The Philadelphia Flyers continued their roster remake when NHL free agency opened on Wednesday.
After a busy couple of weeks that already saw Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen and Cam Atkinson come in while Shayne Gostisbehere and Jakub Voracek departed from the core roster, general manager Chuck Fletcher made three key signings on Day 1 of unrestricted free agency. All three players signed one-year deals that will make them unrestricted free agents at the end of the 2021-22 season.
Martin Jones – G – 1 year, $2 million
The Flyers’ goalie tandem next season will have a Western Canadian feel. North Vancouver’s Martin Jones joins Edmonton’s, Carter Hart.
Jones became available after being bought out by the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday. He had three years remaining on a contract that carried a cap hit of $5.5 million per season.
Jones is five years younger than Brian Elliott, who spent the last four seasons in Philadelphia. He joined the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday on a one-year deal worth $900,000.
Undrafted, Jones got his NHL start in the Los Angeles Kings organization and earned a Stanley Cup ring thanks to two relief appearances in the team’s 2014 championship run. During that time he worked with Kim Dillabaugh, who is now the Flyers’ goaltending coach.
“We had a great relationship when I was in Manchester,” Jones said about Dillabaugh during a call with the media on Wednesday. “He knows my game very well and we know how to work together. That was a factor for sure. Hopefully we can sort of pick up where we left off and hopefully get my game back trending where it was a few years ago.”
During the 2015 offseason, Jones landed in San Jose after a pair of multi-player deals which also saw Colin Miller move to Boston and Milan Lucic go to Los Angeles.
His tenure with the Sharks started well. He finished in the top 10 in Vezina Trophy voting in his first two seasons and helped the Sharks get past the Kings in the first round of the 2016 playoffs, on their way to the franchise’s first and only trip to the Stanley Cup Final.
His save percentage took a dip down to .896 in the 2018-19 season, and has stayed there ever since. But despite that, during a 2020-21 season that saw the Sharks finish 26th in the NHL standings, seven games below .500, Jones actually posted a winning record of 15-13-4. And he has been a workhorse in his career; his 34 games in this shortened season were the fewest-ever starts for him since he became an NHL regular.
Fletcher was right on the money when he called Wednesday’s goalie market “fast-moving.”
In the end, he felt Jones was a good choice for the Flyers. “He has over 60 games of playoff experience,” he said. “Won 30 games in this league multiple times. He’s only 31 years of age. And perhaps as important as all of those points, he’s very familiar with Kim Dillabaugh. He and Kim have a strong relationship. I think they both feel strongly that they can do the things they need to do to get Martin’s game going the way everybody would like to see it go.”
Keith Yandle – D – 1 year, $900,000
Also bought out by his old team, the 34-year-old from Boston is known for his gregarious personality. He’s close friends with Kevin Hayes and played under Alain Vigneault for a season-and-a-bit with the New York Rangers, including that team’s 2015 run to the Eastern Conference Final.
Yandle was originally drafted in the fourth round by the Arizona Coyotes in 2005. He’s an offensive-minded left-shot defenseman, who has 102 goals and 600 points in his 1,032-game NHL career.
He also holds the NHL’s longest active Ironman streak, with 922 consecutive regular-season games played. He’s 42 games shy of matching Doug Jarvis’ all-time record. He signed a seven-year contract with a cap hit of $6.35 million a season in Florida in 2016, but there were signs that he might not be a fit into the Panthers’ new regime this season. He was nearly scratched from the club’s season opener in January, and did sit out three games of the Panther’s first-round playoff loss to the Lightning.
Hayes told Yandle how hungry the Flyers are to erase the nasty memories of last season. He’s also eager to show that he still has more to give.
“I think the biggest thing with (Hayes) is that the group is not happy with not making the playoffs last year and how it ended,” he said. “How guys want to come in this year, have a huge year and get back to where you should be. I think for me, that’s the biggest thing — to see the hunger in the group. Talking to guys and their team and how excited they are for the season to start. It’s definitely a big thing for me as well.”
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Nate Thompson – C – 1 year, $800,000
Back for an encore performance, veteran center Nate Thompson returns. He spent last season as the fourth-line pivot for the Winnipeg Jets.
The 36-year-old from Alaska was a trade-deadline pickup by the Flyers in 2020, just before the pandemic shutdown. He provided solid forward depth for seven games in the regular season and 16 in the playoffs.
“He is a good penalty killer. He’s good on face-offs. He can play left wing or center. Just provides us with more experience, more leadership, and more depth up front,” Fletcher said.
“It seems like every year if you don’t add this type of player now, then you have to add it at the deadline,” he continued. “We just thought we’d get ahead of it and bring him in.
“We had a good experience with him before, we are excited to bring him back and Nate is excited to come back.”
The Flyers also filled out their franchise depth on Wednesday, signing five players to two-way contracts.
Up next for Fletcher — signing his restricted free agents. Carter Hart needs his new deal. Also, the deadline is rapidly approaching for Travis Sanheim to file for salary arbitration before this Sunday, August 1, at 5 p.m. ET.