a bounce-back season.
Dillabaugh is also confident in Jones.
“Martin and I have had some good conversations on just where his game’s at,” Dillabaugh said recently from the Skate Zone in Voorhees. “I won’t get into the specifics, but there are some things we feel we need to give attention to and focus on as we move forward. We feel confident by doing that, we’ll get him back to the level he’s capable of on a consistent basis.”
Added Dillabaugh: “And sometimes, just being in a new environment can give you that fresh start. You come up with a clean slate and get yourself back” to where he was earlier in his career.
Jones, a former All-Star, and Hart are expected to arrive in the area this weekend and be on the ice in Voorhees at some point next week — well ahead of the start of camp Sept. 22.
Dillabaugh has first-hand knowledge of Jones, having been with him for 2½ seasons in the Los Angeles Kings system. The Kings brought the undrafted Jones to rookie camp on a tryout when Dillabaugh was their goaltender development coach.
“I had known him for a while because he used to come to camps I used to work at when he was younger,” Dillabaugh said.
Jones wowed the Kings at the rookie camp and earned a contract.
Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher got Dillabaugh’s reports on Jones before deciding to sign him. The GM is banking on Dillabaugh helping Jones rebound.
“I think Kim knows his game and feels he can work with him and help him get back to where he was,” Fletcher said.
Said Dillabaugh: “Martin allows the game to come to him, and with most goaltenders, that really simplifies everything. Just getting him back feeling comfortable with reading and processing the game will allow him to use his assets to his fullest extent.”
With Dillabaugh guiding Jones when he played for the Kings’ AHL team in Manchester, the goalie developed a strong base. He had two good seasons with L.A. before being traded to San Jose, where he flourished for three years. Then came a severe drop-off: an .896 save percentage in each of the last three seasons, with a goals-against average of 2.94, 3.00, and 3.28, respectively.
Having aided Jones’ early development, “obviously, I have some valuable insight and information on him,” Dillabaugh said.
The hope is that playing for a new team will re-energize Jones, who says he has “something to prove now.”
Jones is expected to play about 30 of the 82 games.
“Knowing Martin the way I do, he’s always been a motivated individual,” Dillabaugh said.
Dillabaugh likes Jones’ driven personality. He thinks the 6-foot-4, 190-pound goalie will mesh with Hart, like Brian Elliott did.
“Martin’s a very quiet individual and an extremely good pro,” Dillabaugh said. “He’s the type of individual who puts a lot into his craft, both on the ice and off the ice. I think he’s like Brian was for Carter, as far as being a good partner and a good support system. He’ll be someone who is going to push [Hart] and be competitive. You want that in a partner. You want to push one another and allow both of our goaltenders to be ready to compete at a high level.”
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