The Philadelphia Flyers signed goaltender Carter Hart last week to a three-year contract worth $3.979 million in average annual value (AAV). Ian Mendes of The Athletic Hockey Show called it the “definition of a bridge deal” for the 23-year-old. The terms appear to be somewhat lofty for a goaltender coming off an extremely poor season, but the deal could potentially look like a steal by the time the three-year term ends if Hart returns to the form he showed during his first two NHL seasons.
The contract was initially seen as an unprecedented commitment to a goalie with as little experience as Hart. However, the New York Rangers signed Igor Shesterkin, a 25-year-old with under half the amount of regular-season games and less playoff experience, to a four-year deal worth $5.667 million in AAV just days later.
Flyers Put Faith in Carter Hart
The organization’s willingness to make a sizeable financial investment in an era where salary space is so precious shows their confidence in Hart as the goaltender of the future in Philadelphia. A disappointing 2020-21 season for the Flyers was especially rough on Hart, who finished with the worst single-season save percentage (SV%) among regular NHL goaltenders since the 2009-10 season (from The Athletic, Flyers 2020-21 report card: Grading everyone from Claude Giroux to the coaching staff to Carter Hart, 5/13/21).
Despite the struggles, general manager Chuck Fletcher and has set expectations for a bounce-back effort from the young goaltender and for the team collectively in 2021-22. His emphasis on changing the defensive structure this offseason indicates the organization’s dissatisfaction with last year’s performance in front of Hart.
While the environment in front of Hart did him no favors last season, he was still held accountable for his own struggles by head coach Alain Vigneault. After posting an .815 SV% during a disastrous month of March, he was scratched for a week and sent to work with Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh away from customary team activities. Vigneault publicly expressed Hart’s need for better practice habits at that point. While the public comments seemed somewhat demanding to be made about such an inexperienced goaltender, they also showed Vigneault’s comfort level in challenging Hart and the lack of any need to baby him during his struggles.
The Flyers identified and addressed the need for a backup goaltender with more durability than Brian Elliott, who played 30 games for them last season. They were rumored to have interest in veterans with strong track records like Jonathan Bernier and Darcy Kuemper. However, they signed Martin Jones, who is considered a bit of a reclamation project, to a one-year deal. The lack of a significant investment in a backup suggests also full confidence in Hart to rebound from the hiccup in 2020-21.
Hart’s Confidence in Flyers Rebound Season
Hart spoke with Jason Myrtetus on the Flyers Daily podcast last week about the struggles of 2020-21. He said, “this year obviously didn’t go very well for myself and for our group, but it’s in the past, and we can learn from it, and we are going to learn from it. And next season’s a clean slate for everybody. I know we’re all just so excited for a new start, a fresh start, some new faces coming in, and we’re going to have a great squad, and we’re going to have a great year.”
He clearly suffered from a lack of confidence last year, evidenced by his inconsistencies in the fundamental goaltending techniques that helped him succeed at the NHL level during his first two seasons. In his exit interview following the season, he also emphasized the struggles resulting from the pandemic restrictions throughout the year and the mental toll he experienced. During his interview last week, he even revealed that he met his agent in person for the first time last month after the two had already been working together for about a year.
The issues he faced snowballed in many ways last season based on the brutal circumstances surrounding the team. Given Fletcher’s offseason roster overhaul, Hart figures to be placed in a better situation to succeed in 2021-22. Judging goaltenders by raw SV% sometimes downplays the extent of how much a defensive environment can affect them. However, Hart’s rebound effort ultimately falls on him. He expressed an understanding of that reality by pointing out, “When things don’t go your way, you can’t let it get the best of you.”
Flyers Hopes for Hart’s Future
Hart’s initial success at the NHL level came at a younger age than is typically expected of goaltenders, and the potential to build on that success isn’t dispelled because of his struggles last season. However, he has a lot to prove over the course of his three-year deal. The organization’s expectation for him to be the goaltender who finally provides long-term stability in the Flyers crease still exists, and the window of opportunity for teammates Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier might not extend much longer.
Even after 101 regular-season games in parts of the three NHL seasons and 14 playoff starts, he still falls on the younger end of the NHL’s netminders. He should still be considered a developing player. His individual performance through the duration of this “bridge deal” will decide if his NHL future will be as bright as the Flyers hoped it would be prior to the nightmare of 2020-21.
Colin Newby is a freelance journalist from Delaware County, PA covering the Philadelphia Flyers for The Hockey Writers. He is an encyclopedia of useless sports knowledge with an uncanny ability to rattle off Flyers goaltending stats from 2004 and every Stanley Cup winner during his lifetime. The depths of his knowledge stem from spending his entire life following the Flyers and the NHL, from fan favorites like the “Legion of Doom” and Claude Giroux to forgotten journeymen like Andy Delmore and Branko Radivojevič. He joined the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association (PHWA) in 2022.
Colin also covers the Philadelphia Eagles and works for 97.5 The Fanatic in Philadelphia.