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NHL Free Agent Goalies: Did Flyers make right choice with Martin Jones?



The Philadelphia Flyers’ top priority in free agency was to sign a goaltender. Carter Hart struggled last season and they needed to sign someone to not only back him up but perhaps be the 1B to Hart’s 1A. They couldn’t settle for a career backup, but rather needed someone with experience. They chose to sign the 31-year-old goalie Martin Jones.

But was Martin Jones the right choice? There were 14 goalies that signed one-way contracts on the first day of free agency. Only some of them could’ve been on the Flyers’ radar, though.

Seven of the 14 goalies signed were out of the Flyers’ range. They only had a few million per year to spend on their second goalie, and they weren’t going to hand out a long-term contract. Philipp Grubauer, Linus Ullmark, Frederik Andersen, and Jonathan Bernier all received multi-year contracts with cap hits north of $4 million.

Three goalies signed one-year deals worth less than $1 million to be true backups (or even third options): Craig Anderson ($750,000), Carter Hutton ($750,000), and Brian Elliott ($9,000).

That leaves seven free-agent goalies in the Flyers’ target window. These seven signed one- or two-year deals worth between $1.25 million and $2.35 million.

Let’s take a look at each of those seven goalies.

NHL Free Agent Goalie Signings:

David Rittich (NSH)

Rittich signed a one-year, $1.25 million deal in Nashville after splitting time last season between the Calgary Flames and Toronto Maple Leafs. He had a .904 SV% in 15 games (12 starts) with the Flames before posting an .888 SV% in four games (three starts) with the Maple Leafs.

Rittich started the majority of Calgary’s games in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He was solid in both years, compiling a 51-26-11 record with a .909 SV% and 2.80 GAA.

The soon-to-be 29-year-old netminder wouldn’t have been a bad pickup for the Flyers.

Jaroslav Halak (VAN)

Halak also signed a one-year deal with a cap hit of $1.5 million in Vancouver. His contract is worth up to $3 million, however, with performance bonuses for games played and save percentage.

Halak was Boston’s trusty backup goalie to Tuukka Rask for the past three seasons. He posted a .905 SV% in 19 games last season and a .918 in his three seasons with the Bruins.

Prior to that, Halak was the starting netminder for the Islanders. He went 88-65-19 with a .913 SV% in 177 games across four seasons on Long Island.

The 36-year-old goalie may have another good year or two in him and was near the top of my list of free-agent goalies. Vancouver got a good one.

Antti Raanta (CAR)

The Hurricanes changed their goalie tandem completely with Frederik Andersen (two years, $4.5 million AAV) and Raanta (two years, $2 million AAV). Andersen will be the starter with the oft-injured Raanta backing him up.

Raanta played in just 12 games last season, posting a 5-5-2 record and .905 SV%. He was solid the year prior, going 15-14-3 with a .921 SV%. He’s alternated on-and-off seasons with 47, 12, 33, and 12 games played over the past four years.

He’s great when healthy, posting a .930 SV% in those 47 games in the 2017-18 season and the aforementioned .921 SV% in the 2019-20 season. But he combined to play in just 24 games in the other two seasons.

Raanta was a good signing for Carolina –– or for a team that needed a backup, not a tandem necessarily –– but wouldn’t have been a great fit for the Flyers. I wouldn’t have hated it by any means, but Fletcher was focused on getting someone that can split time with Carter Hart and be reliable for long stretches if needed.

Martin Jones (PHI)

Jones signed a one-year, $2 million contract with the Flyers. He’s posted an .896 SV% in three straight seasons but can play a larger workload. You can read more about Jones and my analysis on his signing here.

Braden Holtby (DAL)

Holtby was a name on many Flyers fans’ minds heading into free agency. He and Hart are friends off the ice and could’ve benefitted from being on the same team. But the Flyers went with Jones.

Like Jones, Holtby is on the decline. He was bought out one year into his into his two-year, $4.3 million AAV contract in Vancouver. Holtby went 7-11-3 with an .889 SV% and 3.67 GAA in 21 games with the Canucks.

That .889 SV% was eight points lower than his .897 the year prior, which was 14 points lower than his .911 in his final year with the Capitals. He’s been declining pretty steadily and Dallas took a chance on him.

The reaction to the Flyers hypothetically signing Holtby likely would’ve been similar to the one that actually happened after signing Jones. They’re both veteran goalies on the decline looking for a way to bounce back. The Flyers are hoping that goalie coach Kim Dillabaugh can get Jones back on track.

James Reimer (SJS)

Reimer is a guy that probably wouldn’t have signed in Philadelphia, but let’s break this down anyway. He signed a two-year, $2.25 million AAV contract with the Sharks to be their starting goalie. San Jose also has Adin Hill, but Reimer is much more proven.

Reimer went 15-5-2 with a .906 SV% in 22 games for the Hurricanes last season. During his two years in Carolina, Reimer went 29-11-4 with a .910 SV%. Nothing spectacular, but Reimer has been consistently consistent.

In each of the full 82-game seasons he’s played in, Reimer started between 27 and 35 games. He’s never had a single-season save percentage below .900%. That’s the type of consistency the Flyers are hoping to get out of their No. 2 goalie.

This will be Reimer’s second stint in San Jose. The Sharks acquired Reimer at the 2016 trade deadline and the netminder proceeded to go 6-2-0 with three shutouts and a .938 SV% in eight starts. Perhaps those fond memories drew him back to San Jose.

Reimer would’ve been a great signing, and perhaps the Flyers were looking at him, but you can’t blame him for taking the opportunity to be the starting goalie in San Jose.

Laurent Brossoit (VGK)

The Golden Knights signed Brossoit to a two-year contract with a $2.325 million AAV. He spent a handful of years with the Oilers, playing in 28 games between 2014 and 2018 before signing in Winnipeg. Brossoit backed up Connor Hellebuyck for the Jets, which didn’t give him much of a workload.

Brossoit played in 21 games in the 2018-19 season, 19 two years ago, and just 14 (11 starts) last season. He had a solid .913 SV% overall in the three seasons, posting a .925 in his first year there, dropping down to .895 in the 2019-20 season, and bounced back with a .918 SV% last year.

The 28-year-old netminder was a backup in Winnipeg and will be in that same role with the Golden Knights behind Robin Lehner. Perhaps there’s some talent in there, but Brossoit doesn’t have the proven track record playing a heavy workload that the Flyers needed.

Was Martin Jones the right choice for Flyers?

Here’s a handy chart of all of the goalies and their relevant stats.

NHL Free Agent Goalies Stats

All things considered, the Flyers’ decision to sign Martin Jones doesn’t look too bad.

Of the seven, the Flyers likely checked in on four or five of them. Rittich, Halak, Jones, Holtby, and Reimer started 19 or more games last season and played in over 40% of their teams games in the past three seasons.

Reimer would’ve been atop the list and his contract isn’t bad at all. He’s a few years older than Jones, but he has a much better track record. It’s quite likely that Reimer wanted to be the guy somewhere, though, instead of a 1B with Carter Hart. It’s also possible that the Flyers weren’t willing to go for two years or over $2 million.

After that, Halak is a strong option. However, I understand the Flyers’ decision to stay away from a 36-year-old goalie. They saw how Brian Elliott wore down and couldn’t risk that again. It wouldn’t surprise me if he had a solid season in Vancouver.

Rittich is interesting. He’s never had overly impressive numbers (career-high .911 SV% in the 2018-19 season in 45 games), but he’s been consistently above the .900 mark. However, he had just seven “quality starts” and three “really bad starts” (per Hockey Reference) in 15 starts last season. The Flyers need a more reliable guy than that.

Holtby and Jones are likely the two goalies that the Flyers were deciding between. Both would’ve elicited similar reactions, as mentioned above, but Jones’ connection with Dillabaugh gives more hope than Holtby likely would have. Jones has at least been consistent (even if it’s at an .896 clio) while Holtby has been on the decline.

Martin Jones is hoping that a fresh start and change of scenery will help him find his game again. The Flyers are hoping so as well.

Photo: mark6mauno

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