If you’ve read articles on this website or watched Philadelphia Flyers games from time to time, it’s not hard to see that Carter Hart has been one of the best players on the team. One could even argue that he has been the best. It’s the kind of start he needed to have after an awful 2020-21 season, where we watched a young goaltender bear the brunt of poor defense and an angry fanbase.
Now, it seems as if that is in the rearview mirror, and the Flyers are better off because of it. Well, if “better off” is carrying a 13-13-6 record and sitting fifth in the Metropolitan Division.
Nonetheless, it is exciting to see Hart bouncing back. Everyone knew before how good he could be, and he’s proving that one bad season isn’t indicative of how the rest of his career will go. He’s tracking pucks exceptionally well, and despite having a poor defense in front of him (again), he’s not collapsing after letting in a tough goal or two like he did in the previous season. That kind of mental fortitude is highly encouraging for a 23-year-old who is just starting his career.
Unfortunately, after a solid start to the season, Hart was placed on the NHL’s Covid-19 protocol list along with forwards Derick Brassard and Scott Laughton. There’s never a good time to lose your starting goaltender, but Hart’s removal from the lineup came at a particularly bad time, as the Flyers were trying to recover from the losing skid that lead to coach Alain Vigneault’s firing. The Flyers have a lot of problems to solve and at this point, the playoffs seem like a pipe dream at best. But if the Flyers are going to claw their way back into the postseason, it’s going to have to be Carter Hart that gets them there.
What do the numbers say?
To put it briefly, the numbers say Hart should be in the Vezina Trophy conversation. It’s truly a treat what we have watched over the 19 games he has played. He sits at ninth among all goaltenders in goals saved above expected (GSAx) per Evolving-Hockey with 8.64. The biggest caveat is that, despite not even hitting the 20 game mark, he still ranks 10th in expected goals against (xGA). The defense in front of him has been BAD by both the eye test and the analytics, so it’s even more impressive that he has been able to maintain these top-tier numbers.
To dive further down the analytics rabbit hole, among goaltenders with at least 800 unblocked shot attempts against (aka Fenwick), Hart sits eighth in delta Fenwick Save percentage—a stat that shows the difference between Fenwick save percentage and expected Fenwick save percentage (FSv% - xFSv%)—with 1.02.
If you’re not into all those fancy numbers, we can look at save percentage (Sv%). Hart ranks outside of the top 10, but it’s by a slim margin. He possesses a .918 Sv%, which is good for 14h among all goaltenders.
The numbers are all there, and given the number of high-danger chances he has faced, the Vezina campaign is on. He has been incredibly electric in the net.
Why this all sucks
Hart has been one of the best goaltenders in the NHL this season. He has singlehandedly snatched victory from the jaws of defeat with a Flyers team in front of him that looked unmotivated in seemingly every facet of the game. The numbers are tremendous, and it’s something that should bring plenty of Flyers fans solace. Even if you dread watching the Flyers right now, the least you can be excited for is a 23-year-old goaltender who is performing at an extremely high level.
Losing your best goaltender is not optimal! The Flyers wouldn’t be where they are without Hart’s valiant efforts night in and night out. Plus, he isn’t there for the people having a hard time watching the frustratingly boring team.
I mentioned the numbers earlier because this stint on the protocol list will affect his chance to win the Vezina Trophy. While his competitors are moving up in games played, Hart was stuck at just 19 games while waiting to clear protocol. While the Flyers give up enough chances to make up for the lost time, things can change for a goalie in an instant. An injury here or a trip to the protocol list there, and a goalie’s season can change with no warning. The inherent randomness of the position giveth, but it also taketh away.
The workload that Hart has had to deal with in 2021-22 is almost unfathomable. The road has been long and arduous, but perseverance has shown through, and it has been what the Flyers need. I have plenty of faith that the young Canadian goaltender will come back and continue his strong season, but naturally, goalies and their voodoo scare me because they’re completely unpredictable. The best thing that we all can hope for is that this stint on the Covid protocol list isn’t extensive, and we can return to our regularly scheduled programming.