After several blockbuster trades last week, the Flyers didn’t make a big splash when free agency started Wednesday.
Oh, they did come to terms with three unrestricted free agents, including a useful and inexpensive defenseman, Keith Yandle, in a move that was generally applauded around the league. But their two other signings — goalie Martin Jones and center Nate Thompson — weren’t exactly earth-shattering.
Jones, 31, was bought out by San Jose after struggling mightily the last three years, but he has had his share of quality seasons in the past. He signed a one-year deal for $2 million.
“Sometimes a fresh start can give you a little bit of life, a little bit of energy and kind of refocus,” Jones said in a Zoom call with reporters.
Earlier in his career, Jones played with Los Angeles, where Dean Lombardi was the GM. Lombardi is now a Flyers adviser. While Jones was in the Kings’ farm system, Kim Dillabaugh, now the Flyers’ goalie coach, was one of his coaches.
Jones said the chance to work again with Dillabaugh was a factor in his signing. “Hopefully we can sort of pick up where we left off and get my game back to trending where it was a few years ago,” he said.
The 6-foot-4, 190-pound Vancouver native had a 3.28 GAA and .896 save percentage in 34 games last season. He wasn’t much better in his previous two seasons, compiling a 3.00 and 2.94 GAAs, respectively. He has had an .896 save percentage in each of the last three seasons.
Jones was a quality performer in his first three full seasons and was an All-Star in 2017. His GAA in his first three years with San Jose: 2.27, 2.40, and 2.55.
He is expected to play at least 30 games and be Carter Hart’s understudy.
“I’m coming in to play the best I can, to push Carter,” Jones said. “He’s obviously a very talented young goalie. If we can push each other to be better, that’s going to be the best thing for the team.”
Signing Jones was a surprise. Braden Holtby, who is close with Hart and has won a Stanley Cup, was available and seemed like a logical choice after some other goalies went off the board. Holtby, another goalie trying to bounce back from a poor season, signed a one-year deal with Dallas for a reported $2 million.
Asked about why he signed Jones over Holtby, general manager Chuck Fletcher hinted that Jones’ relationship with Dillabaugh played a major role. He said the goalie coach believes he can get Jones back to the way he was performing during his early seasons with the Sharks.
Brian Elliott, Hart’s backup with the Flyers, signed a one-year deal for $900,000 with Tampa Bay.
Yandle, who should fit nicely on a defense that includes newcomers Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen, is looking forward to being Hart’s teammate.
“He’s a stud,” Yandle said. “When you think of young goalies in the league, you think of him. Definitely excited to play in front of him.”
Yandle (6-1, 192) received a one-year deal for $900,000 — considerably less than Shayne Gostisbehere’s cap hit of $4.5 million annually for two years.
Both are puck-moving, third-pairing defensemen who run a power play. Gostisbehere (9 goals in 41 games last season), 28, was dealt to Arizona last week. The Flyers had to give the Coyotes’ second and seventh-round draft picks to entice them to take the player known as Ghost.
Yandle, who turns 35 on Sept. 9, played for Alain Vigneault when he coached the New York Rangers. He was also teammates with Kevin Hayes in New York.
Both influenced Yandle to sign with the Flyers, and he called Hayes one of his best friends. The two train together in the summer. Yandle was pursued by several teams, and Fletcher credited Hayes for recruiting him to the Flyers.
Yandle said Hayes told him the group was unhappy with missing the playoffs last season and will be on a mission in 2021-22.
Fletcher’s offseason moves also steered Yandle to the Flyers.
“Putting the team in a place where it gives us the opportunity to succeed is a big thing with me,” he said. " … It shows they’re all-in to win.”
It appears Yandle, coming off a 27-point (3-24) season with Florida, will play on the No. 3 pairing, alongside Justin Braun. Cam York will be given a chance to beat out Yandle in training camp, but the Flyers seem to want the 20-year-old rookie to gain more experience with the AHL’s Phantoms.
“Cam’s play will dictate when he arrives in the NHL,” Fletcher said.
In all likelihood, the Flyers’ pairings will look like this: Ivan Provorov (24 years old when season starts) and Ellis (30); Travis Sanheim (25) and Ristolainen (26); and Yandle (35) and Justin Braun (34).
Yandle, a Boston native, has played in 922 straight games — the NHL’s longest active streak and 43 games from passing Doug Jarvis’ league record. He attributed his streak to luck, team doctors, and his “love for the game,” and said his focus was on helping the team, not reaching a milestone.
The Flyers believe Yandle will help an erratic power play that was tied for No. 17 in the NHL last season, clicking at 19.2%.
The Flyers are also trying to upgrade a penalty kill, which finished 30th in the 31-team league as it was successful on just 73.1% of its attempts. The addition of Ellis, Ristolainen and Cam Atkinson should help.
Thompson, who turns 37 on Oct. 5, could also bolster the PK, as he did when he was briefly with the Flyers after being acquired at the trade deadline during the 2019-20 season. A quality faceoff man, he signed a one-year, $800,000 contract Wednesday.
In 44 games with Winnipeg last season, Thompson had two goals, five points, and a plus-4 rating.
Fletcher said Thompson gives the Flyers “more leadership, depth, and experience up front.”
The Flyers also signed five free agents to one-year, two-way contracts; they are expected to play for the Phantoms. The five signees: forwards Ryan Fitzgerald and Gerry Mayhew, a former Minnesota Wild prospect who was the AHL’s MVP in 2019-20; and defensemen Adam Clendening, Nick Seeler, and Cooper Zech. Clendening, 28, selected by Chicago in the second round of the 2011 draft, has appeared in 90 NHL games for seven teams and has four goals and 20 assists,