When it rains, it pours.
Already with a banged-up blueline as Mark Giordano, Timothy Liljegren and John Klingberg are out — Klingberg for the season — the Toronto Maple Leafs have been finding a way to get by. Much has been made by the fact they have just six regulation wins, more than only Seattle and Montreal, but at least they’ve been getting points.
The Leafs are third in the Eastern Conference, with a .652 points percentage.
A lot of credit for that goes to goalie Joseph Woll, a bargain of a player making just over minimum NHL wage for this season and next. In 15 games, Woll has a .916 save percentage and, according to MoneyPuck.com, is 11th in the league by Goals Saved Above Expected.
Woll’s ascension into Toronto’s No. 1 job has been perfectly timed, too, as Ilya Samsonov has been ill lately and struggling to find his game since the season began in October. After a great first season with the Leafs, Samsonov is back performing more similarly to how he did in his final days in Washington, which did not qualify him as an RFA and led him into the 2022 unrestricted free-agent market. Samsonov’s save percentage is .878 — 41 points behind last year — and his Goals Saved Above Expected ranks 66th out of 77 qualifying goalies.
So when Woll went down to an apparent non-contact injury against the Ottawa Senators Thursday night, it sent shivers down the spine of Leafs Nation. Although we don’t yet know exactly how long the 25-year-old starter will be out, early indications are not optimistic, with post-game reactions from the dressing room on the injury ranging from “brutal” to “unfortunate.”
Samsonov, who hasn’t played since Nov. 24, will surely be given a shot again, and it’s worth mentioning he had a .905 save percentage in five November starts. But Marles callup Martin Jones will get key games as well. There’s no avoiding some kind of split as the Leafs play 11 games over the rest of December, including two back-to-back situations (first up are the Islanders and Rangers on Monday and Tuesday). They’ll then get 13 games in 27 days in January leading into the all-star break, should Woll’s injury leave him out that long.
So, what do the Leafs have in Jones?
A 33-year-old veteran of 11 NHL seasons and 445 games, Jones’ career started with the Los Angeles Kings as a backup, and they traded him to Boston days before he became a free agent. The Bruins then flipped Jones to Los Angeles’ division rival San Jose for a package that included a first-round pick, and Jones signed with the Sharks at a $3 million AAV.
Jones’ best run came in San Jose from 2015-16 to 2017-18, during which he had a .915 save percentage that equalled the likes of Carey Price and Henrik Lundqvist, and a total of 102 wins that ranked fourth in the NHL over those three seasons. In 2015-16, he backstopped the Sharks to the Stanley Cup Final, where they lost in six games. Jones allowed just 14 goals in that series.
But ever since that three-season window, Jones has struggled to maintain starting goalie numbers. In his past five seasons, Jones has not had a save percentage over .900 and just last season in 48 games with the Seattle Kraken, he had a 2.95 GAA, .887 save percentage and ranked 93rd of 107 goalies in Goals Saved Above Expected. He became a free agent, signed for $875,000 and one year with Toronto, and even cleared waivers before the season started to join the Marlies.
In his first appearance with the Leafs, in relief of Woll Thursday night, Jones turned aside nine of 10 shots to preserve the regulation win. And now he figures to play an important role in the crease, where he has a chance to earn a job all over again as we await the full picture on how long Woll will be out.
For a look at Jones’ strengths and weaknesses, we turn to our scout, Jason Bukala.
Jones was signed as depth protection in case of injury and now gets thrust into potential duty.
He had a solid training camp in the fall after a bit of a bounce-back season last year in Seattle. His GAA improved by half a goal last season overall.
At six-foot-five, 203 pounds, Jones is a big-body goaltender whose crease composure is key to his success. When he squares up and absorbs pucks, he’s at his best.
When pucks start spilling off him and he’s forced to move laterally or quickly react, he can be exposed. At this point in his career, Jones is a backup goalie or even a 2B at the NHL level.