Philadelphia fans have a knack for reacting rashly to their sports teams. Flyers goaltender Carter Hart doesn’t deserve the paranoia.
Jason Myrtetus said it eloquently in one tweet. “Success as a pro is not a straight line.”
Philadelphia fans naturally dismiss context en route to a typical allergic reaction. Previously, it was Carson Wentz, but currently, it’s Carter Hart. Same above as below.
In journalism, context is critical. No answer is ever as simple as pointing and blurting a rash decision. There is always a why. Why is a player struggling? Why is a team losing?
During a comeback victory, the Philadelphia Flyers defeated the Buffalo Sabres in a shootout, 5-4. Carter Hart started the game, but Brian Elliott entered after the first period. One fan at the Wells Fargo Center noted fans were chanting, “Bring Lyon back up,” after Hart allowed three goals on eight shots.
Six months ago, Hart played a vital role in the Flyers winning their first playoff series in eight years. The fanfare towards Hart in 2020-2021 resembles what Wentz endured from 2018 onward.
Wentz, since 2017, played on injury-plagued teams while Philadelphia never let him out of Nick Foles’ shadow. Even after Foles signed with the Jacksonville Jaguars, the Wentz narrative was negative. Fans lose sight of players facing challenges. Hart is a franchise goaltender, like how Wentz was the franchise quarterback. Both players aren’t quite in the prime of their careers, but the fanfare has already experienced a paranoid panic.
One season ago, Philadelphia saw what Hart is capable of through the early stages of his career development. Patience, for anyone, is a virtue. Under Alain Vigneault, Hart has an incredible supporting cast to overcome growing pains.
Imagine being down on a 22-year-old goaltender. In the 1992-1993 NHL season, a particular goaltender owned an 11-10-4 record, an 89.6% save percentage, and a goals-against-average of 3.15. This goaltender was 27-years-old.
That stat line belonged to Dominik Hasek. All he did in his Hall of Fame NHL career was win six Vezina Trophies, two Stanley Cups, and earn six bids to the NHL All-Star game. Those are only a few of his superlatives. His career took off when he was 28-years-old.
Ed Belfour was 25-years-old when he entered his prime. For Hart to have it all figured out at 22-years-old, fans are pressuring him to be among the greatest goaltenders in NHL history. Irrational can best describe anyone backtracking on Hart because he isn’t Martin Brodeur or Patrick Roy.
To date, Hart has played 89 career games to a 46-31-7 record, a ~91% save percentage, and a goals-against-average of ~2.75. By the numbers, Hart has a better start to his career than Belfour, Brodeur, Roy, and Hasek in save percentage. If we’re splitting hairs, Brodeur and Hasek had slightly better goals-against-average (2.73). Let him breathe.
A Complex Era of Hockey
Could you imagine breaking into the highest level of professional hockey during a pandemic? In Hart’s first season, he had the proper amount of time for training camps, practices, and offseason workouts without any disruption. March 10th, 2020, was the last day of normalcy within the NHL.
Since then, young players had to adapt to quarantine workouts, bubble hockey, delayed schedules, shortened training camps, new divisions against the same eight opponents, and abbreviated seasons. Right now, Hart is playing during the most complex era of professional hockey.
Three years into his career, Hart has only participated in one full NHL season. Remember 2018-2019, when the Flyers cycled through eight goaltenders? Even in ordinary circumstances, eight goaltenders are an anomaly. A consistent rhythm doesn’t follow Hart.
This season, Elliott has thrived. It is not hard to understand. As a veteran, playing at the NHL level is second nature. Cleaning up from a backup role, Elliott is a luxury as an insurance policy. During shorter rest cycles and limited practice sessions, Elliott is easier to format for an NHL start.
A year ago, Elliott was the workhorse on the road. Arguably, during this era of pandemic hockey, home-ice isn’t that. When things are going right, it’s easy to support the winning team. The true testament of fandom takes place when a player needs the support of the hometown crowd. A year removed from fans at the Wells Fargo Center, Hart hasn’t received the home support for two straight games.
Support the franchise through adversity. The sky isn’t always falling. Even the Philadelphia Eagles had to win the Superbowl.