Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Are Flyers next? How Carter Hart won over his junior GM

Carter Hart approached Garry Davidson with a message.

For that brief moment, Davidson didn't have to answer his phone, hang up and then wonder.

The general manager's decision was made — and by the teenager who sought him out like a 30-year-old pro.

"Had he not come in and pushed those buttons," Davidson said, "who knows what I would have done."

The Everett Silvertips' 2016-17 season had just ended in the second round of the WHL playoffs. Davidson, the team's GM, was fielding trade call after trade call regarding his goalie.

It felt like everyone wanted a piece of Hart's final go-around in junior hockey.

"In the offseason this time last year, I was already being approached by several teams," Davidson said last week in a phone interview with NBC Sports Philadelphia. "'Would you move Hart?' There were probably six, seven teams that came after us. As a GM, I had to weigh everything out to see how it might work out."

Until Hart, the Flyers' exciting goalie prospect, had a word with him.

Hart was an eighth-round Bantam draft pick of Everett at 14 years old before he signed his WHL educational contract at 15. He eventually turned himself into a record-setting junior goalie and wanted Davidson to know he had goals of finishing what they started.

"Carter came to me and said, 'Hey, I'd love to do something here with my team and my teammates,'" Davidson said. "He came in at 15 and didn't play obviously a lot but was around at 15 and then a regular member at 16 when he was allowed to stay here. When he came in and we had that discussion, then I dug in and tried to see what I could do to make us better."

Hart's plea and the circumstances offered revealing aspects of exactly why the 19-year-old has Flyers fans giddily awaiting his arrival. The competition after Hart's services speaks volumes about his ability in net; yet maybe even more impressive was the loyalty to his team and the maturity behind it.

"That's one of the big things that Carter has always been, old for his years," Davidson said. "He's all about doing things, day in and day out, the right way."

Davidson never imagined what Hart ultimately became.

But he saw the makeup.

"I always liked Carter because I thought he was athletic but I always liked his composure," Davidson said. "He played with a confidence and not on emotion.

"We had a pretty good goalie here, so we just signed [Hart] and said he'll be our No. 2 guy. He came in here at 16 and a month in he sat in my office and said, 'You know what, I think I can be the best goalie here and I'm going to prove it to you.' Not in a cocky way, but just in a confident way. And subsequently he went on to do that."

In more ways than one.

The Flyers' 2016 second-round draft pick became the first goaltender to win the Del Wilson Memorial Trophy (WHL's top goalie) three times, while his 26 career shutouts are tied for the most in Canadian Hockey League history. His WHL-leading 1.60 goals-against average and .947 save percentage this season make him a favorite to win CHL Goalie of the Year for the second time, something no netminder has ever done. He also rewarded Davidson by leading the Silvertips to the 2018 WHL Final, where they lost in six games to the Swift Current Broncos.

While all the accolades surprised Davidson, the success didn't. Not with a kid as detail-oriented as Hart, who with time, grew into his body at 6-foot-2, 185 pounds.

"He made a comment in our exit meeting the other day, 'Oh, we went out last night and I really actually enjoyed a double-patty burger,' and a whole bunch of foods that he wouldn't normally eat," Davidson said with a laugh. "Because he takes care of every aspect — his rest, his eats, his diet, his off-ice workouts. But that's Carter."

Hart's game will test the pro ranks in 2018-19 as he turns 20 years old in August. Given the big club's situation, a season in the AHL seems more than likely.

"That's a decision the Flyers are going to make," Davidson said, advising patience. "It's also a decision Carter will make because it'll depend on his performance and what he does between now and the start of the NHL season in October."

Long odds or not, Hart already has one thing going for him.

He knows how to make a GM believe.

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

Flyers weekly observations: Claude Giroux's position, Chuck Fletcher's patience, more

It was another fun week in Flyers Land.

From the hiring of Chuck Fletcher, his introduction, a new coach and actual hockey being played, these are busy — and changing — times for the organization.

Let's get into some observations:

• Claude Giroux is pretty versatile, huh?

In his first game back at center since the 2016-17 season, Giroux went off for four points (one goal, three assists) during the Flyers' 6-2 win Saturday over the Sabres.

Which, of course, created the inevitable question of should the Flyers keep Giroux in the middle?

The Flyers undoubtedly need more depth at center. With one point in his last 11 games, Nolan Patrick hasn't shown the playmaking ability everyone was looking for from the 20-year-old. Be patient, though, because Patrick can turn it on quickly.

Still, Sean Couturier centering Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds on the second line would be intriguing, while James van Riemsdyk's game definitely goes to a different level next to a facilitator like Giroux.

However …

Giroux on the wing and Couturier at first-line center resulted in career years for both players during 2017-18. If it's not broke, don't fix it, right?

Allowing Giroux — who turns 31 in January — to play left winger keeps him fresher with a little less demand over the course of the season; he's already playing 20 minutes a night, which includes time on the power play and penalty kill.

When Couturier returns from a day-to-day lower-body injury, I'd expect Giroux to shift back to left winger. Patrick can make the decision easier on head coach Dave Hakstol by taking a step forward in December. If the 2017 second overall pick doesn't, Hakstol may have his hand forced.

• Just how patient will Fletcher be?

The whole dynamic is interesting because the Flyers' new general manager stressed the importance of getting to know the staff, the players, the duties of everyone and looking first to in-house solutions.

Then again, Flyers president Paul Holmgren and Comcast Spectacor chairman and CEO Dave Scott brought in Fletcher because there wasn't enough progress and action with a team that should be better.

If the trend below worsens, Fletcher won't watch and hope for the best — that's not why he was summoned by the Flyers.

There are already rumblings that the Flyers could be seriously active ahead of the Feb. 25 trade deadline. Scott made a point to mention that date two weeks ago and Fletcher won't sit back here.

• This past weekend was a prime example of why the goalie position is so critical.

In Saturday's win, the Flyers fell behind, 2-0, but stuck with their approach because Anthony Stolarz still provided timely saves to salvage the Flyers' confidence. As a result, the Flyers ripped off six unanswered goals for a resounding victory.

In Sunday's 7-1 loss, the Flyers actually outplayed the Jets until Winnipeg scored its third goal on Michal Neuvirth to make it a 3-1 contest 7:31 into the second period. The Flyers then changed their entire game, tried doing too much and it backfired in a hurry.

Get a big save and the game could be totally different. The Flyers don't get that nearly consistently enough because their situation in net is a mess.

For the most part, Fletcher had goalie stability in Minnesota and it would not surprise me at all if the position is his chief concern with the Flyers.

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If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

If not Sergei Bobrovsky, which free agents should Flyers target?

Sunday’s report from SportsNet Canada’s Chris Johnson that the Flyers will take a run at Sergei Bobrovsky on July 1 (barring he’s still unsigned) certainly raised a few eyebrows around the hockey community in Philadelphia (see story).

Bobrovsky would command the largest contract ever for a Flyers goaltender and it could hamper the team from addressing other areas.

If you’re not too keen on the idea of the Flyers making a long-term commitment to Bobrovsky at $10-11 million per season, which could inevitably serve as a blockade to Carter Hart’s path to the NHL (much like the signing of Ilya Bryzgalov), then the Flyers could spend their free agent dollars elsewhere with other holes to fill.

Here’s a look at some potential options:

Mark Stone, RW (Ottawa Senators)

Even if defenseman Erik Karlsson hits the market on July 1, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least bit if Stone drew more interest from across the league. For one, the 26-year-old right wing is entering the prime years of his career having already produced four 20-goal seasons with the Senators. He’s smart, instinctive, quick, is rarely out of place on the ice and is versatile enough to play in every situation — including on the much-needed penalty kill.

Stone was in his final year of arbitration before ultimately agreeing to a one-year, $7.35-million contract with the Sens, who are clearly in a rebuild mode. Don’t be surprised if Stone is moved before the trade deadline as he will command quite a bit for any contending team. However, if the Flyers elect to move on from Wayne Simmonds, then there will be an opportunity to fill a void at right wing, where Stone would be a great fit.

Matt Duchene, C (Ottawa Senators)

I’m not convinced Nolan Patrick is ready to step up and be the No. 2 center the Flyers need — a player that can score 55-60 points a season. Senators top center Matt Duchene would be that guy. My guess is that the Senators retain either Duchene or Stone, but I certainly can’t envision a situation where they lock up both players. Duchene has produced six 20-goal seasons but struggled much like Nathan McKinnon when they were teammates in Colorado, and he’s not the most defensive-minded center with a plus/minus numbers that is reflective of that.  

Still, the 28-year-old Duchene is immensely talented as the Flyers found out when he scored a game-winner, batting a rebounded shot out of the air on the backhand side.

Semyon Varlamov, G (Colorado Avalanche)

I fully anticipate Sergei Bobrovsky to get six years and at least $60 million wherever he signs, and whether or not the Flyers feel Hart is ready next season or not, the team could still benefit from having an established veteran. There are very, very few solid goaltending options heading into next summer, but Varlamov is in the final season of a five-year, $29-million contract he inked in 2014. 

He bounced back from a disappointing 2016-17 season with a .920 save percentage is helping lead the Avs back to playoff contention. If you can get Varlamov on a two-to-three year deal, and you may have to overpay a little, then he could help stabilize the position until Hart is deemed ready.

Anton Stralman, D (Tampa Bay Lightning)

Karlsson will be the big ticket free agent defenseman, but you're paying a high premium for a marquee name while risking that Karlsson’s best years are already behind him. I thought Steve Yzerman’s signing of Stralman in the summer of 2014 was one of the more underrated moves by the Lightning GM in propelling the organization into one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference.

A much-coveted right-handed defenseman Stralman just goes out there and does his job and rarely puts his team in a position of weakness. He’s smart with his stick and uses it to his advantage, rarely commits penalties, and would be a perfect compliment to Ivan Provorov on the penalty kill. Stralman will be 33 next season, so teams will have to be cautious regarding the terms of his deal. Tampa would love to retain Stralman, but they have other commitments which will force them to make some tough decisions.

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