Here’s a take on the Martin Jones story that shows just how tough it is to break into an established NHL lineup – no matter how well you perform.
By Fluto Shinzawa, Boston Globe
Within the month, the hottest goalie in the NHL will, in all likelihood, be informed by his employer that there is no room for him with the varsity.Martin Jones won his first eight NHL starts with the Los Angeles Kings to tie a league record set by the Flyers’ Bob Froese in 1982-83. With Jonathan Quick sidelined because of a groin strain, Jones went 8-0-0 with a 0.98 goals-against average, a .966 save percentage, and three shutouts. It wasn’t until last Monday, in a 5-2 setback against Dallas, did Jones finally learn that losing in the NHL is possible.
Quick, out since Nov. 12, could return by early January, approximately two months after he strained his groin. Ben Scrivens, previously Quick’s backup, is 7-3-4 with a 1.66 GAA and .941 save percentage. Scrivens, a former Cornell goalie, would have to clear waivers prior to an AHL assignment.
Jones’s performance dictates otherwise. But because of Quick’s pending return and Scrivens’s NHL experience, Jones will likely return to Manchester, N.H., where his boss has not been surprised by his puck-stopping pupil’s success.
“I’m not shocked,” said Monarchs coach Mark Morris. “He was big and steady and square. I’m very proud of the fact he’s been able to take his game he played here and showcase it at the NHL level. His calm demeanor is ever-present. He’s in the right spot more times than not. Rarely does he get caught out of position. He exudes confidence.”
Jones’s successful Manchester-to-LA transfer is the latest in a chain of Kings’ hits. During their Stanley Cup run in 2012, full-time Kings with Manchester histories included Quick, Jonathan Bernier, Kyle Clifford, Trevor Lewis, Alec Martinez, Andrei Loktionov, and Kevin Westgarth. In-season recalls included Slava Voynov, Jordan Nolan, andDwight King. This season, Jones, Tyler Toffoli,Linden Vey, and Tanner Pearson have been recalled by the Kings.
There are few teams in the NHL drafting and developing more efficiently than the Kings. It is a credit to LA’s hockey operations group — general manager Dean Lombardi, assistant GM Rob Blake, and directors of amateur scouting Michael Futa and Mark Yannetti being some of the principal players — that the Kings are pushing for their second Stanley Cup in three seasons.
Manchester, like Rockford for Chicago, Providence for Boston, Wilkes-Barre/Scranton for Pittsburgh, and Grand Rapids for Detroit, is a critical development site.
“You know where they started and you know where they got to,” said Morris of his Manchester alums who are now West Coast fixtures like sunshine and the Hollywood sign. “It’s one of the best parts of coaching, knowing you had a hand in it. You can’t take total credit for it. But you know you were there and saw the kids through some of the times when they were not at their best.”
Thirty teams bypassed Jones in the draft. Not until Oct. 2, 2008, when Jones signed a three-year, entry-level contract with Los Angeles, did the native of North Vancouver receive an NHL job offer worth considering. Jones had logged two seasons for Calgary in the WHL before earning his NHL deal. But there was no rush for Jones’s services at the next level. In 2008-09, Morris’s two primary goalies were Quick and Bernier. Quick was the unconventional, athletic, American goalie with two seasons of apprenticeship at UMass-Amherst. Bernier, the Kings’ first-round pick in 2006, was the typical and technical French-Canadian butterfly goalie.
Three years later, Quick and Bernier won rings with the Kings. So, while Quick and Bernier — the Kings flipped the latter to Toronto in a package that brought back Scrivens — were doing their thing in LA, Jones and fellow prospect Jean-Francois Berube, drafted 95th overall in 2009, developed in Manchester.
This fall, Jones started his fourth season in Manchester. This is Berube’s first full year in the AHL. Berube played most of the last two seasons for the Ontario Reign, LA’s ECHL affiliate.
Four AHL seasons can be a long time for a goalie. Quick and Bernier were in Manchester for parts of two years. Tuukka Rask was in Providence for two seasons. Henrik Lundqvist never played an AHL game.
But Jones, 23, needed his AHL time. Jones didn’t feel comfortable leaving his crease. He wasn’t good at handling the puck. Morris, with assistance from goalie coach Bill Ranford and goalie development coach Kim Dillabaugh, emphasized repetitions for Jones. Better habits, in conjunction with Jones’s hockey sense, made him an asset: a 6-foot-4-inch, 187-pounder who applied calmness to a naturally chaotic setting.
The Kings are in a good spot. Because of how well Jones and Scrivens have played, there is no rush for Quick to return. If Lombardi wants to upgrade prior to the trade deadline, Scrivens, Jones, or Berube would net important reinforcements up front or on the blue line. It’s neither easy nor well-advised, though, to trade young goalies. Injuries happen. Goalies lose their touch. It is not through luck that Jones ticked off eight straight wins.
“I look at his eyes,” Morris said. “I watch close-ups of him, and he’s got eyes as big as saucers. You can tell his focus is real keen right now. You can tell he wants to make the most of the opportunity he’s getting right now. You can tell when he’s really dialed in. He’s been extraordinarily good.”