Randy Jones grew up as the youngest of four brothers in Quispamsis, New Brunswick.
Dale, Derek and Tim Jones were not just family to him, they were best friends. They still talk often.
“If you ask them,” Randy joked. “They’re responsible for me being here.”
Jones had to battle for anything he got in one of three Canadian maritime provinces, which has produced only 10 NHL players who have played 400 games or more (Jones has played 322) -- including Lightning head pro scout Greg Malone.
That mentality and family support has helped Jones navigate through two difficult seasons, and re-invent his game in Tampa Bay. The 29-year old defenseman, often used on the power play in his first six seasons in the NHL, has found a new role with the Lightning and it is fitting him just fine.
Lightning coach Guy Boucher said Jones has been one of the team’s best defensemen of late, playing the shutdown role while blocking shots, winning battles along the boards and killing penalties.
“Right now, his focus is very narrow,” Boucher said. “He’s improved his defense and, because of that, he’s become somebody we want to put on the ice consistently.”
It would seem like a simple adjustment. It is not.
Jones had 53 points combined his first two full seasons in the NHL with the Philadelphia Flyers and earned himself a two-year, $5.5 million dollar extension. Now he is doing more to prevent goals than create them.
“I feel like I’ve been able to chip in, in certain areas, with the team and help us get wins,” Jones said. “I’ve always been a power-play guy and not played a lot on the penalty kill. This year, it’s the complete opposite. But I’m more than happy to help out in any role they give me.”
He would not be here without that attitude.
Jones said hockey is huge in New Brunswick, it’s in the blood, but there are not enough rinks for the amount of good players and scouts don’t frequent the province. Jones went undrafted, but signed as a free agent with the Flyers in July of 2003 after two seasons at Clarkson University in Potsdam, New York.
Things were rolling nicely for Jones through his first four seasons, but a hip injury caused him to miss 35 games in 2008-2009. When he came back for training camp in September of 2009, salary cap problems forced the Flyers to make some moves and Jones was waived.
“In the end, you have to realize even though this is a game and it’s fun, it’s also a business,” Jones said. “It’s just like anything else. Situations are difficult for both and decisions have to be made. I needed to respect that and move on.”
Jones was claimed on re-entry waivers by the Los Angeles Kings in late October, 2009, and suffered a concussion just before Christmas that kept him out a month.
It was a little over two years earlier that Jones went through another situation with a concussion. Jones hit Boston Bruins center Patrice Bergeron into the boards awkwardly, causing him to miss the rest of the season with a head injury. Jones was given a two-game suspension for the unfortunate hit, but the NHL ruled that there was no intent to injure. He still said it affected him.
“I’d like to say no,” Jones said. “Because, obviously in situations like that you need to be mentally tough, realize what you did and learn from it, not let it bother you.
“I couldn’t be more happy than to have [Bergeron] back and for him to be playing the way he’s playing. There’s times when you kind of second guess when you’re going into the corners a little bit. You might hesitate. There was a little adjustment I had to make and you just try to move forward.”
Jones earned a spot with the Kings last season, recording 21 points in 48 games and playing in the first round of the playoffs. But Jones would have to battle for a spot with his third team this season.
Lightning Vice President and GM Steve Yzerman signed the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Jones August 25 to a one-year deal, just a little more than three weeks before training camp. Jones has missed just five games since, with a goal, 12 assists and a plus/minus rating of just minus-1.
Boucher said Jones has developed into a good penalty killer, using his stick well and getting to free pucks quicker. Since the all-star break, Jones has been a standout playing with several different defense partners.
Jones has already set a career high in blocks with 97, standing third on the team behind Brett Clark and Mattias Ohlund.
“He seems to be everywhere,” Lightning center Dominic Moore said. “He’s such a smart player. He reads the angles, the shot lanes. He seems to always be in the way when they shoot.”
Boucher said Jones’ preparation for games has improved.
“He’s well activated going into games,” Boucher said. “He was always good in the third period, but it sometimes took him a period and a half to get going. His practices have been more intense and his game has really evolved. He’s very reliable and he’s fit in perfectly for us.”
The changes were simple, but important.
“I made some adjustments before games and during morning skates, getting a little more loose, a little more of a sweat and got the heart rate going,” Jones said. “I think ever since I started doing that it’s made a huge difference. I’m more ready to go when the puck drops.”
With the addition of Marc-Andre Bergeron and Eric Brewer recently and the return of Mike Lundin soon, the Lightning will likely have nine full-time NHL defensemen to battle for playing time down the stretch.
Jones said it doesn’t add pressure. Depth on the back end is a plus.
“We’re a team in here and we’re happy for whoever is getting the job done,” Jones said. “That’s what we want. We realize that teams win games, individuals don’t.”