Carter Hart making Flyers management's decision a no-brainer

Carter Hart making Flyers management's decision a no-brainer

It had been so long since the Flyers had last tasted victory that injured goaltender Michal Neuvirth had the honors of presenting the player of the game helmet to Carter Hart following his stellar 37-save performance Thursday that snapped the team's eight-game losing streak.

Prior to Thursday, it was Neuvirth who had backstopped the Flyers to their previous victory, a 3-2 win Dec. 23 over the Rangers.

But Hart took it to another level Thursday night as he faced a flurry of shots over the final 10 minutes in preserving a one-goal victory, a 2-1 decision over the Stars (see observations).

"When you have a goalie that's making big stops and has that coolness to him, for whatever reason, you can definitely feel that on the ice,” James van Riemsdyk said. "I would be curious to see what his heart rate gets to because he seems so cool under pressure."

To give you an indication of how much of a difference maker Hart has been in the brief time he’s been in Philadelphia, the Flyers have just two wins this season when they score two or fewer goals. Take a good guess as to who that winning goaltender is.

In fact, Stars captain Jamie Benn made a concerted effort to bombard Hart’s crease just to make sure the 20-year-old could handle the pressure.

“That’s where he was the whole night, just around the net,” Hart said. “I could sense he’s that type of player. He wasn’t really chirping me but saying a couple of things to me to get a reaction. He came up to me the first time and said ‘Good save’ and then next time ‘You’re getting lucky buddy!’ He’s a good player and someone I’ve seen on TV growing up. It’s pretty cool to hear that from him.”

Hart, in his eighth start, has grown up quicker than anyone could have expected as he improved his goals against average to 2.46 with a .920 save percentage.

Whether it’s Brian Elliott, Anthony Stolarz or Neuvirth, it really doesn’t matter who returns from injury. There’s no going back for this kid. The only reason Hart should ever see Lehigh Valley again is for a rehab start and knock on wood, here’s hoping it never comes down to that.

On the same day Hart stood tall and rescued the Flyers from another potential third-period collapse, Sergei Bobrovsky had a meltdown of his own. 

The Blue Jackets' superstar goaltender was not with his Columbus teammates for Thursday’s game against the Predators after an “incident” in which Bobrovsky “failed to meet expectations and values” of the organization, according to GM Jarmo Kekaleinen.

If Bobrovsky’s departure from Columbus seemed imminent before this latest episode, then it appears to be a foregone conclusion now. The question moving forward as it pertains to the Flyers is why would Bobrovsky be on their radar with Hart clearly ahead of schedule?

The very reason Bobrovsky didn’t win two Vezina Trophies in Philadelphia was the organization’s overreaction to signing what they believed was a franchise goaltender in Ilya Bryzgalov. What they got in return was a $51 million migraine headache.

For once, let’s stick to the plan.

As good as Bobrovsky has been throughout his career, the last thing the Flyers need moving forward into next season is to be handcuffed with another goaltender with a history of failing to meet an organization’s expectations and values.

Especially, when they have an exceptional talent who’s already exceeding them.

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Why Flyers traded Anthony Stolarz to Oilers for Cam Talbot

Why Flyers traded Anthony Stolarz to Oilers for Cam Talbot

Here comes number eight.

The Flyers acquired Cam Talbot in a trade with the Edmonton Oilers late Friday night in exchange for Anthony Stolarz, the Flyers' 2012 second-round selection (see story).

The move means at some point the Flyers will become the first team in NHL history to start eight different goaltenders in one season after tying the 1989-90 Quebec Nordiques on Dec. 18.

There’s a good chance Talbot could make his Flyers debut Sunday in Detroit as interim head coach Scott Gordon stated Thursday he was uncertain who would start that game. 

Here are some important questions surrounding general manager Chuck Fletcher’s latest move.

Why trade Stolarz?

Here’s the perplexing question perhaps on the minds of many who were hoping for a Carter Hart-Anthony Stolarz duo next season. The Flyers feel they need a solid veteran who can start next season alongside Hart.

As well as Stolarz has played, he’s still very raw and limited when it comes to NHL experience (just 19 games). Plus, there’s still some internal concern regarding his health. Stolarz has required knee surgery twice over the past 18 months, and sustained another lower-body injury this season that kept him out of action for six weeks.

Even if the Flyers valued Stolarz, he’s a restricted free agent following this season and would need to clear waivers just to be assigned to the Phantoms next season. Sensing a team would likely claim him to start the season (much like the Flyers did with Calvin Pickard), Stolarz became expendable.

Unfortunately, you just can’t keep everyone and this gives Stolarz a great opportunity moving forward in Edmonton.

Why acquire Talbot?

As we mentioned the other day, Talbot has experience as a starter with the Oilers and a backup with the New York Rangers. He led the NHL with 140 starts from 2015-17 while backstopping the Oilers to the playoffs in the 2016-17 season.

What’s very important is that he has a strong relationship with Hart after the two goaltenders worked together this past summer. Talbot will know exactly what his role is moving forward.

“We partnered up and took the ice for goalie sessions this summer,” Hart said this month. “He’s a great mentor, he’s a good guy, a great goalie. He’s the guy I called before my first start to ask about pregame jitters and what to expect.” 

Will they re-sign Talbot?

In all likelihood, yes. Consider the final 25 regular-season games somewhat of a trial run for Talbot. The Flyers want a firsthand look at how Talbot fits in with his new team, and is he still capable of winning games and playing well?

Plus, Talbot needs to make his own determination of whether he wants to stay in Philadelphia or test the free-agent market this summer. I would expect the Flyers to offer a two-year contract in the $2.5-3.5 million range, which would be perfect as Hart still has two years remaining on his entry-level deal.

What's the next move?

Well, the Flyers won’t carry four goaltenders on the roster, that’s for certain. Once Brian Elliott is ready to return to Philadelphia following his conditioning stint with the Phantoms, expect Mike McKenna to be placed on waivers, and if he clears, to be sent down to the Phantoms.

However, for Saturday’s game against the Red Wings, McKenna will serve as the backup to Hart.

Interesting tidbit

Talbot’s first NHL start came against the Flyers on Oct. 24, 2013 — a 2-1 loss. However, his first NHL win was a 3-2 victory over the Red Wings in his next start. Hart’s first NHL win was also a 3-2 victory against those same Red Wings.

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Flyers acquire Cam Talbot from Oilers in exchange for Anthony Stolarz

Flyers acquire Cam Talbot from Oilers in exchange for Anthony Stolarz

There's another goalie in the picture for the Flyers.

The team acquired Cam Talbot from the Edmonton Oilers late Friday night in exchange for Anthony Stolarz.

In 284 NHL games, the 31-year-old Talbot has 137 wins, a 2.59 goals-against average and a .915 save percentage.

He has a great relationship with rookie sensation Carter Hart.

"He's actually the guy that I called the night before my first game," Hart said before facing his hometown Oilers earlier this month. “Just to ask him a couple questions a little bit, get some knowledge from him. He's been a guy who has texted me every now and then throughout the season to see how I'm doing and he's a really good guy."

Talbot put together a superb 2016-17 season in which he went 42-22-8 with a 2.39 goals-against average, .919 save percentage and seven shutouts.

Stolarz, a second-round pick in 2012, has a 4-3-3 record this season with a .902 save percentage and a 3.33 goals-against average.

The 25-year-old played in just one AHL game and three ECHL contests last season because of a torn meniscus in his left knee. He has been through a ton with injuries.

"The biggest thing was mentally," Stolarz said in September about overcoming his injuries. "You get hurt right around training camp, you're obviously going to be a little upset, a little depressed. At first, it kind of took its toll seeing guys going back down to Allentown, guys making the big club. But I had a great support staff, my family, my teammates, Jimmy McCrossin, Sal Raffa, I worked with Jarrod Spencer, the mental coach with the Phantoms.

"I tried to take the positives out of that, too, I went to a ton of Flyers games, I was able to watch some very good goalies — Carey Price, Pekka Rinne, guys that have made their mark. I was able to take things from their game and try to incorporate into mine when I got back. This is what I work for."

Stolarz, who is set to become a restricted free agent in the offseason, now has a new shot with the Oilers.

Meanwhile, the Flyers have played seven goalies this season and an eighth is on the way (see story).

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