Carter Hart started this season almost perfectly. He was making saves that we hadn’t seen him make at an NHL level, consistently, and was almost singlehandedly dragging the Flyers to success through the month of October.
But his team has never really improved to help him out, despite John Tortorella harping on defensive play through his first few months with the team. The numbers say that Carter Hart is one of the most overworked goalies in the entire NHL. Among goalies who have played 1000 or more minutes of action this season, only former Vezina trophy winner Connor Hellebuyck has faced more shots than Hart. Hart also has the second highest expected goals against in the league, and the second most high danger shots against.
All of the numbers say that Hart should be getting shelled on a nightly basis, and a lesser goalie probably would be, as we have seen at times when rookies Felix Sandstrom or Samuel Ersson have taken Hart’s place and promptly gotten rocked. But Hart has all the tools to be a consistent, quality NHL starting goalie; if you don’t believe it now after how well he played to start the year, you never will. Put him on a team like the Hurricanes, Maple Leafs, or Bruins who are more adept at suppressing shots, and his numbers would rival any goaltender in the league.
But the unfortunate part is, this a 24 year old goalie who is being thrown into the meat grinder repeatedly for a team that has no chance for success. You want the unbeatable Hart that started the season to be the one you get for a hypothetical playoff run some point down the line, but he’s currently tied for the league lead in games played for a team that is horrible by all metrics.
Now that isn’t necessarily a bad thing yet, but if the amount of shots doesn’t go down, and he continues to trend towards playing 55-60 games for the first time in his career, then there is a chance that Hart wears down.
That chance is increased if he continues to have really heavy traffic cones launch opposing players at him randomly.
Late in the game during the Flyers 6-5 loss to the Hurricanes on December 23rd, Rasmus Ristolainen decided to finally start clearing the front of the net. Unfortunately, he aimed the wrong way and accidentally (I hope?) launched Carolina forward Seth Jarvis directly into the upper body of his goaltender.
Hart would leave the game right after, and has been placed on injured reserve with an upper body injury, but considering “Risto” cleared Jarvis off the doorstep and into his head, there is definitely a concern that there may be some concussion symptoms present. At this current point however, nobody knows for certain besides Hart and the training staff (again, I hope).
Maybe it can be a pseudo-blessing for Hart, assuming the injury isn’t too serious. He can take a break and recuperate after facing so much rubber early on, and on the Flyers side, they can ride with a tandem of Sandstrom and Ersson, and more than likely lose to their hearts’ content in pursuit of a high draft selection.
But this cannot keep happening, now that it is clear that the Flyers have such an important asset in between the pipes, you can’t just allow him to get his confidence shattered every season because the roster put in front of him is flat out insufficient.
It’s not the same situation, but what is happening to Hart currently reminds me a little of how Steve Mason’s Flyers career unfolded. After Mason arrived in 2012-13 from Columbus, he actually had a stellar first couple of years in Philadelphia. In 2013-14 as a 25 year old, Mason had a .917 save percentage (SV%) to go along with a 2.50 goals against average (GAA). He was seventh in Vezina voting that year, and his next season in 2014-15 was actually an improvement, with a fantastic .928 SV%, and 2.25 GAA.
But he never played for teams who had any more potential than that of a first round exit. His defenseman? Names like Nicklas Grossmann, Brandon Manning, Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn are littered throughout. Mark Streit looks like a standout amongst some of the names that were in front of Mason and he primarily an offensive weapon. Those teams were only ever decent because of their offensive units led by Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek, the defense always lacked quality. Never mind having to struggle through whatever the Dave Hakstol regime was.
All of this wore on Steve Mason until he cracked, his numbers never really bottomed out totally, but in his last year it seemed apparent that just being in Philadelphia had crushed his confidence, and he was never the same. He left the Flyers in 2016-17 at 28 years old, and was out of the NHL totally before he turned 30.
The Flyers revived Steve Mason, and then proceeded to destroy his career. Now Carter Hart is better than Steve Mason was; he doesn’t have one glaring flaw to his game like Mason did with his glove hand, that at times was suspect. But both were well accomplished prospects who had won gold with Canada at the World Junior Championship. They know pressure, but you cannot allow them to fend for themselves with lackluster defensive cores and systems. It is a waste of talent that only adds to the narrative that goalies and the Flyers don’t mix.
So, hopefully whenever Carter Hart feels good enough to get back in the net, the Flyers can give him a little bit more support than they have thus far, because up to this point, they’re hurting more than helping.