Philadelphia Flyers 2013-14 Year In Review: Scott Hartnell

Bruce Bennett

The previous two years of Scott Hartnell's career were the best and worst of his time in Philly, so it seems about right that this year ended up being pretty average by his standards.

Scott Hartnell

Age: 32 (April 18, 1982)
Contract Status: $4.75 million per year through 2019

2013-14 Stats

GP TOI/GP Goals Assists Points
78 16:53 20 32 52
Corsi For Corsi Rel Quality of Comp. (TOI%) Zone Start % PDO
54.3% (2) 6.2% (2) 29.0% (6) 58.7% (1) 101.5% (4)

(Numbers in parentheses indicate descending rank among regular Flyers players at his position, i.e. one of the team's top eight defensemen or top 13 forwards.)

Most frequent forward lines

Linemates Goals For% Corsi For% OZ/DZ%
Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek 61.5% (+24 / -15) 57.3% 60.2%
Brayden Schenn, Wayne Simmonds 70.6% (+12 / -5) 52.6% 62.3%
Wayne Simmonds, Claude Giroux 25.0% (+1 / -3) 55.6% 50.0%

Variability, personified

We talk a lot here on BSH about trying not to jump to widespread conclusions based on short-term results for a guy that are way out of line with where you would expect him to be based on his career to date. When a guy has pretty well established what kind of a player he is, you try not to look too much into a year of him putting up results worthy of a superstar and/or of a marginal NHLer.

So on that note, let's talk Scott Hartnell.

The second-longest tenured player on the Flyers (behind only Braydon Coburn), Hartnell entered this season just a year removed from easily his best season as a Flyer. On a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, Hartnell put up 37 goals and 67 points, both career-highs that propelled him to an All-Star selection and a six-year contract extension.

Unfortunately, he also entered this season zero years removed from easily his worst season as a Flyer. He missed a month of the lockout-shortened season with a foot injury and ended the year with a paltry 8 goals and 11 points in 32 games -- a 28-points-per-82 pace.

A rational person would look at those two seasons, then probably expect Hartnell's season this year to fall somewhere in the middle of those two extremes. In our piece looking at his offensive struggles from last summer (written exactly a year ago today, in fact!), we said that you could rationally expect him to be somewhere around 52 points this year (26 goals/26 assists) based really off of nothing but his career averages.

How'd that work out?

Success from an unlikely trio

Hartnell's season -- for maybe the fourth or so straight year now -- started out pretty slow, as he missed a week of play in October with an upper-body injury and managed to go the whole month without a single point. While we know the team as a whole was a bit offensively challenged in that month, this was assuredly not the start that Hartnell -- coming off of a bad year -- was hoping for.

Regardless, the Flyers kept leaning on him, giving him regular shifts with Giroux and Voracek and keeping him situated in the high slot on the top power play unit. And his luck would eventually turn, as he slowly started scoring in November and then really picked it up again in December and January, during which he scored 25 points in 29 games as the Flyers threw their offense back into high gear and won a bunch of hockey games.

So what's most noteworthy about that time frame? It's that Hartnell wasn't with his usual forward partners when it happened.

Following a brutal 7-2 loss on December 11 in Chicago, Craig Berube shuffled his lines up a bit, bumping rookie Michael Raffl up to Hartnell's spot on the top line and moving Hartnell down to the second line with Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. On paper, that sure looked like a bad idea -- Schenn, still very much a work in progress, was the line's only real playmaker-type, and all three of them have skating ability ranging somewhere between "passable" and "yikes".

And yet, somehow, it worked. Rather well, in fact. Given some good offensive minutes, the line managed to get a strong cycle game going fairly often, get a majority of the shot attempts and chances, and outscore their opponents 12-5 with all three of them on the ice.

Surely, some luck was involved in that, and if that was a unit that stayed together indefinitely they wouldn't continue to get 70 percent goals scored the way that they did there. But after the play of the Schenn-Vincent Lecavalier-Simmonds line went south, it's hard not to see their collective success come at least partly as a product of Hartnell.

Hartnell would eventually go back to the top line, and he was a big-time offensive contributor down the stretch as well -- he posted 12 points in 14 games in March mostly alongside Giroux and Voracek and on that top power play unit. Things dried up a bit in the playoffs, when he didn't have a particularly good series against the Rangers that brought many of his critics back around.

But Hartnell managed to be a successful contributor to possession and scoring on two different lines this year. Which brings us to our next point.

Scott Hartnell, possession driver?

Perhaps this isn't surprising for a guy who falls down on his skates so often that he's got a charity based on it, but for a while now Hartnell has never been one who looks like he's playing the game of hockey in a particularly impressive manner. Maybe it's because his game isn't necessarily that skill-oriented and because when he goes cold he'll tend to seem invisible, but any time things go south with the team's offense, Hartnell is typically one of the first to take heat.

And yet despite that, it seems like Hartnell is doing exactly the kinds of things that will help out whoever he's playing with.

Let's consider the following chart, which shows us Scott Hartnell's four most frequent linemates this year and how they fared, in terms of what percentage of all even-strength shot attempts (or Corsi attempts) went the Flyers' way while they were on the ice, and let's also do the same for goals scored. (Numbers via stats.hockeyanalysis.com)

Corsi-For% w/Hartnell Corsi-For% w/o Hartnell Goals-For% w/Hartnell Goals-For% w/o Hartnell
Claude Giroux 55.7% 49.5% 54.0% 56.6%
Jakub Voracek 57.1% 52.5% 63.4% 58.1%
Brayden Schenn 51.9% 46.3% 60.9% 45.8%
Wayne Simmonds 53.9% 46.6% 65.2% 45.6%

All of these guys did markedly better in terms of possession (shot attempts) while on the ice with Hartnell than they did without him, meaning they were on the ice with him, they were getting more zone time and scoring chances than they usually are. Don't care about possession? Only worried about what's up on the scoreboard? Well, three of the four did much better with Hartnell than without him in terms of goals-scored as well -- and in the cases of Schenn and Simmonds, the goals-for numbers with Hartnell jump up by 15-20 percent from where they are without him.

Now, this isn't perfect data by any means. Some of this is just the product of not having that much data (though Hartnell showed similar trends last season). Some of this has to do with the fact that Hartnell's used primarily as an offensive weapon in offensively-oriented minutes, and when these guys aren't with him, they're put in more defensive situations that don't lend themselves to high goals-for or Corsi-for. And some of it has to do with the alternatives -- for instance, Schenn and Simmonds both spent most of their ice time not with Hartnell with Vincent Lecavalier, who was not good this year by any of the above measures.

But the point remains that Scott Hartnell is pushing play in the right direction and ultimately into the other team's net. You may not think he always looks great out there. But the results are not deniable.

Finding the right fit next year

So Hartnell is a no-doubt top-6 contributor on this team. He's scoring, pushing play in the right direction at evens, and is a key contributor to the top power play. Regardless, there are still plenty of questions about what exactly he -- a 32-year old under contract for five more years who will probably get worse before he gets much better -- fits in this team's long-term plans.

While he was fourth on the team in total shots on goal, Hartnell isn't quite a volume shooter -- a guy who has a no-doubt, shoot-first mentality that is exactly what Giroux and Voracek need on their line. Similarly, he's not exactly a sniper -- though he's able to execute that shot from the high slot on the power play pretty darn well, he's not a guy who will be able to pick the corners or anything, so he isn't the one raising his team's shooting percentages.

Maybe the fact that he's never relied much on his legs anyways will mitigate some of the inevitable aging concerns, but players like Hartnell -- the gritty types whose success revolve around their physicality -- can tend to break down at a moment's notice. Hartnell's been in the NHL for 13 seasons and, including the playoffs, has played over 1000 NHL games, and you can't help but wonder what his breaking point is given that he'll be with this team and making good money until 2019.

He'll likely still be on that top power play next year, as he should be. But is he better suited for a second-line role at evens? Is it with Schenn and Simmonds, and if so, can that kind of a "grind line" sustain the success over a full season that it did in spurts this year?

Scott Hartnell's a quality top-6 player. If the Flyers are a successful team next year, he'll be a key reason why. But there are a lot of legitimate questions about what exactly his fit is going forward -- and with no idea how much longer he'll be an effective NHLer, the Flyers need to figure out what that fit is.

Preseason expectations

Let's check back on our season preview for Scott Hartnell and see what we thought could happen with him this year.

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.

Verdict:

Despite a rocky start, Hartnell bounced back just about to where we should expect him to be -- 52 points exactly, just as we pretty much expected at this time a year ago. So that's pretty comfortably between our best-case and worst-case as described above.

While he often wouldn't make it look easy or pretty and was the closest thing to a "weak link" on the line with Giroux and Voracek, he brought the necessary physical play that helped that group succeed, and he was good on the power play as he often is. Maybe more encouragingly, though, his success didn't just come with Giroux and Voracek, and the fact that he was able to push play forward and score goals with Schenn and Simmonds suggests that there's a real level of play-driving ability to his skill set, and with the Flyers' struggles in possession this year, that's something they could certainly use.

There are still questions about him moving forward, and he might be a little overcast as a top-line winger. Hartnell's almost certainly never again going to touch the 67-point total that he picked up two years ago with Giroux and Jagr. But with things set up the way they are now, Scott Hartnell's a key piece on this team, and while he's certainly a wild card moving forward, more seasons like this one would serve him well.

***

Feel free to vote in the poll below to grade Scott Hartnell's season on a scale from 1 to 10. Vote based on your expectations for him coming into the season -- i.e. 1 being "he was incredibly disappointing and I want him out now", 10 being "he was outstanding even beyond my craziest expectations".

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