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, and Dwight 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.”
US soon to announce
roster for Olympics
On Wednesday in Ann Arbor, Mich., USA Hockey will announce its 25-man Olympic roster during the Winter Classic. Eleven forwards are locks: Zach Parise, David Backes, Patrick Kane, James van Riemsdyk, Ryan Kesler, Phil Kessel, Max Pacioretty, Joe Pavelski, Bobby Ryan, T.J. Oshie, and Dustin Brown.
On defense, six can book their flights: Ryan Suter, Kevin Shattenkirk, Ryan McDonagh, John Carlson, Justin Faulk, and Keith Yandle.
In net, Jonathan Quick and Ryan Miller are guaranteed spots.
That leaves six jobs in play. The three remaining forward spots should go to Ryan Callahan, Brandon Dubinsky, and Chris Kreider. Callahan would have been a lock had the Rangers captain not sprained his left knee earlier this month. Callahan should be ready for the Winter Games, but he will not have had much NHL time to regain his pace. Dubinsky is a left-shot center. The top three pivots are righties: Backes, Kesler, and Pavelski. Dubinsky will give the Americans a different look in the middle. Kreider is the wild card. The Boxford native has the speed, size, and skill to excel on the international surface. Kreider’s inexperience works against the former Boston College forward.
On the back end, Jack Johnson and Cam Fowler should be the final two defensemen. Johnson played for the Americans in 2010. His numbers are down with Columbus, but he logs big minutes and skates in all situations.
Fowler has reduced some of the gambling in his game. Injuries to Sheldon Souray and Luca Sbisa have prompted Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau to lean harder on Fowler, and the 22-year-old has risen to the challenge.
The third goalie is down to Cory Schneider and Ben Bishop. Jimmy Howard, Tim Thomas, and Craig Anderson are out of the picture. Bishop has been Tampa Bay’s No. 1 goalie and is a better puckhandler than Schneider. Bishop should be the No. 3.
Bettman details his
decision on Thornton
On Monday, for the second time this season, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman released a well-written, informative, and insightful decision regarding an appeal to supplemental discipline. In upholding Shawn Thornton’s 15-game suspension, like he did in affirming Patrick Kaleta’s 10-game sitdown in October, Bettman provided a revealing peek behind the curtain and the multi-layer process involved in every disciplinary hearing. Some of the highlights from Bettman’s latest work:
■ Thornton provided inconsistent testimony regarding whether he targeted Brooks Orpik intentionally. During his original disciplinary hearing with senior vice president of player safety Brendan Shanahan, Thornton said he was looking for the biggest player in the scrum. A week later, during his appeal, Thornton acknowledged he identified Orpik before crossing the offensive blue line.
■ Orpik, Kris Letang, and Gregory Campbell were involved in the scrum. Letang and Campbell initially had words, which brought Orpik into the mix. Linesmen Andy McElman and Derek Amell were present, as was referee Brad Meier. From Shanahan’s viewpoint, Campbell was not in enough danger to merit Thornton coming to his defense. “It was not an ugly, dangerous-looking scrum,” Shanahan said during the Dec. 20 appeal. “They were having words. And so, again, I’ll take Shawn at his word. When he sees these situations, he recognizes them and he understands them. And I think on his way over there, he wouldn’t have been fooled or confused to think that now [Campbell] was in trouble.”
■ This observer believed Thornton lost his cool, which led to the out-of-character attack. But Bettman uncovered that Thornton knew exactly what he was doing. “By his own account, Mr. Thornton was in control of his emotions and fully aware that punching a defenseless player lying prone on the ice is highly dangerous,” Bettman wrote.
■ There is an active concussion lawsuit against the NHL. Appropriately, Bettman underscores the league’s low tolerance of plays that result in head injuries. The league is guarding itself against future legal action by noting, in every possible instance, its awareness of a concussion’s consequences. “As I noted in my recent opinion concerning Patrick Kaleta, the protection of players’ heads has been a matter of intense and increased attention over the course of several years,” Bettman wrote. “A player who today blatantly flouts the rules in a manner that causes a head injury can and should expect to be severely disciplined.”
The Kings drafted Jonathan Quick, Slava Voynov, Anze Kopitar, and Drew Doughty. They traded for Ben Scrivens, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Robyn Regehr, and Justin Williams. Of their core group, the only players they signed as free agents were Martin Jones, Willie Mitchell, and Jake Muzzin. For those three UFAs, according to www.capgeek.com, the Kings committed just $5.05 million toward their salary cap. The LA approach is ideal: Hit on your draft picks and develop them correctly, use existing assets with trades, and fill in the roster with complementary players via the free market. The latter is a relatively new development around the league. There were times — think Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard in 2006 — when teams could land foundation players through free agency. Now, those players rarely hit the market. When second-tier players reach UFA, teams overpay (see Nathan Horton and David Clarkson). Rebuilding teams such as Calgary and Florida will not be successful if free agency is their preferred route toward organizational makeovers.
Ex-Bruin Glen Metropolit was named Team Canada captain for the Spengler Cup, the six-team international tournament held annually in Switzerland. Metropolit did not play in the tournament last year because locked-out ringers — including former teammate Patrice Bergeron — filled up the Canadian roster. Metropolit is 39 years old, but the clever center is second in scoring for his Lugano club. Metropolit, a free agent invitee with the Bruins in 2007-08, left a strong impression in Boston because of how he emerged amid injuries to Bergeron and Savard that season.
As a part owner of the WHL’s Kamloops Blazers, Jarome Iginla is interested in how junior players develop. And just like he did when he played for Kamloops, Iginla believes current and future WHL players should drop the gloves. The difference between Iginla’s junior career and now is the near-elimination of line brawls and end-of-game, message-sending fights. “Those are where people have a real chance of getting hurt,” Iginla said. “The percentages go up. Then guys are fighting who didn’t really sign up for fighting coming out of minor hockey. I think with keeping the helmets on, linesmen getting in there, and suspensions for multiple fights, they’ve done a good job. I think there is a place for it.”
Of the five top teams in the Western Conference, Chicago’s run-and-gun approach contrasts with the heavier, meaner styles of Anaheim, Los Angeles, San Jose, and St. Louis. But the Blackhawks move and control the puck so efficiently that it doesn’t matter if they’re thinner in the beef department. With Patrick Kane elevating his game even more, the Blackhawks could claim their third Cup in five years . . . The Bruins have not heard much regarding possible involvement in the 2015 Winter Classic. Washington will be the host team. Neither the Capitals’ opponent nor location has been revealed . . . Providence College goalie Jon Gillies is a big reason why the Americans should make noise in the World Junior Championship. Gillies, a Providence sophomore, was drafted in the third round by Calgary in 2012. Following a few more years of development, Gillies should be the Flames’ No. 1 goalie . . . It’s not easy for western teams such as Los Angeles (Manchester), San Jose (Worcester), and Phoenix (Portland) to have their farm clubs on the other side of the country. But the positives of travel within the AHL’s Atlantic Division — no overnights other than in St. John’s — outweigh cross-country flights for players and executives. The practices and rest the players get in the Atlantic go a long way in their development . . . Everybody knew that Ryan Kesler, Henrik Sedin, and Daniel Sedin would log big minutes under John Tortorella. The first-year Vancouver coach isn’t afraid to ride his lead dogs hard. But few expected ex-Yalie Chris Higgins to be fourth among Vancouver forwards in ice time per game (19:15 following the holiday break). Higgins played 17:54 per game for Tortorella with the Rangers in 2009-10 . . . A high-end comparable for Ryan Spooner: Colorado’s Matt Duchene, the No. 3 overall pick in 2009 after John Tavares and Victor Hedman. Spooner isn’t as strong on the puck as Duchene, and his shot isn’t as heavy as Duchene’s, either. But Spooner’s acceleration, top-end speed, and creativity approach Duchene’s. Confidence and attention to detail will be critical for Spooner to maintain his bursts of efficiency . . . Old friend Andrew Ference wore a shield the last two games prior to the break. Ference occasionally tried the visor when he was with the Bruins but went shield-free for most of his games in Boston. In Edmonton, where fed-up fans are chucking jerseys onto the ice, it’s a way for Ference to keep uniforms from flying into his eyes.