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The Flyers’ tricky contract extension negotiations with Carter Hart

There’s been very little noise about a potential extension for the goalie who’s quickly becoming a (the?) face of the franchise. In fairness, though, there aren’t many data points to work with when it comes to an extension.

Philadelphia Flyers v New York Islanders - Game Six Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

So the offseason’s still happening. For some undeterminate amount of time — the league says January 1, but who knows — we’re without hockey. It may be a quickly-coldening, pandemic-stricken November, but in the context of the hockey calendar, it is August as hell over here. And the Flyers’ already-pretty-quiet offseason has been just about as silent as an offseason can be for a month-plus now. Outside of an inevitable contract extension for restricted free agent Phil Myers, we’re not expecting much more from the orange and black the rest of the way in terms of personnel.

As such, we’re left wondering what, if anything, might happen. And as we try and scope out the uncertainty, we land on what has, bizarrely, become perhaps the most stable position in the franchise: starting goaltender. Carter Hart has, through 1.5 years of NHL-level playing time, been what we were expecting and hoping for. He’s been a quality starting goaltender able to shoulder the load for extended periods, and was the team’s best player in his lone playoff run. Nothing is guaranteed in the world of goaliedom, but he looks like a pretty sure bet to be this team’s rock in net for the foreseeable future.

And he’s done everything to date on an entry-level deal, which is a quite rare occurrence in today’s NHL. Not many teams out there are trotting out goalies in their early 20s, and you typically see their track to the NHL run a bit longer than those of defensemen and forwards. You don’t really see goalies getting more than a season, at most, at the game’s highest level before they sign their second contract.

Carter Hart, if all goes according to plan, will have three NHL seasons under his belt — well, two full ones and most of a third in 2018-19 — before his entry-level deal ends, and he’s already got close to two seasons’ worth of experience as we stand today. And as some have wondered whether the Flyers may look to sign Hart to an extension, the challenge for the Flyers and for Hart is that there are just so few goalies that have even just had the experience at the NHL level that he already does.

With some help from CapFriendly’s contract finder, I tried to find every goalie since the last lockout who signed their second NHL contract as a one-way deal while age 23 or younger, then cut out those who didn’t have any real meaningful NHL time before signing that deal. That left us with eight goalies to look at. I also included New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood, who is a year older than Hart and is currently a restricted free agent but came into the NHL around the same time Hart did and has a similar amount of NHL experience.

Here are those players, along with the numbers — regular-season and playoffs — they had accumulated prior to signing their extensions. (Goals Saved Above Expectation [GSAx] courtesy of Evolving-Hockey. The below table is sortable.)

Goalie Performance Prior To Signing Second Contract

Goalie Extension Signed At Age Seasons Between Signing and Extension Games Played Save Percentage GSAx GSAx/GP Contract Years Contract AAV
Goalie Extension Signed At Age Seasons Between Signing and Extension Games Played Save Percentage GSAx GSAx/GP Contract Years Contract AAV
Carter Hart TBD TBD 88 0.9171 11.23 0.128 TBD TBD
Mackenzie Blackwood TBD 0 70 0.9158 -0.97 -0.014 TBD TBD
Robin Lehner 23 0 63 0.92 3.43 0.054 3 $2,225,000
Juuse Saros 23 0 54 0.9233 19.88 0.368 3 $1,500,000
Andrei Vasilevskiy 21 1 52 0.9154 -6.06 -0.117 3 $3,500,000
Joonas Korpisalo 23 0 45 0.9154 12.09 0.269 2 $900,000
Braden Holtby 23 1* 35 0.9308 10.9 0.311 2 $1,850,000
Matt Murray 22 1 34 0.9244 7.07 0.208 3 $3,750,000
John Gibson 22 1* 30 0.9185 4.77 0.159 3 $2,300,000
Petr Mrazek 22 1 11 0.9263 2.33 0.212 1 $737,500

And therein lies the challenge in negotiating a Carter Hart extension. No goalie in the recent past has played in as many games at as young an age as Hart has before signing his second contract.

The guys on this list who have already signed extensions were, for the most part, either backups (Juuse Saros, Joonas Korpisalo, Petr Mrazek, and, at least at the time, John Gibson and Robin Lehner) or big-shot prospects who had limited samples before going on impressive playoff runs (Braden Holtby, Matt Murray, and Andrei Vasilevskiy). Hart falls a tiny bit into the second category — his numbers in his career to date were just fine until his outstanding playoff performance — but he also had a season and a half under his belt as his team’s clear-cut starter before going on that run. There’s no recent precedent for the negotiations that Hart and the Flyers are going through.

Ironically, the best comparable for the Flyers may be the one that hasn’t been signed yet, and that’s the one up the Jersey Turnpike. Hart and MacKenzie Blackwood have had comparable regular-season performances to date (Blackwood hasn’t played in the playoffs because the Devils are bad at hockey) and the Devils will surely reach an extension with him before next season begins. But it’ll be the second NHL contract the Devils have handed to a goalie this offseason, because they gave Corey Crawford a two-year deal back when free agency opened. And you don’t give a 35-year-old goalie a multi-year deal worth over $4 million per year to be anything less than a split-duty starter, which is to say that the Devils are going into whatever negotiations they have with Blackwood knowing he’s probably not the full-time starter for at least the coming season, and maybe the one after that.

Performance-wise, the Flyers can point to Blackwood as a starting point for Hart. But Hart can turn around and point out that he’s his team’s unquestioned starter and that he was the single-biggest reason they won ... five? six? of the seven playoff games they played in the bubble. It seems likely that the conversation will turn to the bigger names on that list — the Vasilevskiys and Murrays and Holtbys of the group (more likely the first two as theirs were more recent).

Or maybe the Flyers and Hart are going to break the mold here entirely. You’ll notice that none of the contracts in that table run longer than three years, and surely that has to do with the uncertainty that comes with signing goalies that don’t have a ton of experience under their belt, and that’s relevant to the situation here. If you’re the Flyers, maybe you’re thinking that if you’re about to give out a long-term contract extension to a goalie (and I can’t think of any recent examples of those not working out), you probably want to have as much tape on the guy as possible before doing so, meaning you’re content waiting out some or all of next season before doing so.

But again — Hart’s situation here isn’t like any of those others. Not that he’s drastically outpaced those guys in terms of NHL time, but 1.5 seasons as a starter is more than anyone else on this list had when they signed. No player in the above list who has signed an extension ever played more than 36 games in a season, playoffs included, before signing their deal. Hart nearly reached that mark in the first season of his ELC, getting called up in December on a bad team that never reached the playoffs, and he played 57 regular season plus playoff games this year. That’s still not a huge sample when it comes to a goalie, but it’s more than we’re used to with a 22-year-old, and it might be enough to make the Flyers say that they want to get him locked up long-term now.

It’s anyone’s guess whether Hart and the Flyers will reach an extension before the offseason ends, during the season, or next summer, but the challenges in doing so now are fairly evident. On the other hand, if you wait it out and he has another strong season next year, then the likelihood that Hart gets a market-changing long-term deal becomes that much higher. We’d take that outcome, of course, but it’s up to the parties involved to decide if it gets there.

* Braden Holtby and John Gibson both signed contract extensions early in the final year of their ELCs. They are counted here as having a year between signing and beginning their deals.