With Ron Hextall fired, does anything change with Carter Hart?

With Ron Hextall fired, does anything change with Carter Hart?

There was a moment during Tuesday morning's Flyers press conference when team president Paul Holmgren took a long pause and a drink from his water bottle.

Holmgren was challenged for not defining the "philosophical differences" between Flyers management and Ron Hextall, and whether one of those differences was Hextall's reluctance to deviate from his plan by making a trade or promoting Carter Hart.

One report by NBC Sports' Pierre McGuire suggested: "there were people in the organization that wanted (Hextall) to bring up Carter Hart now rather than wait, and Ron didn't want to do that."

After not disclosing specifics of the differences, Holmgren touched on what Hextall's firing meant for the 20-year-old goaltender from Alberta, Canada, who has become a folk hero in Philly before he's ever even played an NHL game:

I'm in line with Ron's thinking on Carter Hart. Is there a time during this year where you could bring him up and take a look? I don't know, maybe. But to put him in, we're [24] games into the season, I don't know if we're at that point yet.

It might not appear like a lot, but there is a lot to unpack here, so let's get to it.

'I'm in line with Ron's thinking'

This is refreshing because Hart isn't quite ready for The Show right now, and bringing him up now isn't going to solve the Flyers' immediate goaltending problems. It could provide an instant spark but it could also backfire. The risk outweighs the reward.

It's important for the Flyers to stick to the plan with Hart and avoid temptation. We have to factor in the Flyers' deplorable goaltending history. They absolutely cannot risk rushing Hart.

"Long term, I know our staff thinks a lot of Carter Hart," Holmgren said.

While the Hextall firing signals the Flyers are no longer playing the long game, it's wise that they're still playing it with Hart. For now, that's the direction the Flyers are taking, and it's the right path to walk.

We could still see Hart this season

Holmgren's comments are twofold. Yes, he agrees with Hextall's evaluation that Hart needed AHL seasoning, but the Flyers' president left the door open for Hart to play in the NHL at some point this season. That's an important distinction to make here.

Hart isn't ready for the NHL today but in two months? Who knows. Maybe, as Holmgren said. There could be a time during this season where calling Hart up from Lehigh Valley makes sense.

The 20-year-old could begin figuring out the AHL and start dominating, but he hasn't done that yet. The start to his professional career has been extremely inconsistent.

In 12 games with the Phantoms, Hart has a .884 save percentage and 3.61 goals-against average. Those numbers don't exactly inspire confidence that Hart can swim in the NHL right now.

But once Hart gets more AHL games under his belt, things could change. The Flyers absolutely should not rule calling Hart up this season, and it appears Hextall didn't completely close the door either.

"I think Ron was along those same lines — maybe," Holmgren said.

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NHL playoff odds per DraftKings: A look into 1st-round series on Day 1

NHL playoff odds per DraftKings: A look into 1st-round series on Day 1

The time has finally arrived — the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs are here and you can just feel the excitement in the air. The top 16 teams are set and ready to push toward the Final. 

With crazy upsets and twists among the qualifying round and round robin tournament, let’s take a look at the odds for each series on Day 1, per DraftKings. 

Blue Jackets-Lightning 

CBJ +185 — TB -225

It’s a reunion in the first round for the Blue Jackets and Lightning, as this will be the second consecutive season where the teams are meeting in the first round. 

As one of the biggest upsets in the 2018-19 playoffs, the President Trophy recipients were sent packing by a wild card team in sweeping fashion. The Lightning aren’t going down without a fight this time around and are looking for revenge in the sweetest way possible, a series win. 

The Blue Jackets lost numerous assets in the offseason, but that hasn’t stopped them from making yet another push in the playoffs. Will this new-looking squad be able to pull off another upset against one of the best in the league that has Nikita Kucherov and Vezina Trophy finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy? 


CGY +100 — DAL -118 

The Stars bumped up their seeding by one in the round robin, finding themselves third in the west, while the Flames breezed by the Jets in four games in the qualifying round. 

Tyler Seguin, one of the Stars’ top players, is considered day-to-day after missing the final round robin game against the Blues. His return would be significant, but only if he finds a way to start contributing offensively. While that’s a fairly obvious statement, Seguin hasn’t recorded a point dating back to Feb. 29, so it’s important for him to start connecting. 

The Flames’ edge in this series looks to be special teams. They connected on the power play five times in the qualifying round (29.4%) and have been equally as impressive on the penalty kill (88.2%). 


CAR +135 — BOS -159

A team that entered the return-to-play setting as the top in the east is now preparing to face the Hurricanes as the fourth seed. While a best-of-seven series is a much different scenario than the round robin tournament, the Bruins looked nothing short of lost in their opening three games — going 0-3 and only finding the back of he net four times. 

On the other hand, the Hurricanes are about to be a force. Granted, they had some time off following a sweep of their series against the Rangers, but it’s nothing much to worry about. The duo of Andrei Svechnikov and Sebastian Aho have been a force, combining for 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists) in only three games. 

If the Bruins can’t get that ‘perfection line’ of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak brewing early on, it’s going to be trouble for Boston. 


CHI +225 — VGS -315

The Blackhawks become a different team once the playoffs start — even entering them as the 12th seed in the west. After sending the 5th-seed Oilers packing after four games, it’s clear that they shouldn’t be overlooked — even though the odds in the first round make the Golden Knights look pretty favorable. 

Truth be told, Chicago just knows how to handle the playoffs — and that’s mainly due to the ample amount of experience over the past decade, with three Stanley Cups to show for it. 

The Golden Knights, though the most recent expansion team in the league — certainly hasn’t played like one. In the three seasons of their young franchise history, they’ve made it to the playoffs, including a Stanley Cup Final appearance in the inaugural season. With unfinished business, they look as driven as ever to add the Cup to their already impressive résumé.

Day 2 odds coming soon ...

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2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

2020 NHL playoffs: 3 keys to Flyers beating Canadiens and a series prediction

You’d have to go back to 2012 after the Flyers defeated their longtime rival, the Pittsburgh Penguins in a quarterfinal series, to find the most recent time that this much optimism engulfed the local hockey club. After dispatching the other three top teams in the East during round-robin play, Alain Vigneault’s squad will take on a Montreal Canadiens team that had the fewest regular-season points of any of the 24 teams allowed the opportunity to compete for the Stanley Cup. 

From one perspective, it’s as beneficial a matchup as the Flyers could have hoped for in the first round of the playoffs. But, the Canadiens are riding high after dispatching the Penguins in four games during the qualifying round. So how do the Flyers ensure the Canadiens’ Cinderella runs ends before it truly ever begins?

Here are 3 keys for the orange and black:

That was then, this is now

The Flyers should feel confident after sweeping the Bruins, Capitals and Lightning in the round robin. But it’s important to acknowledge that there is a different level of intensity in series play as opposed to seeding games. The Canadiens have already experienced what it feels like to have a singular focus on one opponent thanks to their qualifying-round victory against the Pens.

Furthermore, you can put the Canadiens’ regular-season struggles to the side. They’re still not a great team. But in fairness, their underlying stats suggest they are better than their regular-season record indicates. More importantly, they have a Stanley Cup-winning coach Claude Julien and arguably the most reliable goaltender the game has to offer in Carey Price. That’s two significant ingredients for winning a seven-game series.

A Game 1 loss doesn't mean the Flyers have to panic. But it would change the complexion of the matchup. The Flyers cannot afford to ease into this series. They need to be ready to go at the drop of the puck Wednesday night.

Simple, smart, aggressive

The Canadiens are not built to control play. They did so at times against the Penguins, but that speaks more to Pittsburgh’s flaws than anything Montreal did over the course of four games.

Julien is more than happy to have his team play the role of counterpuncher. Expect the Canadiens to flood the neutral zone and wait for a mistake to turn into an odd-man advantage. With that in mind, the Flyers would be well-served to adopt a specific mindset in each zone.

In the defensive zone, the Flyers need to play a simple game. The Canadiens are not going to win this series by cycling Ivan Provorov and the other Flyers blueliners to exhaustion. Brendan Gallagher and company are looking to create turnovers and turn them into quick-strike goals. Artturi Lehkonen’s game-winning goal in Montreal’s 2-0 Game 4 win against the Penguins is a prime example of that. The Habs capitalized on a Brandon Tanev turnover in Pittsburgh’s defensive zone and the puck was in the back of the net in the blink of an eye. The Flyers need to manage the puck in their own zone and appreciate that the simple play, a chip off the glass or getting net-side in coverage, can be the difference between winning and losing.

The Canadiens’ forwards are not a physically-imposing group. But they have plenty of speed. Expect the Habs to clog the center of the ice and use their wheels to disrupt entries into the offensive zone. The Flyers will need a smart, disciplined approach in the neutral zone. Well-weighted chip-ins that get the Canadiens' defensemen into retreat mode with their back to the ice will be good plays in this series. 

When the Flyers gain the blue line, that’s when it’s time to play with aggression. Hunt the puck and force Shea Weber and company into making quick decisions with the puck. The Flyers’ size should also allow them to win board battles. Creating turnovers means high-danger chances and that is the only way to consistently beat Price. 

While most coaches abhor the thought of an offensive-zone penalty, the orange and black can afford to err on the side of being overzealous in their pursuit of scoring chances in the Canadiens’ end.

Special teams

That is because the Montreal power play, to put it kindly, has not been good. After a mediocre regular season, the Canadiens went 0 for 12 in four games against the Penguins with the extra man. Numerous times, the Canadiens failed to even register a shot against the Pens’ penalty killers. 

The Flyers were no better on the power play in the round robin, going 0 for 11 over three games. That said, the Flyers have been excellent on the penalty kill in the bubble, allowing just one goal in 10 opportunities.

If the Flyers can get their big names going on the power play, it’s hard to see how the Canadiens hang in the series. But if special teams is a wash and the series comes down to 5-on-5 play, the Canadiens have the goaltending to make it a coin-flip situation.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Price is the best player in this series. I would be surprised if it makes a difference.

Flyers in six.

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