Carter Hart

Flyers start search for coach after missing playoffs

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PHILADELPHIA (AP) — The Philadelphia Flyers found a pair of rookies this season they expect to become superstars over the long haul.

The first one is obvious: Gritty, the mischievous furball that not only would win an NHL mascot MVP vote by a landslide, the googly-eyed giant just might win a popularity contest among all of sports’ greatest characters.

The next one is the spark the Flyers need more than a Phillie Phanatic knockoff: a goalie.

Carter Hart gave Flyers fans a reason to tune in when the season was left for dead and showed that – yes! maybe? – the franchise that has foundered between the pipes may have a goalie who can win them a Stanley Cup. Hart is just 20 years old but showed enough flashes of promise from his mid-December call-up from the minors that it convinced the Flyers (37-37-8; 82 points) they won’t have to chase another veteran this summer.

”Am I going to trade Carter Hart? I’d have to be crazy,” Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher said.

Fletcher can scratch ”get No. 1 goalie” off his summer to-do list.

But the list is long for a franchise that has failed to reach the second round of the playoffs since 2012 and has alternated between missing and making the postseason each of the following years.

”We weren’t good enough,” Fletcher said Monday.

That’s why Fletcher was hired after Ron Hextall was fired in November after 4+ seasons on the job in which he tried to revive a depleted farm system and patiently build a championship contender. Fletcher fired coach Dave Hakstol weeks later and gave minor league coach Scott Gordon the interim label. Fletcher and Gordon met briefly Monday to discuss upcoming schedules – but not the fate of the coach. The Florida Panthers took one of the top candidates off the market when they hired Joel Quenneville on Monday. Gordon, who quickly became popular with the players, is among the candidates.

”I had a great time with the group of players,” Gordon said. ”What I liked about it, when I was up front and called them out and was hard and challenged them, I got a response from them. When you try and do that in this day in age and not have them resent you, that’s an important part.”

[NBC 2019 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

Fletcher thinks it’s important, too.

”My search for the next head coach starts today and Scott remains a candidate,” he said.

Here are some key developments from 2018-19 that will remain relevant for the Flyers:

GETTING GRITTY WIT IT

Gritty was the undisputed star of the lost season.

He made 114 appearances this season, including cameos at the Stadium Series and All-Star weekend. The Flyers sold more than 17,000 pieces of Gritty merchandise at home games this season. The NHLPA voted Gritty the best mascot in the NHL and he was as in-demand as a Hollywood A-lister, with appearances on the late-night circuit with Jimmy Fallon, Stephen Colbert and Jimmy Kimmel.

The Flyers may have been unwatchable, but Gritty was a surefire smash.

HELP WANTED

The Flyers might continue to try to build from within. There is money to spend, but the NHL free-agent market is thin, with Erik Karlsson, Tyler Myers and Anton Stralman among possible players the Flyers could target.

Possible.

”I don’t think it’s an elite market, but we’ll see,” Fletcher said. ”There are always players that can help your team.”

BAD HABITS

Like many bad teams, the Flyers fell behind first in games and got off to a slow start that left them buried in the standings before a midseason surge offered a glint of a playoff hope.

”We have some bad habits right now,” Fletcher said. ”It’s mindset, but you need the mindset to embrace the habits. It’s about making sure going into camp next year, we have to change some details, change our mindset and have a good start. A lot of reasons we fall behind in games is because we give up easy goals. It’s not about effort. It’s about thinking, about working smart and playing better.”

STEP UP

The Flyers need more out of once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick. ”Ghost” slumped from a career-high 65 points last season to just nine goals and 37 points this season.

Travis Sanheim, Oskar Lindblom and Phil Myers played for Gordon in the minors and there’s hope that the familiarity can help them improve on their 25-22-4 record since the interim coach took over.

”I think we have good players,” Fletcher said. We just need a few more.”

More AP NHL coverage: https://apnews.com/NHL and https://twitter.com/AP-Sports

Talbot to help Flyers make NHL history as eighth goalie used this season

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Exactly two weeks after the Philadelphia Flyers acquired Cam Talbot from the Edmonton Oilers, the 31-year-old netminder will finally debut for his new team.

Talbot was the odd-man out after the deal, sitting in the pressbox for his first three games as a Flyer. Since Carter Hart’s injury, he’s been backing up Brian Elliott. Friday night he’ll finally get a start and help make NHL history in the process.

When the puck drops against the New Jersey Devils with Talbot in net, the Flyers will become the first NHL team to use eight  goalies in one season. They had been stuck on seven since Mike McKenna‘s start in early January and tied with the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques, 2002-03 St. Louis Blues and the 2007-08 Los Angeles Kings.

Flyers interim head coach Scott Gordon was one the seven who got a turn in goal for that Nordiques team.

Here’s a look at the games played for each of the eight goalies the Flyers have used this season:

Carter Hart – 22
Brian Elliott – 19
Anthony Stolarz – 12
Calvin Pickard – 11
Michal Neuvirth – 7
Alex Lyon – 2
Mike McKenna – 1
Cam Talbot – 0

The opportunity for Talbot arose because Friday’s game is the second game of a back-to-back following Thursday’s 4-3 overtime loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets. Philadelphia is still clinging to slim playoff hopes with a six-point gap between them and the Carolina Hurricanes, who hold the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Talbot hasn’t played since Feb. 9, but is certainly eager to get back between the pipes again. Hart is expected to return soon, so who knows when Talbot will get another look after Friday. In the meantime, enjoying making history!

“I don’t know if it’s something you really want to be a part of as a goalie or not,” Talbot said on Thursday via the Inquirer. “But here we are.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Flyers’ Hart kept injury a secret, expected to miss 7-10 days

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PHILADELPHIA — Carter Hart’s injury happened before the Philadelphia Flyers’ 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday night. The problem was he didn’t tell anyone about it until after Friday’s practice at Lincoln Financial Field ahead of the Stadium Series game (8 p.m. ET; NBC) against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

So when Flyers head coach Scott Gordon addressed the media Friday and announced that Brian Elliott would start the game, he had no idea Hart, whom many expected would be starting, was injured. Hart participated fully in the team’s practice and then spoke with reporters afterward and expressed his disappointment with the decision while not giving off any inkling something was up.

Gordon said that Hart’s injury was discovered Friday night by team doctors, one day after the he allowed three goals on nine shots.

“Carter, to his credit, was trying to fight through it [vs. Montreal], and it was a little more severe than he thought,” Gordon said.

The Flyers announced on Saturday morning that Hart would be out a “minimum of 10 days” with a lower-body injury. Gordon said hours before the Stadium Series game it would be more like 7-10 days. Either way, Hart will miss a handful of games and their two losses this week to Montreal and Tampa Bay — which Hart was pulled from both — effectively ended their already-slim chances at grabbing an Eastern Conference playoff spot.

After the injury was been discovered, Gordon looked back at the Canadiens game and could see something was up with Hart.

“I couldn’t tell if he was favoring,” Gordon said. “I don’t necessarily look at just the goals if I’m gonna pull the goaltender. It’s more about how he’s handling the rebounds and I felt like pucks were coming off him funny. Like the third goal, usually he puts that to the corner or he’s tied that up and it popped out in front and Robert Hagg cleared it to the corner. I don’t know if that had any impact. I don’t know. I haven’t spoken with him on the specific shots. It was a shot where he reached up and he got a piece of it but he didn’t handle it. There was a couple rebounds that I thought were kind of awkward. Whether that has to do with it or not, maybe it was on his mind. I don’t know.”

With Hart sidelined, that leaves the Flyers with Elliott and Cam Talbot as their options in net. With a back-to-back next Thursday and Friday against Columbus and New Jersey, that will likely see Talbot make an historic debut. Whenever Talbot gets into a game for the Flyers the franchise will set an NHL record by using its eighth goaltender this season.

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points
Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start
2019 Stadium Series by the numbers
Simmonds’ mind on helping Flyers, not NHL trade deadline
Scott Hartnell Q&A

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Why Scott Gordon chose Elliott over Hart for Stadium Series start

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NBC’s coverage of the 2018-19 NHL season continues with Saturday’s Stadium Series matchup between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers from Lincoln Financial Field. Coverage begins at 8 p.m. ET on NBC. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

PHILADELPHIA — Through Scott Gordon’s four-minute explanation as to why Brian Elliott will start Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the Pittsburgh Penguins over Carter Hart you could feel how tough of a decision it was for him.

Having coached Hart at AHL Lehigh Valley until both were promoted on the same day back in December following the firing of Dave Hakstol, Gordon has seen Hart’s growth as a professional on two levels now. 

Since the recall of Hart and “interim” tag put on Gordon, the Flyers have taken 35 out of a possible 60 points to put themselves just in a bit of a race for an Eastern Conference wild card spot. Those postseason hopes, however, took a big hit this week with back-to-back losses to Tampa Bay and Montreal this week, leaving them seven points back with 21 games to go.

Hart had to be pulled in both games with Elliott impressing the head coach in relief.

“The hard part [is] if I had to go with my heart, 100 percent, the easy decision is to pick Carter,” Gordon said Friday after the Flyers’ practice at Lincoln Financial Field. “I think the world of him. I’ve been so impressed with how he’s been able to come up here and play, and it really bothered me to have to make the final decision as to not playing him. Two weeks ago it was looking like that was going to be the decision.”

Hart was disappointed, but understood Gordon’s choice of playing Elliott.

“For sure, you want to play. You want to play every game,” Hart said. “Right now, even though it’s an outdoor game, it’s a crucial two points for us. The last two games I haven’t been at my best and Brian’s done a good job coming in relief both times. It is what it is, you can’t control that. What you can control is how you respond to it. 

“It’s disappointing, but you’ve got to approach it the right way and can’t let it set you back. You’ve just got to come back ready to work and we’ve got a lot of hockey coming up and that’s where the focus is at.”

When Gordon broke the news to Hart on Friday, he made sure to emphasize just how valuable the 20-year-old netminder has been to the Flyers. He was called up during a rough time in the season and carrying the expectations that he was the franchise’s “goalie of the future.” He’s exceeded those expectations so far and has played himself into the Calder Trophy conversation while helping the team make a late-season charge at the playoffs.

Gordon wanted to choose Hart as Saturday’s starter, but approached the decision as if it were any other regular season game. If any of his goalies were pulled two games in a row he was going to switch it up for that third game. Outdoor game or not, he was making his choice in the best interest of the team at the moment.

“This game on Saturday, we’re looking at Moose [Elliott] the way he played the last two games, he’s played really well, and if he’s able to get us a win [Saturday], when it’s all said and done it’s about what’s going to get us into the playoffs and that would be the first step,” Gordon said. “Does he give us the best chance? Based on performance right now, yeah. If we base it on performance from a week ago or last Sunday, we’re probably talking about Carter. Right now, given the way it’s gone, I just felt like I wanted to give our team the best chance for Saturday to win.”

(You could ponder the thought that this is a way for the Flyers to showcase a healthy Elliott before Monday’s NHL trade deadline.)

Elliott found out he was starting just before the Flyers took to the ice late Friday afternoon. He had missed two months due to a lower-body injury and worked himself back, which included a brief AHL stint.

After how the last two games went, the 33-year-old Elliott wasn’t sure what Gordon’s decision would ultimately be. He would have been happy just to play a backup role and sit on the bench. Now he’ll be between the pipes in front of 70,000 fans under the lights.

“Going back and getting a chance to play these last two games and feeling good about it and feeling good about my game, I know it was a tough decision to make,” Elliott said. “[Hart] was a big part of getting this team to this situation that we’re in and chasing a playoff spot right now. It’s a tough decision. I don’t envy that has to make it.

“For me, you just have to put all those things to the side and try to enjoy the moment and go out there and try to be the best for the guys in front of you.”

UPDATE: The Flyers sent this Tweet out early Saturday morning:

MORE 2019 STADIUM SERIES:
Penguins ready to enjoy Stadium Series, but focus is on two points
Rain could be an issue for Penguins-Flyers Stadium Series game
Scott Hartnell Q&A

Six-time Emmy Award-winner Mike ‘Doc’ Emrick (play-by-play), U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame member Eddie Olczyk (analyst), and Emmy Award-winner Pierre McGuire (‘Inside-the-Glass’ analyst) will have the call from Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pa. Liam McHugh will anchor studio coverage on-site in Philadelphia alongside Mike Milbury, Keith Jones, and Jeremy Roenick.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Trade: Flyers add Talbot, Oilers open up space for Sekera

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Cam Talbot is lucky No. 8.

The Philadelphia Flyers added Talbot to the fold late Friday night, acquiring the 31-year-old goaltender from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Anthony Stolarz.

Should Talbot get into one of the Flyers’ final 25 games — which he likely will — they will be the first team in NHL history to use eight goalies in a season. That just shows how weird this season has been on Broad Street. After some early season struggles, which saw general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol fired within a 21-day span, they’ve ripped off a run that has seen them take 23 points from their last 14 games, putting them eight points out of an Eastern Conference wild card place and the third seed in the Metropolitan Division.

Emerging from the goalie carousel has been Carter Hart, the franchise’s goaltender of the future up until Dec. 17. He’s assumed the title of “goalie of the now” since after helping the Flyers win eight starts in a row and being a vital part of their recent run.

Talbot, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, comes to Philadelphia with an established relationship with Hart. The two have worked out together in the summer. “He’s a good mentor, a great guy, a good goalie,” Hart said on Thursday, adding that he called Talbot the night before his NHL debut for some advice.

This stablizes the goalie situation for the moment as Brian Elliott works his way back from injury down in the AHL on a conditioning stint and Michal Neuvirth is currently on injured reserve. In net had been Hart and Stolarz, the 25-year-old who was their second-round pick in 2012. Mike McKenna‘s been in the mix as well, but he’s only played twice since Dec. 28.

GM Chuck Fletcher will now get a good couple of months to see up close if Talbot, who’s posted a .909 even strength save percentage in 31 appearances with the Oilers, should be considered for an extension beyond this season and possibly act as a veteran backup/1B to Hart going forward.

This move for the Oilers helped them shed salary in order to have room to activate defenseman Andrej Sekera, who had surgery in August to repair a torn Achilles tendon. Stolarz can be a restricted free agent this summer, while they already have Mikko Koskinen locked up after extending the netminder for three years in January.

MORE: PHT NHL Trade Tracker

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.