Photo credit:© John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Martin Jones is giving the Leafs much-needed stability in the crease
By Alex Hobson1 month ago
Picture this. It’s October 2023. The Toronto Maple Leafs are about to get their season underway, and I tell you that a Leafs goalie has a .926 save percentage (SV%) in January. You’d probably guess that it belongs to Ilya Samsonov. An understandable guess, given his performance last season, but no. Maybe it’s Joseph Woll, who had a .932 SV% in seven starts last season. Wrong again.
The owner of that .926 SV% is none other than veteran goaltender Martin Jones, who signed a one-year contract with the Leafs in August 2023 at the league-minimum salary of $875,000.
While it’s fair to say that the Leafs inspired more confidence from the net heading into this season than they have in recent years, it’s always smart to stockpile depth at every position. Nobody has ever said “we have too much depth”, and if they have, it was probably said in a positive light. The events of the past month or so, between Joseph Woll’s injury and Ilya Samsonov’s well-documented struggles, have proven why signing players like Jones is so important.
Let’s get one thing straight – general manager Brad Treliving didn’t sign Jones with the intention of having him steal one of Woll or Samsonov’s jobs, and it’s hard to believe he signed him with the intention of having him on the playoff roster. But, as we all know, intentions and results don’t always line up together. And not only has the Vancouver native played a pivotal part in keeping the Leafs afloat while they navigate through their goaltending issues, but he’s gotten himself into territory where the team would probably be shooting themselves in the foot if they didn’t stick with him as their backup goaltender going forward.
I wrote yesterday that there might not be a clear path back to the NHL for Ilya Samsonov in Toronto, and as disappointing as his fall from grace has been, the alternative is a) banking on Jones making it through waivers a second time, and b) banking on Samsonov finding his game again, which is far away from the way he’s played this season. Once intended to be a veteran depth option should either NHL goalie go down with an injury, Jones is now looking like he deserves the backup job full-time from here on out.
In nine games so far, Jones has a record of 5-3-0, with a much shinier 2.37 goals-against average (GAA) and .926 SV%. He has two shutouts in that time, one for 38 saves against the now-Kyle Dubas-led Pittsburgh Penguins, and one for 31 saves last night against his former team, the L.A. Kings. The 33-year-old started his career with the Kings back in 2013-14 and hit the ground running with a record of 12-6-0, a GAA of 1.81 and a SV% of .934. He along with former Leafs goaltender Ben Scrivens made up a solid tandem for the Kings while Jonathan Quick was out with an injury and played a part in getting the Kings their second Stanley Cup in three years.
Nobody is expecting Jones to go on a similar miracle run for the Leafs, especially not ten years after the fact, but he doesn’t have to. Assuming Woll’s recovery timeline for his high ankle sprain is right in line with Timothy Liljegren, he should be back by the all-star break. The UMass alum’s numbers will gradually come back to earth, as expected, but considering what the Leafs have had to deal with between the pipes this year, something as simple as a .910 or even a .905 SV% should get the job done; especially once Woll returns.
The Leafs have the benefit of playing in an Eastern Conference that’s still pretty wide open, and they’re lucky to have the fourth-highest point percentage in the conference with games in hand despite only being a single game above .500. That’s not to say they haven’t earned that seeding, but from here on out, they need to play better hockey on a consistent basis. While it’s easy to point fingers at Samsonov for many of the losses he’s started, you can criticize his individual performance while also recognizing that the Leafs need to be better defensively. Jones is giving them the saves they need when they need them, and if the team in front of him can reciprocate his efforts, they’ll be trending in a much better direction through the second half of the season.
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