The Philadelphia Flyers’ mismanagement of the goaltending workload has again ended with an injury, this time to 20-year-old rookie phenom Carter Hart, which rendered him incapable of suiting up for the Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Head coach Scott Gordon addressed the media, stating that Hart would not only miss the outdoor game but would be out for the next 10 days with a lower-body injury. This injury news occurred after Hart started four games in six days leading up to the pivotal matchup against the Penguins.
Sure, he got pulled in the first period of his last two starts against the Tampa Bay Lightning and Montreal Canadiens, but the Flyers were taking a risk by trotting him out after starting both games of a back-to-back over the past weekend and now they are paying the price for overworking their young stud goaltender. The handling of the goaltending workload simply has to be better.
Elliott and Neuvirth and Stolarz, oh my!
This is not a new issue. It has lingered since the Dave Hakstol era and one could argue it is the reason that the Flyers will break the record for goaltenders used in a season in 2018-19.
Hakstol chose to lean on his goaltenders for long stretches of time without giving them any rest. That included playing both games in back-to-backs until they either fell apart from exhaustion or got injured. This was most notable when he chose to start a 32-year-old Brian Elliott last season for the entire month of December, 16 straight starts. Although Elliott had no history of injuries prior to joining the Flyers, common sense should tell you that starting a 32-year-old for an entire month could lead to one.
To no one’s surprise, the overplayed Elliott eventually succumbed to the workload and suffered a core muscle injury in February that sidelined him for the next two months and lingered throughout the offseason and into the 2018-19 season. He is just now returning to full health after suiting up in place of Hart for the Stadium Series game.
Although the chronically-injured Michal Neuvirth cannot contribute all of his injury woes to Hakstol’s tough work schedule, it’s fair to say that it didn’t help. Hakstol regularly chose to ride Neuvirth for multiple games after coming back from nagging lower-body injuries, resulting in a return to the injured reserve and out of games. He still remains unavailable, and more than likely won’t get the chance to don the Orange and Black again in his career.
Even this season, with Anthony Stolarz coming back from two major injuries to the same knee, Hakstol started Stolarz for seven straight games, including a back-to-back, which, you guessed it, landed Stolarz back on injured reserve. Thankfully it was a minor injury and Stolarz returned after a few weeks and played well enough to be flipped to the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Cam Talbot. Had the injury been more serious, it would have been another instance of Hakstol running a goaltender into the ground and rendering him useless and valueless.
Proper Management Crucial to Long-term Success
Now we are seeing the same issue under Gordon. Sure, a 20-year-old kid has a lot less injury risk than 30-plus-year-old veterans or a player coming off of major knee surgeries, but his workload still needs to be managed. There’s no reason that over the course of a season – if earned through strong play – Hart could start 50 or even 60-plus games, but he still needs the proper rest in between those starts to assure he stays healthy enough to go the distance.
Whomever the Flyers choose this offseason to be the next bench boss, making sure he can properly manage the goaltending rotation needs to be a top priority, lest they run the risk of things spiraling out of control again as they did this season. After decades of being stuck in goaltending purgatory, the Flyers finally have their guy. It’s on them and the next head coach to keep him healthy.