Carter Hart will be celebrating today, as the Flyers signed their starting netminder to a 3-year contract on Monday. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

It’s been a busy offseason for just about every NHL team, and the Flyers have been no exception. The team made massive trades to shake up their roster and even dipped into unrestricted free agency a bit. Chuck Fletcher’s work didn’t end on July 28, though. Two key players — defenseman Travis Sanheim and goaltender Carter Hart — remained restricted free agents in need of new contracts. On Monday morning, Fletcher checked off the (likely) penultimate box on his offseason checklist.

Carter Hart’s three-season, 101 game NHL career is a tricky one to evaluate up to this point. In his first two years in the NHL, Hart looked like the star netminder Flyers fans had been clamoring for since the days of Ron Hextall, the man who drafted him. Amidst a wild goalie carousel in 2018-19, Hart was solid from the moment he was called up in December. His .917 save percentage was fantastic, though Hart was negative by Moneypuck.com’s goals saved above expected model (-1.3). Overall, it was a strong rookie season that gave Hart something to build off heading into his first year as a full-time starter.

And sure enough, Hart’s 2019-20 regular season was just as good if not better than his rookie year, highlighted by a .914 SV% with 6.9 goals saved above expected, the latter mark ranking 7th in the NHL. There was a massive and perhaps slightly concerning divide between Hart’s play at home (.943 SV% in 25 GP) and the road (.857 SV% in 18 GP). But Hart finished the year on an incredibly high note, sporting a stellar .926 save percentage and two shutouts in Philadelphia’s deepest playoff run in a decade. Heading into 2021, Hart’s had a peak high enough to be a trendy pick to win the Vezina, and he merely needed a decent season to be in a position to break the bank this offseason.

Instead, disaster struck. Hart wasn’t just bad in 2021; his .877 save percentage was the lowest by any goaltender (min. 25 games played) since 2000-01. His ghastly -18.3 goals saved above expected ranked third-worst in the NHL. The usually technically sound Hart suddenly developed massive holes in his game. Hart went from looking unphased during his first two seasons to smashing his stick after a 6-1 loss in Philadelphia’s sixth contest of the season. And while Hart did play well in April after being shut down for a week to work on his game (.910 SV% in 5 GP), an MCL sprain prematurely ended Hart’s season.

You can see the conundrum Chuck Fletcher found himself in for Hart’s second pro contract. Hart still largely appears a franchise face after his first two strong seasons. However, he also can’t ignore Hart’s poor performance in 2021. Though it’s worth noting factors like the pandemic and the team’s poor defense made things way harder on the 22-year old than they ever should be. It’s a tough tightrope to walk. But now that Fletcher’s on the other side of it, how did negotiations pan out?

Hart’s three-year deal, which carries a $3.979 million cap hit, comes in on the higher side of the fair range. The terrible 2021 season basically killed any chance of going long-term with Hart; the Flyers likely saw it as too big of a risk after 2021. And Hart’s camp likely wanted to bet on a bounce-back and a much better payday coming down the line. A two-to-three-year deal, which would keep the price down and leave Hart as an RFA when his contract expires in 2024, always felt like the most likely option. But considering a goaltender like New Jersey’s Mackenzie Blackwood (just one of many comparables) signed a 3-year, $8.4 million ($2.8 million AAV) deal last offseason with two seasons very similar to Hart’s first two years and no 2021-esque blip at the time, it feels like the Flyers could’ve gotten a slightly bigger discount.

With Hart under contract, all eyes turn to Sanheim. A team-requested arbitration hearing between Sanheim and the Flyers is set to take place on August 26. But there’s still hope both sides can work out a deal before then. Hart’s contract does put the Flyers in a bit tighter cap squeeze. CapFriendly, with a roster of 14 forwards, 6 defensemen, and 2 goaltenders, has the Flyers with just $4,031,477 in cap space. Considering some of the paydays defensemen have been getting this offseason, that doesn’t seem like enough to sign Sanheim. Of course, the Flyers could clear more space by simply carrying two healthy scratches instead of three; that would bump them up to the $4.7-$4.9 million range depending on who the causality is. Or maybe Fletcher has another big move up his sleeve.

Regardless of what you think of the Flyers’ offseason moves to this point, the cold truth is none of them matter if Hart sputters out another 2020-21 type performance. You need at least decent goaltending to win in the NHL. And the odds of backup Martin Jones performing well in a starter’s role seem low. So, starter Hart it is. The good news is the odds of Hart sputtering that badly again are very low. Hart proved over his first two years he has what it takes to be a quality NHL goaltender. And it’s far from uncommon for players Hart’s age to experience a down year at some point, even if Hart’s was basically as drastic as it gets. The isolation caused by the pandemic definitely played a significant role in Hart’s down year, a problem that will hopefully be non-existent moving forward.

Check out what every team was up to in free agency this year.

The factors for a Hart bounce-back year are falling into place. But Hart won’t be able to fully erase last year’s nightmare until he returns to the crease in October. It’s been a long time since the Flyers have had a goaltender as good as Hart’s ceiling, and it’s probably the biggest reason for the team’s lack of success in the 2010s and 46-year Cup drought. Assuming Hart can return to his pre-2021-form, having him under contract gives him and the Flyers the chance to chip away at both of those droughts. For the Flyers to have any success in 2021-22, that assumption has to be correct. The Flyers and Hart are now in a position to find out if it is.

Follow Us on Twitter! Also, check out the Vendetta Shop and our partnerships with SimBull (learn more here)!

Vendetta Sports Media is sponsored by Monkey Knife Fight, the fastest-growing DFS site in the industry. MKF’s unique style and gameplay make betting fun and easy. Use our promo code ‘VENDETTA’ or use the link below to get a 100% instant match on any deposit and let them know that we sent you!

Signup now!