General manager Chuck Fletcher is pleased by Carter Hart’s strong play in goal, but earlier this week he wouldn’t say whether the 20-year-old rookie would spend the rest of the season with the Flyers.
With each game Hart plays, however, it appears he’s here to stay.
“He’s done a tremendous job for his age and lack of experience at the professional level,” Fletcher said.
Looking poised beyond his years, Hart has compiled a 2.72 GAA and .915 save percentage in 11 starts.
“There’s not a lot of goalies who are 20 years old and make a difference right away.” captain Claude Giroux said Thursday. "We’re doing our best to play hard in front of him. ... He’s a great kid and just a goalie you want to play for.”
Anthony Stolarz, who along with fellow goalies Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth has been sidelined by an injury, is close to returning. Thursday, the Flyers sent Stolarz to the AHL’s Phantoms for a rehab stint.
Stolarz could be ready to play for the Flyers when they return from the All-Star break and host Winnipeg on Jan. 28. When Stolarz is ready, the Flyers have many options: Go with three goalies (Hart, Stolarz, and journeyman Mike McKenna), send McKenna to the Phantoms or release him, or send Hart back to the Phantoms.
“I don’t know what the plan is two weeks from now,” interim coach Scott Gordon said, “but as of right now, [Hart’s] doing his job and handling it. The benefits of going down [to the Phantoms], I guess, maybe there’s more pressure in pushing for the playoffs and ideally getting into the playoffs. That’s something that has benefits, and when the time comes and [if] we’re not in that mode here, it’s certainly something you want to give him the opportunity to be a part of as a pro.”
When Stolarz returns, it seems likely he will back up Hart.
Brian Boucher, the former Flyers goalie who is now an NBC analyst, thinks Hart should remain with the big team.
“Any time you get your guy some NHL experience, it’s a positive, I think,” Boucher said. “I still think as a young goalie, you want to put him in spots to succeed as much as he can … and if you’re a young guy, you just have to understand there may be some bumps in the road and not to take it to heart. If you can do that and remain focused on a long-term goal, it can be a positive experience.”
Boucher said another option might be to send Hart to the Phantoms for their playoffs.
“So you chip away at the NHL experience and then if the playoffs come to fruition, you send him down there and let him have a nice spring where he’s going to [hopefully] learn to win a playoff series,” Boucher said. “That can be a valuable experience as well.”
Hart is the Flyers’ long-term goalie, but they need to find out if they want the 6-foot-6, 210-pound Stolarz to be part of their plans.
After this season, Stolarz, 24, will be a restricted free agent, while Elliott and Neuvirth will be unrestricted free agents and are not expected to return to the Flyers in 2019-20.
In nine games with the Flyers this season, Stolarz has a 3.90 goals-against average and an .880 save percentage, but he did not get much defensive help.
“You wouldn’t think a guy could be off that long and be able to step in and play in the NHL. You’re looking at almost a year and a half [he missed after knee surgeries],” Gordon said about Stolarz. “In the games I did watch, I don’t think he was given a lot of help for stretches of time, and he kept the team close. Whether they won or lost, I don’t think you could point a finger at him. I thought he was able to perform well under, at times, trying circumstances.”