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What do the Flyers have in Ryan Hartman?

The winger was traded to Nashville exactly one year ago today.

Nashville Predators v Philadelphia Flyers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

When news broke yesterday afternoon that the Flyers had traded Wayne Simmonds to the Nashville Predators, and had in return received Ryan Hartman and a conditional fourth round pick, the immediate reaction wasn’t a positive one. With fans’ hearts set on Kevin Fiala, now a member of the Minnesota Wild, Eeli Tolvanen, or the Predators’ first round pick heading into the trade deadline, Hartman and a mid-round pick was a letdown. But, one could argue that it was always a bit unrealistic to expect the 2018-2019 version of Simmonds to fetch either skater, and that Hartman’s true value is similar to that of a late first rounder anyway.

Originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Hartman played just about two full seasons in the AHL with the Rockford IceHogs before becoming a NHL regular with the Blackhawks. In his rookie season, Hartman scored 19 goals, 31 points in total, and appeared in four playoff games as the Blackhawks were swept in the first round. In the midst of his sophomore season, the Blackhawks dealt him to the same Predators team that bounced them out of the playoffs a season prior for a first round draft pick, fourth round draft pick, and a prospect in Victor Ejdsell. Now, the 24-year old forward is headed to Philadelphia where he’ll look to carve out a top-nine role for the immediate future.

Appearing in 64 games with the Predators this season, Hartman scored ten goals and had 20 points, 18 of which coming at 5-on-5, and all of which coming at even strength. Furthermore, at 5-on-5 Hartman shot the puck at a rate that among Flyers forwards only Travis Konecny has beat, although some of that has to do with team effects. The Predators not only shoot the puck more than the Flyers do, but their defensemen take a lesser percentage of their shots. So, it will be interesting to see if Hartman can continue to be a volume shooter on a team that has a history of leaning on low-to-high plays to generate offense.

A disappointing 164 days with Nashville

Hartman burst onto the scene with the Blackhawks in the 2016-17 season, and during his time in the Windy City he scored at around a second-line level at 5-on-5. However just 141 games into his NHL career, Hartman was traded to the Predators, a landing spot that wound up never being a good fit.

His 5-on-5 points per 60 minutes dropped from 1.79 through one season and three-fourths of another with the Blackhawks, to just 1.39 — still better than Simmonds’ rate the past three seasons — in what can be described as essentially a full season (84 games) with the Predators. He did find some amount of playoff success though, scoring his first two goals, and registering his only playoff assist to date in the 2018 post-season. However that’d be his high point in a Predators jersey, as we know now that he wouldn’t finish the following season — this season — in gold and blue.

After starting the season playing close to 15 minutes per game, his average time on ice had dipped to 11:20 over his last 27 games dating back to late December, a stretch that saw him score just one goal and pick up six assists. It’s clear that things were not working for Hartman in Nashville, and that Peter Laviolette didn’t think very highly of him. Or at least didn’t anymore — there was a time earlier this season where Hartman played alongside Fiala and Ryan Johansen, serving as the team’s top line. Outside of that short stint, Hartman never really found himself with a consistent line, playing with his most common linemate at 5-on-5, Nick Bonino, just 37.86% of the time. Though, maybe that was for the best.

This season Hartman has a 53.12% score and venue-adjusted Corsi for and a 48.59% high danger Corsi for at 5-on-5, but with Bonino his numbers nosedive to a measly 48.84% CF and 45.36% HDCF. Away from Bonino, who has been a drag on the overwhelming majority of his teammates’ shot differentials this season, Hartman comes away looking a bit more positive. We can’t just throw away his minutes with Bonino, but we do know first hand what playing alongside a shot-based anchor can do to a player’s results.

Hartman and Bonino 5v5 WOWY

On-ice TOI CF% HDCF%
On-ice TOI CF% HDCF%
Together 290.37 48.85 45.49
Hartman w/o Bonino 490.37 55.46 50.40
Bonino w/o Hartman 469.55 47.20 50.08

So, yes, Hartman’s time in Nashville left more to be desired, but that doesn’t mean that he can’t bounce-back in Philadelphia. Plus, if we’re to speculate for a second, should the Flyers figure out a way to get Joel Quenneville behind the bench next season, they’d be reuniting Hartman with the same coach that he thrived under for two seasons.

Is Hartman going to block a kid?

An idea that’s been floated around on different social media is that Hartman is going to block one of the Flyers’ up and coming prospects in the semi-near future. Here’s the thing, what prospects are realistically on their way that he’d block? Nicolas Aube-Kubel has had two really impressive seasons with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, but is his upside any higher than that of a top-nine forward? Hartman has already proven to be that, and is just over a year and a half older than him. Bottom-sixers Corban Knight, Phil Varone, and Michael Raffl are all on expiring contracts and may end up in a different organization, and in Varone’s and Knight’s case, possibly back in the AHL. That potentially frees up three spots for Morgan Frost, among others, to win directly out of camp.

Outside of Frost, there’s no safe bet on any of the Flyers current prospects playing in at least 250 NHL regular season plus playoff games before their 25th birthday, which is what Hartman is on pace to accomplish should he remain healthy for the rest of the season. Hartman will likely provide more on-ice value than the majority of prospects the Flyers have, and will certainly provide more to the Claude Giroux era than anybody they’ll look to draft in June, barring another lottery miracle. That’s the benefit of a adding an established NHL skater instead of a late first round draft pick; it helps the team win next season.

Plus, one would have to assume that Hartman provides negative value over his Flyers’ tenure to truly block a prospect — which, to be fair, could be the case. And if that happens, sure, you’d wish that the return had been a late first round draft pick. But there’s no reason to believe he’s suddenly a replacement level forward who needs to be off the team in two seasons. He’s been an effective NHL player and he’ll continue to be one for seasons to come, even if he’s “only” a top-nine forward.

From a solely on-ice value perspective, the Flyers did well

There’s no replacing Simmonds’ human-impact. He meant a lot to this city, the players, and the fans. However, looking at this trade from what each player brings to the table in terms of tangible impacts, the Flyers walked away with a better 5-on-5 player and the Predators walked away with a better special teams player. With Nolan Patrick showing signs that he can handle Simmonds’ role on the power play last season — even usurping him at times when both “healthy” — the Flyers traded away a player that had already begun to lose a battle for the role in which he provides the vast majority of his on-ice value in, and added a player who has produced at a better rate at 5-on-5, something they could use more of in future seasons.

It’s understandable to be disappointed in the return, that was my initial reaction as well, but emotional connection and off-ice impacts aside, it’s hard to find fault in this deal. The Flyers moved on from a player that was likely headed towards free agency in June, and in return received a younger, cost-controlled winger who is more effective at even strength. That’s the type of player the Flyers have in Ryan Hartman, and that’s a win in my book.

Data courtesy of Natural Stat Trick and HockeyViz.