Every time I look at Philadelphia Flyers goalie Carter Hart’s stats this season, I’m reminded of Obi-Wan Kenobi yelling that phrase at Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith, and not just because Gen Xers like me constantly associate everything with Star Wars. This is… our destiny.
Only 22 years old, Hart was the heir apparent to the Canadian goalie empire. It was the solution to a riddle that had kept aviators busy for decades. He may not be the next goalie to leave Philadelphia. Perhaps he will be the catalyst for their first successful Stanley Cup run since 1975.
Hart gave the fans that delusion of greatness because he had the numbers to back them up. In his first two NHL seasons, Hart posted a 40-26-4 record with a .915 save percentage in 74 games. He maintained his 21.4 goals above average and added a four-game winning streak. Hart posted a save percentage of .926 in the bubble playoffs last summer, winning nine of 14 games and raising expectations at the Vezina Trophy level for the 2021 season.
About 21 Games Into The Season, Carter Hart…. Uh, how do I put this… remember how Anakin Skywalker looked after the Obi-Wan battle on Mustafar?
He’s in trouble, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.
Hart is 8-8-3 with a 3.85 goals-against average and .875 save percentage. His save percentage at even strength is .885, the worst in the NHL for goalies with at least 20 games played. Analytically, he was the worst defender in the league: His goal-scoring average of -18.1 is nearly twice that of the closest goalie in that measure, Ottawa senator Matt Murray (-9.7).
According to Evolving Hockey, Hart cost the Flyers three wins in the standings. With six more points, they are tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins for third place in the East Division. Instead, they rank fifth with 34 points and a .548 field goal percentage and are 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
What happened to Carter Hart?
Carter is a young man. It was successful last year. He hasn’t played at the same level this year, there’s no doubt about that, Fletcher said.
Like any general manager, Fletcher doesn’t want to blame his team’s problems on the goalies, even though Hart and Brian Elliott led the Flyers to the worst save percentage (.880) in a league that, as mentioned above, still has the Ottawa Senators. He thinks the players should be judged for them as well.
This year we sold 27 heads in a very short time. This is the highest number in the league so far. One of the hallmarks of our team last year was that we defended well and didn’t let those chances go to waste. He said the ice cream would start. Therefore we put a lot of pressure on our defense and our goalie. This is something we think we can fix.
Fletcher also believes he can solve another persistent problem, namely the hole in the roster left by Matt Niskanen, who surprisingly retired before the season. You can never put too much value on the loss of a player on a team, but Niskanen was a big part of that with 22 minutes per game, two-way play and putting opponents down. He made Ivan Provorov better than he has been this season.
There was talk of Matthias Ekholm or (more likely) Alex Goligoski at the trade deadline. They need a few of these guys because their inability to replace Niskanen has hurt their blue line.
These are all factors that have contributed to Hart’s disastrous season, but at the heart of it all is a goalie who just isn’t himself. Self-confidence is a funny thing. It is a result-oriented company. If you’re not getting results, it’s hard to feel like you’re at the top of your game, Fletcher said.
And Hart isn’t getting results because he’s not at the top of his game.
Former NHL goalie Stephen Valiquette, CEO of Clear Sight Analytics, is arguably the best goalie evaluator today. The Carter Hart he’s seen this season is not the Carter Hart he’s seen before.
He was a very good model for a modern goalkeeper. I use it a lot in my training. But this year, that’s not happening. According to him, he is below expectations for almost every type of opportunity we detect.
Things weren’t too bad for Hart and the Flyers this season, but the high expectations aren’t being met right now. AP Photo/Matt Slocum
There are two main regression points for Hart. First in slot line games. Goalies follow east-west passes in two different ways. For the first, Valiquette uses the analogy of a tracksuit in goalkeeper training. As soon as the puck goes over the zipper of the tracksuit, the goalie’s head should go over his front knee and he starts pushing.
The other method is spreading: The pass goes to him and the keeper splits in two to defend him.
What Valiquette noticed about Hart: When he fell, his knee hit the ice and the puck hit the zipper before he had even bothered to make the save. Then he turns around.
Here’s the most amazing part: You can mark his skates before he goes to the corner, and mark them when the puck hits the net and he hasn’t moved an inch. He didn’t get any lateral mobility because he dropped his knee too early. Every goal he gives up to play east-west, you see, Valiquette said.
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The other measure on which Hart performed poorly was probability conversion. I asked Valiquette if this was a symptom of the guy’s weird rushing or if there was no clearer back like Niskanen. Again, he said it was a problem with Hart’s form.
He fell very early in almost everything. If you get shot early, your pads on the ice and time to use the stick are always at a disadvantage if you get shot early. If you have a goalie who lacks confidence, he’s going to get on the ice early. Carter Hart is still down before the punch hits him. The puck bounces off him in places where he should fall with it, Valiquette said.
Imagine me shooting a puck into your chest. You fall on it, and your knees hit the ice. But Carter fell and was hit in the chest with the puck. It kills his [control] jumps.
The other reason Hart plays so many point changes deep is instinct. Every goalie has his own standard save. Something they instinctively do when they’re nervous during a game. Valiquette usually dropped to his right knee when he had to guess a shot. By default, Hart holds the paddle by lowering the paddle shaft onto the ice with his right knee. This opens the network to great possibilities, but it also hinders its mobility. If Hart doesn’t play with confidence, this default move will be used too often.
It’s safe to say he doesn’t play with confidence, Valiquette said. Keepers are always in our thoughts. We’re very introspective. It is detrimental to not have enough room for entertainment at the rink.
It’s a problem if Hart was quarantined last year, under COVID-19 protocols, on the bubble, and then in a 56-game season that was mentally draining for players – especially those of Hart’s age.
Fletcher talks openly about how many of his young singles players have been affected. Some players have done better than others. He said this year was a great psychological and emotional challenge. There will be ups and downs. Some did not meet our expectations.
I asked Fletcher if he counted Hart among this emotionally disturbed group, given his lack of confidence and results this season.
I think all these young men living on their own face different challenges, just like the rest of us, Fletcher said. I don’t want to name names or refer to people by name. But it’s clear that married men have had it a little easier than single men.
NHL 2021 was mentally grueling, perhaps especially for young players like Hart. AP Photo/Matt Slocum
The Flyers got COVID-19 from their players and their game plan was disrupted. They’re not the only ones, and NHL teams are quietly using the pandemic as an excuse for their lack of success. But Fletcher thinks it’s important to remember the abnormality of this season when you look at the young players who have come through.
In the long run, they should be good NHL players. We have to analyze these young players, who have been very good in the past, carefully, he said.
The past is only two seasons away for Hart. He played just 18 games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms in the AHL before transferring to the Flyers. Valiquette thought goalies had to have played at least 200 games in the minors, or a combination of the minors and Europe, before they could advance to the NHL. Hart’s career has challenged that statement….. for this season.
I was beginning to think times were changing, he said. But right now, I’m thinking a lot about how he thinks. It’s interesting to be under the microscope and have these technical things. Is he starting to melt a little in the spotlight? This young man has a lot to do.
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There were other exceptions. Carey Price played just 12 games in the AHL before transferring to the Montreal Canadiens in 2007-08. He came in and fought for the Calder Trophy. What else are you going to do with him? Valiquette said.
Fletcher also draws the Hart/Price parallel for another reason. Look at Cary Price at 22, or Connor Hellbuyck, or Marc-Andre Florey [at a young age]. According to him, all these great goalkeepers had their ups and downs early in their careers. It’s a difficult position. I believe in Carter. I believe in his talent. I think he will be a good goalie for a long time in this franchise.
So this terrible and declining season for Hart could end with the same rite of passage that Price and other young star goalies have gone through. Hart could still be the next great Canadian goalie. Hart could still lead the Flyers to the Stanley Cup someday. Heart can still be chosen.
Of course, it’s a rite of passage. But how many keepers never made it? Valiquette asked. How many people take this trip and never come back?
It is impossible to see into the future.
Jersey business of the week
The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers comes to Disney+ this Friday – much to the delight of everyone but the Icelanders. The ducks flew together in a publicity photo with Gordon Bombay himself. Note to self: Jersey Fault:
Want to feel old? pic.twitter.com/LyV186C2WC
– Jeff Eisenband (@JeffEisenband) March 18, 2021
It’s Kenny Wu, played by Justin Wong! He appeared in D2: With the Mighty Ducks, where he wore a Team USA jersey, and in D3: The Mighty Ducks, where he wore an NHL-style jersey. He’s never worn an O.G. Ducks shirt. In Game Changers, this is probably the case, which means it may or may not be a mistake, depending on when you read it. Charlatan.
Three things about Tim Peel
1. NHL referee Tim Peel was relieved of his duties this week after a microphone caught him arbitrarily awarding a penalty to the Nashville Predators in their win over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday night.
Nothing is more important than ensuring the integrity of our game, said Colin Campbell, the NHL’s senior executive vice president of hockey operations, who was once caught worrying about officiating because he felt his son Gregory Campbell took too many penalties with the Bruins. Of course, those letters were evidence in court, not on a hot mic.
Campbell once cornered me at an outdoor NHL game in Santa Clara to talk about my famous tequila summit with Peel in January 2015 at Foley’s Sports Bar in New York.
To summarize: I was a vocal and incessant critic of Peel’s work, bringing entire stories pointing out his flaws. He approached me at a meeting the night before his concert in New Jersey. I figured it would be a good thread even if I ended up in a dumpster at the end of the night.
Peel and I had a polite conversation, shared a few laughs, and had an insightful conversation about the nature of the game management that Peel replaced this week. Like when he imposed a double penalty on Alex Ovechkin in a 4-0 loss between the Capitals and Penguins, because the NHL needs those kinds of calls to make sure games don’t get out of hand. He told me he wouldn’t call it a 1-on-1 game. It was selective game management…. Like the way he gave the Predators a penalty for a goal early in the third.
(My favorite part of the conversation: learning that Peel keeps pictures of himself on his phone because he finds them funny).
The conversation didn’t change my opinion that Peel was doing a pretty bad job, which was further underscored by the way the NHL decided to use him. Playoff allocations are a matter of equal performance. Peel has appeared in the final two rounds of the postseason about as often as the Florida Panthers. There’s a reason for that.
According to a statement from the NHL, Tim Peel, who was scheduled to retire at the end of the season, will not be working for the NHL now or in the future. Danny Murphy/Icon Sportswire
But our summit helped me understand why he made certain decisions: That’s because the NHL asked him to. They support and standardize the concept of game management. In the style of wrestling, Saw’s microphone only exposed the issue.
There have been a dozen articles written about how the NHL could use this moment to abandon the game management scenario in favor of officials simply enforcing the rules:
- Hockey News: In no other sport are the standards for appeals against the rules as varied as in hockey. It doesn’t have to be this way.
- TSN: We now have the option of calling the training camp rule at the Stanley Cup Finals exactly as it is written, i.e. the penalty in the first period of the preseason is still a penalty at the end of overtime when Lord Stanley is on the clock.
- Deadspin: If the players union were vigilant, they could make big changes, because you can bet the players on the ice are tired of playing these games.
But it’s not that simple. It’s a vicious circle. For decades, players and coaches complained about referees deciding the game in the third period and extension by handing out penalties, or complained about uneven power plays during regulation. They love game management, the referees let them do it, and the NHL does nothing to discourage it because it promotes the false sense of fairness and competitive balance that the current product is built on.
This is a unique problem in the NHL. The NBA and NFL have their share of redemption calls, but those are usually about making up for an unjust call, not about making the opposing team solid to even things up. None of these sports officials whistle like the NHL does in late game situations, and they don’t take many penalties to avoid taking more.
The NHL doesn’t care about the system that produces them. Assuming, of course, that no one gets caught on a hot mic to talk about it.
– Who will be the best choice this summer?
– Early ranking of the top 32
prospects – The impact of COVID-19 on ranking.
2. You couldn’t read the NHL’s statement about Peele this week and not see the multi-billion dollar elephant in the room that the Predators likely had on the puck line against the Red Wings.
According to Mr. Campbell, his comments are unfounded, regardless of context or intent, and the National Hockey League will take all necessary steps to protect the integrity of our sport.
The statement was a eulogy to the sports betting association, an acknowledgement of the public embarrassment caused by Peel, and a promise to keep things on track. Is this an overreaction, knowing that bettors know that subjective challenges are a disease in any team sport? Maybe. But as the NHL tries to expand its audience of players, it’s better to swear by fairness than ignore prejudice, you might think.
It would be great if they were as careful with starting goalies and injury reports…..
3. A timeless image of my encounter with Peel is a photo of us raising our glasses in Foley’s to toast. We took the picture at his request, and I posted it at his request. He was suspended by the Devils the next night, which brings us back to my meeting with Campbell in Santa Clara. He was convinced that I was the cause of all the events of that evening, including the photograph that Peel had organized.
Why would Peel be posing for this photo? Why did he ask you to tweet? Campbell asked.
‘Sir,’ I replied, ‘do you know tequila?
Winners and losers of the week
New NHL rules reduce the number of rebounds in the lottery from three to two, so the worst team in the league can’t pick lower than third place. A year late, the Detroit Red Wings.
The NHL’s new rules prohibit teams from winning the lottery more than twice in five years. Note that this would not have prevented Connor McDavid from being in Edmonton had this rule been in place for the past decade.
Winner: Tyson Barry.
After 34 games, Barry is the second top scorer among defensemen with 30 points. This could be an option for the Oilers at the deadline, as Barrie only has a one-year contract. But after his reputation as an offensive defender took a dent during his time in Toronto, Connor and Leon Shaw helped rebuild him. He’ll be paid.
Loser: Rasmus Dahlin
Freddy G is absolutely becoming Dahlin pic.twitter.com/wmvFMNYpMZ
– Jeff (@geoffwithano) 25. March 2021
The Sabres defenseman now stands at minus-30 for the season following Wednesday’s loss against Pittsburgh, in which Dahlin was replaced by Frederick Gaudreau. This prompted former NHL defenseman Carlo Colaiacovo to tweet: Someone has to teach Rasmus Dahlin how to defend. Seeing him run every game is not good for him or his confidence. Help the man, don’t let him make a fool of himself. Oops.
Winner: Alexei Ovechkin
According to his colleagues and detractors, he still has it. Ovechkin ranks fourth in our top 10 wingers – as voted on by players, coaches and playmakers – ahead of Patrick Kane, Mark Stone and Brad Marchand. An inherited choice? Maybe. But it’s still a choice.
Loser: Brock Boozer and Max Pacioretty
The Canucks and Golden Knights have combined for 32 goals this season. They received no top 10 votes in our positional rankings and are the only two wingers in the pool who received no votes.
Winner: Anyone who knew Bobby Plager
The great player of the St. Louis. The St. Louis Blues was killed in a car accident Wednesday, leaving the hockey community stunned and saddened. He was 78 years old. I saw firsthand how much he loved this city and this team during their race to the Stanley Cup. I also saw how much this city and team loved him. RIP present.
From your friends at ESPN.
Emily Kaplan tells the story of a Canadian who is in the crosshairs this year.
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