As every sport relies more heavily on analytics to tell us what’s really going on, there are fewer and fewer occurrences that seemingly spring from a different plane of existence. Something beyond explanation. Things that are only familiar to Wiccans. We can just about always point to some number or rate when trying to explain a game outcome or a player’s stats. Everything has reason.
But there are still a few spots around that at least feel like they are under the thumb of the occult. The Bears and quarterbacks, the Mariners and the playoffs, and yes, the Flyers and their goalies. It’s been the position of the damned in eastern PA for decades now. And it feels like the Flyers are killing their latest hope of salvation.
It’s never good when a coach is publicly calling out his goalie. Coaches and goalies have weird relationships in the NHL. Mostly, the goalies work with the goalie coach, and all the head coach knows is whether the puck was stopped or not. He doesn’t generally know why it wasn’t and rarely cares. There are very few former goalies who became coaches, and none currently in the league. Patrick Roy was one, and he revealed himself to be a prime cut moron in his time behind the bench. So maybe it’s better this way.
But that’s where Flyers goalie Carter Hart and coach Alain Vigneault find themselves at the moment. Hart will be scratched for the next couple of games, and Vigneault has criticized his practice and work habits. Basically, Hart is getting a reset, and if he doesn’t puke up a lung after practice, Vigneault won’t be impressed.
There’s no denying that Hart has been awful this season. He has a .869 save-percentage and a 4.04 goals-against average. Those numbers make it clear that the Flyers would have been better off putting a couple bags of fertilizer in net (something they’ve often tried in previous years).
Still, Vigneault throwing the chum of calling Hart a loaf, in so many words, to the ravenous Philly media is going to do exactly no one any good. You know what the headlines will be around Hart for the next few years already.
The problem is that the Flyers didn’t do Hart any favors with how he was brought through the organization, nor how the aging curve of the rest of the team and Hart’s don’t exactly line up. Look at the best goalies around the league, and you’ll see almost all of them served some kind of apprenticeship either at the AHL level or as a backup/1B in the NHL for a season or two or three. Most don’t assume the starting role until age 23 or 24, some even later. Marc-Andre Fleury was one who went straight from the draft to the league. And he was terrible in his first few years. But the Penguins didn’t have much riding on those seasons, so they could let Flower eat it and learn the lessons.
Hart wasn’t so lucky. He was called up with just 18 games experience in the AHL, as they faced an unprecedented bout of injuries in the crease. Seriously, they used seven other goalies that year besides Hart. In the intermittent minutes that any of the other goalies remained upright and conscious, they were all terrible. Hart wasn’t, and the Flyers decided to start his reign immediately after.
Hart was pretty good last year (.917 SV%), but that was for a Flyers team that went into the season with low expectations. They played above them, and even made the top four of the conference before the season was stopped. But again, Hart was in the deep end, and they’ve seen the consequences this season.
The defense of Hart from some is that the... well, defense in front of him is bad. But they’re not really. The Flyers are middle of the pack when it comes to attempts and scoring chances they give up. They’re defensively similar to the Knights or Leafs, two teams at the top of their divisions. The defense just looks worse when even the faintest of suggestions of a shot eludes Hart as he flaps at them like he’s being attacked by moths.
Hart’s future is still bright, as he’s just 22 and has some success in the NHL already. But can the Flyers wait for his age-24 or 25 season when goalies tend to “get it?” This team isn’t quite as young as it looks, with only Ivan Provarov, Travis Konecny, Joel Farabee, Morgan Frost, and Oskar Lindblom having their best days ahead of them (and Lindblom and Konecny look more like role-players than building blocks). The rest of the roster looks like it’s shaped to challenge in the next year or two.
What the Flyers could really use is to spend the offseason finding a reliable vet who can split starts with Hart, and not their 347th attempt to convince the world that all of Brian Elliot’s limbs work. It’s what they should have done before this season, perhaps instead of importing Erik Gustafsson’s wayward relationship with his own zone. The Flyers will have a decent amount of cap space , with only Nolan Patrick is due a big raise, if he even is.
That’s if the water hasn’t been too poisoned for Hart already. He wouldn’t be the first to go all Poltergeist in the Flyers’ net.