It has been no secret that the Flyers greatest weakness for decades was finding a goalie that had the ability and the potential to get them to the next level. In just two short years, Carter Hart has appeared to transform that discussion.
It’s definitely way too early to put Hart among the top netminders in franchise history, but his path to the top is not exactly going to be a difficult one at the rate he is on. Only 17 goaltenders in Flyers franchise history have played in 100 games or more for the Orange and Black, the 17th being Hart’s partner in goal, Brian Elliott.
Before you get into Hart’s potential to be one of the franchise’s best goalies in rather short order, you have to look at the body of work he has already put together since making his NHL debut just under 16 months ago on Dec. 18, 2018 against Detroit. Hart has made 74 appearances in goal, including 70 starts and has a 40-26-4 record with a 2.59 GAA and .915 save percentage.
With the help of a recent seven-game winning streak, Hart’s 24 wins in the 2019-20 season had tied for ninth in the league. His 2.42 GAA for the season was ranked eighth. His .914 save percentage was tied for 21st, but just six percentage points away from joining the Top 10 of that list as well.
But Hart’s game is about more than the numbers. During the winning streak, you saw a netminder who can very easily get locked into a game. In the seven straight wins, he had a .942 save percentage, making 196 saves on 208 shots. In six of the seven games, Hart allowed two goals or less.
It’s in the approach, the zen-like concentration and mental preparation that goes into every start. It’s easy to see when Hart is at the top of his game, and therefore easy to recognize when he isn’t quite at his best. The former was happening much more lately, at a time when every game started to matter most.
It was just two weeks after Chuck Fletcher took the Flyers GM job that Hart was making his arrival in the NHL. Like every other player in the organization, Fletcher didn’t have any preconceived notions on Hart, and similarly didn’t have any specific expectations for him other than being one of the team’s goalies this season.
“I didn't really look at it that way before the season in terms of projecting him to be in a statistical range or play a specified number of games. He's still a very young player, and a young goalie at that,” Fletcher said in a one-on-one interview with Bill Meltzer for the Flyers official website. “Last summer, I felt that he was going to be one of our NHL goalies -- he had earned that much last season -- and be part of a tandem. We were fortunate to be able to re-sign Ells, and I felt comfortable with those two as our tandem. I didn't have a target for Carter to play 35 games or 45 games or 50 games, etc. That is up to AV to decide. I think our goalie rotation has worked out very well this season.”
So with Hart firmly locked into an NHL role, how quickly could this early potential turn into something greater?
In just two seasons, Hart’s 74 games played ranks 25th in franchise history. His 40 wins are tied for 20th. With just 10 more wins, reaching 50 for his career, Hart will be tied for 17th, assuming Elliott doesn’t win more in that time. For some perspective on how quickly Hart could rise through the ranks, only three goaltenders in franchise history have won 100 or more games -- Ron Hextall, Bernie Parent and Steve Mason. Only Hextall and Parent have more than six years of playing time with the Flyers.
To this point, Hart doesn’t have enough games played to join in the rankings among goaltenders for GAA and save percentage, but if he were to maintain his current pace, his 2.59 GAA would tie for sixth in franchise history and his .915 save percentage would tie for fifth.
Of course, there is one other identifier that could vault Hart right up into the conversation among the top goalie in franchise history: a Stanley Cup. Though Parent is not the franchise’s leader in goalie wins, he is undoubtedly the top goalie in franchise history for historical numbers over the course of his career and his two Stanley Cup wins. A Stanley Cup win for Hart would instantly make him royalty in Philadelphia.
While it may be too early to project that kind of result for Hart, especially since he has yet to be on the ice for a Stanley Cup Playoff series, the foundation of fundamentals have many thinking about the potential of things to come. Entering his second season, it was a question if Hart would maintain his level of performance or hit a sophomore slump as more players discovered areas of weakness. Hart had his rough stretches, but has emerged as one of the NHL’s top young goaltenders, potentially ready to be the savior Philadelphia has dubbed him to be and lead the Flyers to the Promised Land.