(Stats are 5v5, courtesy of puckalytics.com)
Get pumped. It’s time to evaluate the backup goaltender!
When you compare this season with last season for Jones, few positives emerge. (See above.) One positive: Jones played this season at the league-minimum $550,000, so the only real space he took up on paper was a roster spot.
On the ice, Jones played in only 15 games this season. By comparison, Andrej Sekera, who was acquired at the trade deadline and spent some time injured, played in 16 games, and perpetual healthy-scratch Andy Andreoff played in 18. With such a small sample size, Jones’ statistics are probably mostly noise, especially given his inconsistent usage pattern. Since broad statistical trends are nearly impossible to harvest from Jones’ 2014-15 numbers, let’s make it easy and highlight some positive games.
November 26, 2014 – Jones Shuts Out Minnesota Wild
This one was impressive. Jones anchored a 4-0 win against the Wild in St. Paul the night after he played 65 minutes and a shootout in Nashville. He had 28 saves against Minnesota, including this one:
January 12, 2015 – Jones Shuts Out Toronto Maple Leafs
Starting his first game in a month, Jones was solid against the Maple Leafs. (Though pretty much everyone was solid against the Maple Leafs in January.) Here’s a sample from that one:
So there were certainly individual bright spots.
So, last year we said Martin Jones’s fantastic 2013-2014 results were "almost certainly a small-sample size fluke" and that "his NHL numbers are not sustainable," but that "Jones’ AHL numbers are an encouraging sign that he will be a legitimate NHL goalie." Were we right? Well, yes, yes, and maybe.
We should preface this section by delving a little deeper into Jones’ playing time in 2014-15. To sum up, Jones didn’t play very much. Enjoying a full season of good health, Jonathan Quick was second among NHL goalies in games and ice time—trailing Braden Holtby by only one game and 63 minutes, respectively—so there wasn't a lot of ice time left for Jones. And though Jones only had four starts in the second half of the season after consecutive bad games on December 12 and January 3, it doesn’t appear Daryl Sutter stopped trusting him. Instead, the season-long pattern was that Jones’ starts coincided with nearly every back-to-back game pair the Kings played. Of his 11 starts in 2014-15, 8 were part of a back-to-back set. Jones started in at least one game in seven of the Kings’ nine back-to-back sets. He started in both games of a back-to-back pair once, while Jonathan Quick did it twice.
Though he may have been hampered by super-inconsistent playing time, Jones declined in nearly every raw statistical category, finishing the 2014-15 season with fewer games played, fewer shots faced, fewer saves, more goals allowed, and a correspondingly lower save percentage (both 5v5 and shorthanded) than his 2013-14 season. Those are all negatives.
But now let’s compare him to the league in 2014-15, not to himself in 2013-14 (a level we knew he wouldn’t match). In 2014-15, the league-average save percentage was .915. Jones’s save percentage was .906. Among the 65 goalies who saw ice time in between 10 and 82 games, Jones’s 5v5 save percentage ranked 43rd. Among goalies who saw ice time in between 10 and 41 games—my rough definition of an NHL backup goalie—Jones’s 5v5 save percentage ranked 19th of 36 (note that this includes both Ottawa goalies and Cam Talbot).
So, though he wasn't exactly an embarrassment in 2014-15, he was clearly in backup-goaltender territory.
I’m neither a statistician nor the son of a statistician, but I think we can tweak the numbers a bit to show that Jones has substantial promise of becoming a serviceable NHL goaltender. Let’s use those same parameters we used above, but multiply them by two and use both the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons (because two small samples make a big one, right?). Having applied those modifications, here’s what we get: In 2013-15, Jones’s 5v5 save percentage (.934) ranked fifth out of 71 goaltenders who played in 20 or more games ("NHL goalies"). In 2013-15, that .934 5v5 save percentage was tied for third—with Cam Talbot—among the 45 goaltenders who played in between 20 and 82 games ("NHL backup goalies"), behind only Andrew Hammond (who only played one game in 2013-14) and Josh Harding.
Even if you think Jones will look more like his 2014-15 self than his 2013-14 self going forward, that’s still a starting goaltender. I think the Kings will take the upside play and retain Jones as the backup goaltender for the immediate future. As a restricted free agent, the Kings will look to his 2014-15 performance as a reason to keep his raise modest.
With playing time hard to come by for Jones, I'd like to give his season an Incomplete. If forced to give a letter grade, I'd go with C-. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section.