Philadelphia Flyers season preview: Hoping for a Scott Hartnell bounce back

I swear, the hardest thing about being a Flyers blogger is picking which Scott Hartnell photo to use for a piece at any given point in time. He's quite photogenic. - Bruce Bennett

Scott Hartnell had quite a rough go of things in the 2013 season, just after signing his massive contract extension which begins now. He'll be better this year -- but how much better?

Scott Hartnell

Age: 31
Depth Chart: First line left wing
Contract Status: $4.75 million per year through 2019
2013 Frequent Linemates: Claude Giroux (50.9% of time), Jakub Voracek (41.7%)

2013 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
32 15:52 8 3 11
Corsi On Corsi Rel Corsi Rel QoC OZ Start % PDO
4.5 17.4 0.450 49.8 971

The bad from 2013

A year after the best season of his NHL career to date and after signing a six-year, big-money contract extension that will likely have him in Philadelphia for the rest of his career ... everything, more or less, was bad in 2013 for Scott Hartnell. He suffered the first significant injury of his Flyers career to date three games into the season, missing 16 games with a broken foot while blocking a shot from his own teammate. He came back from that injury faster than most expected, but he seemed a step slower in his stride post-injury (not a good thing for a guy who's never exactly been the most graceful skater out there) and the touch that he had in 2011-12 clearly just wasn't there.

His goal-scoring pace nearly cut in half, down to just around one every four games, and he finished with three assists in 32 games despite spending over half of his total ice time -- combined, at even strength and the power play -- alongside the team's superstar center and near-point-per-game winger. Three assists. Three. Let's put that number in perspective: wanna know another Flyer who had three assists last season? Ilya Bryzgalov.

So yeah. Not a banner year for Hartsy.

The good from 2013

Well, for one, some level of regression for Hartnell was just about inevitable last year. That's what happens when you're a career 11 percent shooter who shoots 16 percent in a full season, like Hartnell did in 2011-12. Given that, things probably could've actually somehow gone worse for him -- his 2013 goal-scoring average of 0.25 per game is actually pretty close to his career mark of 0.26.

And on top of that, Hartnell put up some fairly good possession numbers throughout the season. While some of that can probably be attributed to his spending a lot of ice time with Giroux and Voracek, both of those two posted much better numbers (in terms of Corsi % for) while on the ice with Hartnell than they did while on the ice without him. That would suggest Hartnell's doing something right in driving the play forward with the team's top line, even if the points aren't coming, so good for him.

What should we expect this season?

We tried to answer that question once already back in May, so in the interest of saving time here I'll mostly just copy and paste the summary over there:

As we said last year when [the contract extension] was signed, the biggest question with Hartnell at this point is pretty much with how he ages through the length of his contract. Guys with similar patterns of production generally don't put up excellent numbers through their 31 through 36 seasons, so it's true that Hartnell's not off to a great start if he's hoping to avoid that aging curve.

If you think his drops in shots and shooting percentage are due in large part to his additional year of age, then yeah, you probably think that his performance this year is a good predictor of what's going forward. (For what it's worth, I think that captures maybe a small part of it, but certainly not all of it.)

Ultimately, I think that the thing to ask there is what exactly you would mean by "bounce back." If you're defining that as what he did in his 37-goal, 67-point year in 2011-12, you might end up disappointed. But if you're looking more at his 82-game averages in recent years of around 26 goals and 26 assists, there's a good chance that he'll find himself around there next year if he stays healthy.

There are some pretty solid signs suggesting that Scott Hartnell will probably break down a bit by the end of his contract, and him having probably the worst season of his career last year will do nothing to quell those fears. But a lot of his shot rates from year-to-year held fairly steady, and he was absolutely a bit of a victim of the percentages this time around. The same way that we could've expected his numbers to decrease from two seasons ago to last season, we should expect them to increase from last season to this season. Especially if/when he stays healthy and remains on the top line with Giroux and Voracek.

Best case...

With last season behind him, Hartnell/Giroux/Voracek becomes the second, superior, more gingery coming of Hartnell/Giroux/Jagr. Hartsy stays healthy, the chemistry is there all across the line, and he rebounds in grand style by topping 30 goals and 60 points.

Worst case...

Hartnell is still a bit slow from his broken foot, his numbers only rebound a little bit, his shot rates and percentages start to fall victim to the aging curve, and -- much like last year -- his struggles lead to a revolving door on the top-line left wing spot, which hinders Giroux and Voracek's ability to maintain elite levels of offense.

Bottom line

Assuming he is and remains healthy (a fairly safe bet for a guy who had missed three games in five years with the Flyers before last season), Scott Hartnell will be better this year than he was last year. I see absolutely no way that's not the case. Exactly how much better he is will go a long way towards determining how well that top line does. There's pressure on him to succeed, but every time in the last few years that it's looked like Hartnell was cooked, he's found a way to prove everyone wrong. Let's hope he does it again this year.

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