You could not possibly blame Philadelphia Flyers fans if they were some combination of wildly optimistic and simultaneously terrified with the way goalie Carter Hart has began his NHL career.
On one hand, there is plenty of reason to believe he could finally be the franchise goalie they have been waiting decades for their team to find.
On the other hand, this is a Flyers goalie we are talking about. If there is a team and fanbase that knows a thing or two about false hope and crushing disappointment at the position, it is them. At this risk of being hyperbolic, they have been to goalies what the Cleveland Browns have been to quarterbacks. It is almost as if you are always waiting for Lucy to pull the football away at the last second when a Flyers goalie is the topic of discussion and there is even a shred of optimism about their play
The list of names that have trailed — and ultimately failed — to lock down that position is an exercise in “hey, do you remember that guy?” fun. Just consider that since the start of the 2000 season the Flyers have had eight different goalies start at least 99 games for the franchise. That is more than any other team in the league. The only teams that have had at least seven during that stretch are Toronto and Atlanta/Winnipeg. For the Flyers, that list includes everyone from Roman Cechmanek, to Ilya Bryzgalov, to Antero Niittymaki, to Robert Esche.
Many have tried to fix the problem. Some gave them real reason for excitement. All have failed to some degree.
But ever since the Flyers drafted Hart in the second-round of the 2016 draft (when he was the first goalie taken off the board at No. 48 overall) there has been hope and anticipation that he could finally be the guy.
It is still very early in his career, but the early returns have been everything the Flyers could have realistically hope for, and probably more.
He’s been one of the league’s best goalies since the start of November
Since returning to the Flyers’ lineup on February 10 after missing a month due to injury, he has been one of the driving forces behind their improbable climb to the top of the Metropolitan Division.
He is 8-1-0 in his nine starts during that stretch with a .928 save percentage.
He has won 10 of his past 11 decisions overall, and has been mostly outstanding for the season once he got over a brutal start in October.
Since Nov. 1 he is in the top-10 among goalies (with at least 20 starts) in all-situations save percentage and even-strength save percentage.
Most goalies aren’t this good at this age
What is perhaps most important for the Flyers is that he is doing all of this at an age when most goalies are not being asked to take on this sort of role. Hart does not turn 22 until August and is already starting to establish himself as bonafide No. 1 goalie in the league. As of Friday, he has appeared in 72 games for his career and owns a more than respectable .914 overall save percentage. Just for some historical context, here are the only goalies in NHL history to appear in at least 40 games before turning 22 and also having a save percentage above .910:
- Roberto Luongo (71 games played, .914 save percentage)
- Hart (72 games played, .914 save percentage)
- Andrei Vasilevskiy (40 games played, .913 save percentage)
- Martin Brodeur (51 games played, .913 save percentage)
- Carey Price (93 games played, .912 save percentage)
- Felix Potvin (52 games played, .912 save percentage)
Pretty good list of goalies there.
His already strong play, as well as the way he has performed since returning from injury, could make the Flyers a potentially dangerous team come playoff time. They are already an above-average defensive team in pretty much every key defensive metric, while also possessing a deep, talented group of forwards that has made them one of the league’s highest scoring teams.
Now they might actually have the goalie to help bring everything all together.
Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.