Penguins and Carter Hart Are Excellent Match

After the final buzzer sounded on the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 2022-23 season, general manager Ron Hextall and company were faced with serious questions from ownership, media, and fans. Ownership began to address the team’s failures when they dismissed Hextall and president of hockey operations Brian Burke and brought in former Toronto Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as Burke’s replacement.

However, perhaps no part of the Penguins’ season was under more scrutiny in the days and weeks that followed than their shaky goaltending. Tristan Jarry was oft-injured, and backup Casey DeSmith struggled for most of his time in the crease.

Carter Hart Philadelphia Flyers
Carter Hart, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, the Penguins have just been presented with a glorious opportunity. Their cross-state rival Philadelphia Flyers have been actively shopping their former No. 1 Carter Hart after acquiring Cal Petersen from the Los Angeles Kings as part of the three-team trade that sends defenceman Ivan Provarov to the Columbus Blue Jackets. If Dubas’ introductory press conference is anything to go by, rectifying the goaltending situation is one of his top priorities, and Hart could serve as an excellent replacement for either Jarry or DeSmith.

Hart Still Has Potential Despite Recent Struggles

Hart was drafted in the second round, 48th overall, of the 2016 NHL Draft. He was the highest-drafted goaltender in the 2016 draft class, and it was believed he would solve the Flyers’ struggles in the blue paint, becoming one of the eight goalies they used in his first season. He quickly established himself as the Flyers’ No. 1, posting four straight wins to go with a 6-2-1 overall record, a 2.33 goals-against average (GAA) and a .931 save percentage (SV%) through Jan. 18 of that season.

Before the 2019-20 season was suspended due to the pandemic, he was 24-13-3 with a 2.42 GAA and a .914 SV%. He was selected as one of the players to travel to Toronto for the bubble playoffs and became the youngest goaltender in Flyers’ history to win a postseason game, and he earned back-to-back shutouts against the Montréal Canadiens.

Related: Hart Fuels Flyers’ Formidable Playoff Start

In fact, his playoff performance in the bubble had some painting the Flyers as a newly-established powerhouse, and Hart was front and centre as the new face of the franchise. His teammates and coaches couldn’t say enough positive things about him, and he returned the favour at each opportunity.

Philadelphia Flyers Carter Hart
Philadelphia Flyers goaltender Carter Hart (AP Photo/Derik Hamilton)

The struggles began in 2020-21 when he allowed four or more goals in three consecutive starts, culminating in a 6-1 thumping at the hands of the Boston Bruins. The Bruins proved to be a particular nemesis for Hart, who took time off at the behest of then-coach Alain Vigneault to re-focus and turn his game around.

He hasn’t really been able to find his game since the start of 2020-21, but he does have potential. He’s only 24 and already has the resume of an established starter; by comparison, Jarry was already 24 when he made his NHL debut. He has one year remaining on his contract before he becomes an unrestricted free agent, and the Flyers have been in relative disarray for the past few seasons. They have been in rebuild mode, recently firing GM Chuck Fletcher and replacing him with former Flyer Daniel Brière. If Dubas and company want to inquire about Hart, now is the time to dial the phone.

Hart Can Restore Confidence Playing Behind Penguins

Although Hart’s individual struggles have been well-documented, it must be said that the Flyers did little to improve his surrounding cast, and many argued that they were never truly committed to a rebuild until recently. They dealt Shayne Gostisbehere, arguably their best defenceman and runner-up for the 2016 Calder Memorial Trophy. One of their best defensive forwards, Brayden Schenn, was traded to the St. Louis Blues at the 2017 NHL Draft. Longtime captain Claude Giroux departed for the Florida Panthers in a 2021-22 deadline deal. Since then, the Flyers have been searching for an identity and still haven’t found one. A defensive carousel that included previous castaways like Rasmus Ristolainen and Tony DeAngelo hasn’t helped matters, either.

Tony DeAngelo Philadelphia Flyers
Tony DeAngelo, Philadelphia Flyers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Playing in Pittsburgh could change everything for Hart. The Penguins’ defence is led by Kris Letang, one of the most consistent and effective defensemen in the league. Behind Letang is Brian Dumoulin, who, despite his rollercoaster 2022-23 season, remains one of the most coveted blueliners around. Outside of the defence corps, the Penguins have a much more established leadership structure than surrounded Hart in the City of Brotherly Love. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are arguably the best one-two combination in NHL history, whose longevity and experience will help shape Hart for the future.

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In Pittsburgh, Hart would be surrounded by staff and teammates who will be essential to his personal rebound. Given both his struggles and the Penguins’ in net, signing him would be mutually beneficial.