Philadelphia Flyers: It’s time to play the young goaltenders

ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 17: Martin Jones #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers is neither young nor good. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
ELMONT, NEW YORK - JANUARY 17: Martin Jones #35 of the Philadelphia Flyers is neither young nor good. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

I’ll start by saying that this is nothing personal against Martin Jones, as the Philadelphia Flyers have much larger issues than their veteran backup goaltender at this juncture.

But, really, what is he still doing here? Why is he sucking up any kind of playing time whatsoever on the occasions that Carter Hart has a day off or, like earlier this week, when he was going through yet another malady that caused him to miss some playing time? The Flyers had a perfectly usable young netminder in Kirill Ustimenko just sitting there on the bench, backing up Jones on consecutive days while Jones backstopped the Flyers to two straight losses at home.

And while Jones wasn’t awful over those games (49 saves on 55 shots for a .891 save percentage), he’s not serving much use back there. It’s disappointing that they didn’t let the kid play one of the games. Martin Jones is neither helping the Flyers win games nor is he playing well enough in losses to entice some other team into dialing up Chuck Fletcher and offering anything of value. Again, I ask, what’s the point?

Playing Jones over young goalies would be a mistake by the Philadelphia Flyers.

Even if Martin Jones gets a handful of starts between now and the NHL’s trading deadline and plays lights out (which he won’t), you’re not getting anything more than a mid-round pick from another club. There doesn’t figure to be some kind of bidding war for his services. Given the Flyers’ track record of development lately, they shouldn’t be too enthused at the thought of flipping him for a pick who turns into an NHL contributor several years down the line in a depth role. And that’s the best-case scenario.

So don’t waste any more time giving valuable starts away to Jones. Deactivate him, release him, do whatever you have to do, and get some NHL time this season for the likes of Ustimenko, Felix Sandstrom, and perhaps Samuel Ersson. Sandstrom, if you recall, was forced into action in one game earlier this season, and he played quite well in an overtime loss at San Jose. He’s 25 years old; the team is missing an opportunity if they don’t give him some kind of shot to be Hart’s tandem partner.

The training wheels need to finally come off of Carter Hart. He’ll turn 24 years old before the start of next season. The days of him needing a mentor/backup should be over. He is now a vet himself, and so the team needs him to fill that role so they can have a younger (and, importantly, cheaper) backup option. By saving over $1 million on the backup goaltender slot by having an Ersson or Sandstrom instead of Brian Elliott-types, the team can allot that money for improvements elsewhere. Of course, most Flyers fans will say that they’ll just mismanage it regardless, but you get the point.

The bottom line is, when you draft and then expend other resources to develop goaltenders, you’ve got to let them play at some point to see what you have. Sure, it’s nice to try and keep your minor league teams competitive, but when the big club stinks this badly, you at least have the ability to throw guys in the mix to see what happens. It’s the one silver lining of being this awful.

Once the disastrous 2021-22 NHL season is over, the slate will be wiped clean as the Flyers look for much better results next year. It would be foolish to squander the current opportunity that they have. Play some of these young goalies now when there is almost zero pressure, rather than waiting until next year when you are forced to turn to them and aren’t sure what you have. If you play them this year and they’re awful, so be it. At least you know going forward. But by waiting, you risk torpedoing yet another season if Sandstrom and the rest are still NHL unknowns. And I didn’t even mention Ivan Fedotov, who might be the best of the bunch but whose situation is wildly up in the air.

Next. The Flyers should look to Vegas to make a deal. dark

The Flyers, on paper, have a lot of young and cheap goaltending options who could pair with Carter Hart going forward. And while there’s a chance that none of them end up being very good at the NHL level, you’ve got to play them and see what happens. Because I’m tired of retread backups who can’t even post a .900 save percentage when the league average is something like .909. Getting these other goaltenders some NHL experience isn’t without risk, but the Flyers don’t have anything to lose by doing it. What’s the worst that could happen?