Carter Hart’s Sophomore Slump Presents Questions for Flyers

Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers spent the better part of the 2010s cycling through starting goalies and backups alike, never finding the stability in net that they were looking for. The team was always good enough to be in the playoff conversation, but it was clear that if they wanted to get over that hump, the Flyers would need to find their next franchise goaltender. The goalie carousel seemed to come to a stop last season, with the sensational breakout performance by Carter Hart. But as has been proven time and again, things can change, and quickly.

Hart Had Success In Juniors With Everett Silvertips

Hart was one of the most talked about goalie prospects in the NHL in the years leading up to his breakout season in the NHL, and the Flyers were certainly hoping all of the hype would prove to be true. The Sherwood Park, Alberta native was Philly’s second-round pick in the 2016 NHL draft, and there was no need in rushing him into the NHL sooner than he was ready for it.

Hart enjoyed an illustrious career in juniors playing with the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League (WHL). He made the WHL West First All-Star team three times (2016, 2017, 2018), was named the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) Goaltender of the Year twice (2017, 2018), and was named the WHL Player of the Year in 2018. In Hart, the Flyers were getting a player who was no stranger to success.

Flyers Got Hart’s Best Performance In Rookie Season

“The Carter Hart era has officially begun in Philadelphia,” analysts said as the rookie starter was standing on his head night in and night out, stealing games for the Flyers left and right. Hart won his NHL debut on December 18th, 2018 against the Detroit Red Wings, then won a second time two nights later against the Nashville Predators. He became the first goalie in Flyers history to win four straight starts before turning 21, and as if that wasn’t good enough, he extended that streak to eight victories, all the way through February 2019.

Carter Hart and teammates celebrate a win in the 2019-20 season (Winslow Townson, USA Today Sports via Philly Voice)
Carter Hart and teammates celebrate a win in the 2019-20 season (Winslow Townson, USA Today Sports via Philly Voice)

Such impressive feats as that one earned Hart a permanent spot on the roster, with Flyers fans hoping he would be ready to take the reins in the crease much sooner than they had thought. In the 2018-19 season, Hart started 31 games, and in the 2019-20 season, he officially became the team’s number one when he started 43 games, winning 24 and posting outstanding stats of a 2.42 goals against average (GAA) and .914 save percentage (SV%).

Hart’s rookie numbers were good enough to have his name pop up in the Calder Trophy conversation for the NHL’s top rookie, with him eventually placing ninth in voting. By all accounts, the Flyers crease was now Hart’s.

Hart Hit the Sophomore Slump Hard

There’s a phenomenon in professional sports that occurs when a rookie who played incredibly well in their first season fails to live up to the expectations they set for themselves in their second season, otherwise known as the sophomore slump. Hart hit the sophomore slump hard.

In the 2020-21 season, Hart has played in 27 games, posting a poor record of 9-11-5, and horrendous numbers for any goalie playing in the NHL, let alone a good one: a 3.67 GAA and .877 SV%. The average starter in the NHL will lose their job if certain things happen, including letting their GAA rise above the 3.00 mark, and letting their SV% sink below the .900 mark. Hart did both this season, and then some.

Carter Hart has had a diasppointing sophomore season for the Flyers. (Kate Frese, PhillyVoice)
Carter Hart has had a disappointing sophomore season for the Flyers (Kate Frese, PhillyVoice)

Hart seems to have hit a wall this season, but then again, so have the Flyers. This has simply not been their year, as they have shown multiple poor performances, including giving up nine goals – yes, nine – to the New York Rangers, a team they should have been better than this season. At 22 years old, Hart is by no means a lost cause, but this major regression shows he might need some more time to truly develop into the player the Flyers thought he had already become.

In his career, Hart has played 101 games, posting a record of 49-37-9, and recording a 2.88 GAA, .905 SV%, and two shutouts.

Flyers Faced With Goaltending Questions Again

While they have yet to be mathematically eliminated from Stanley Cup Playoff contention, the Flyers are well on their way to missing the playoffs this season, a huge disappointment from the expectations they set for themselves ahead of the 2020-21 season. They currently sit at sixth out of eight teams in the MassMutual East Division™, ahead of only the New Jersey Devils and Buffalo Sabres, the first two NHL teams to be eliminated from the playoffs.

Through 47 games played at the time of writing, the Flyers have a record of 21-19-7, good for 49 points, 11 points behind the fourth and final playoff spot in their division. They have allowed more goals this season than teams like the 31st-place Buffalo Sabres, with 168 goals allowed, a -36 goal differential on the year.

Hart has been out with an injury for close to a week at the time of writing, so it has been Brian Elliott and company holding down the fort in his absence. But his absence gives the Flyers some time to confront the issue of their goaltending once again, and presents some questions heading into next season. The biggest question is this: What will Hart’s next contract look like?

Hart will become a Restricted Free Agent (RFA) when this season is up, as his entry-level contract (ELC) expires after this season. He currently has a cap hit of $730,833, and is due for a big pay raise in his next deal. The question is though, how much money should the Flyers pay to Hart on a per-season basis? And further, what kind of term is he going to receive? After this poor season, that question becomes harder to answer.

I think the smart thing for the Flyers to do is to show Hart that they are committed, and that this is his crease. The best way to do that would be to give him a contract mirroring that of Anaheim Ducks goalie John Gibson. For a goalie like Hart, you have got to put this season in the rearview mirror, and turn your eyes to the future. After all, he is the goalie of the future for the Flyers. Right?

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