Amid a changing of the guard in Philadelphia, the Flyers may have to make a tough decision regarding goaltender Carter Hart’s future this summer.
With interim general manager Daniel Briere running the show following Chuck Fletcher’s dismissal, the franchise is expected to enter a rebuild in the coming months, with Briere admitting it won’t be a quick fix during his introductory press conference. That means a busy offseason likely lies ahead for Philadelphia’s front office.
Creating much-needed financial flexibility will likely be first on the agenda, especially considering the organization currently features just $7.16 million in projected cap space for 2023-24. Much of this season’s roster should be available, including Kevin Hayes, Scott Laughton, Ivan Provorov and Rasmus Ristolainen.
But the question remains, what about Hart? Could the 24-year-old be suiting up for a new team next season? While nothing is set in stone yet, the Flyers will likely field offers on the talented netminder this summer, according to Sportsnet NHL insider Elliotte Friedman.
Would it be in Philadelphia’s best interest to trade Hart, though? That is among the questions Briere will ask himself between now and the start of the offseason. As for what could be the deciding factors, let’s explore the pros and cons of moving the Flyers goaltender.
If the Flyers ultimately decide to trade Hart, the former second-round selection would likely garner plenty of interest as the league’s shortage of competent goaltenders remains at an all-time high. So the front office would be dealing from a position of strength.
The Sherwood Park, Alberta native is also enjoying a fairly productive season despite playing behind a sub-par roster, which has hung him out to dry on plenty of occasions. But he has held things together pretty well, all things considered, posting a 2.96 goals-against average and a .906 save percentage across 48 games.
On the surface, those results probably aren’t eye-popping to most. They are, however, much improved from the 3.34 GAA and .895 SV% he recorded over the previous two seasons, the worst stretch of his career. And his trade value might never be as high as it is now.
Trading Hart would surely net a significant return, a package that could include high-end draft picks and a quality prospect or two. For an organization aiming to rebuild, now is the time to stockpile as many future assets as possible.
This route would also prove beneficial financially, considering the club’s young goaltender can become a restricted free agent with arbitration rights after 2023-24 before reaching unrestricted free agency in 2025. And the last thing Philadelphia needs is to add another long-term contract to its payroll.
It is worth remembering the Flyers are well-positioned in net, as prospect Samuel Ersson — who served as the team’s backup Tuesday — appears ready for the next level. The problem, however, is his path to the NHL is currently blocked by Hart and Felix Sandström.
There would be advantages to switching to Ersson, though, as he already has 10 NHL games under his belt and owns a 2.61 GAA and a .907 SV% with one shutout in 31 AHL contests this season. More importantly, the 23-year-old carries an $860K cap hit through 2023-24 before becoming an RFA without arbitration eligibility, making him a lot cheaper than Hart.
Given the volatility of goaltenders, there is also the danger of holding onto Hart for too long. He could easily struggle next season, reducing his value significantly and complicating his trade market — an outcome the Flyers can’t afford.
Moving Hart this summer could also help improve the team’s chances of finishing closer to the draft lottery in 2023-24, as it’d remove one of their biggest difference-makers from the equation.
For as many positives as there might be for trading Hart, a few negatives could sway the Flyers into keeping the five-year pro, adding to the difficulty of this decision.
At 24 years old, turning 25 in August, the 6-foot-2 netminder is enjoying the prime years of his career and given how rare quality goalies have become these days, surrendering one from your possession could prove costly. That is why many clubs are reluctant to do so.
Hart’s performance could also reach another level with an improved defence in front of him, as he has been under fire for much of this season, ranking sixth in high-danger goals against (55) and tied for eighth in HD shots against (331) at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick.
It would look pretty poor on the Flyers if they traded Hart only for him to turn around and enjoy an All-Star calibre performance next season. A sizeable return, of course, would help ease that pain, although it could still be a decision management is left regretting.
Handing the reins to an inexperienced goaltender would be just as risky for Philadelphia, and it could easily blow up in the team’s face, as Ersson features a sub-.900 save percentage in the NHL this season. No one expects him to continue struggling over a larger sample size, but there usually aren’t any guarantees with young netminders.
Goaltenders are notoriously hard to develop and extremely unpredictable. It's even more challenging to adapt to the highest level of competition on a rebuilding squad — an obstacle that Ersson would have to overcome.
Philadelphia’s competitive window might be a few years away. It could stretch even longer if the club’s goaltending situation proves unreliable, though, suggesting it could make more sense to keep Hart to help transition through the next few seasons. Remember, he's only 24 and likely won't even be 30 yet when the Flyers are ready to compete again.
Four teams, in particular, should jump at the chance to acquire Hart if Philadelphia makes him available: the Vegas Golden Knights, Columbus Blue Jackets, Seattle Kraken and Detroit Red Wings.
The Golden Knights will likely be in the market for a goaltender this offseason, with Jonathan Quick, Adin Hill and Laurent Brossoit all set to become UFAs. There are also questions about Robin Lehner’s future after missing all season due to hip surgery.
While the Blue Jackets aren’t competing for the playoffs in 2022-23, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen hopes for a quick turnaround next season, especially with Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine signed to lucrative deals. First, he’ll need to fill the void in net left by Joonas Korpisalo, who was traded to the Los Angeles Kings earlier this month.
One of the biggest downfalls for the Kraken this season has been goaltending, as Philipp Grubauer (-0.2), Joey Daccord (-1.2) and Martin Jones (-5.2) have each fared miserably in GSAx. It has been so poor that Chris Driedger — selected in the expansion draft — currently finds himself in the AHL.
But with Jones eligible for free agency, Hart could address a major need for Seattle, serving as a partner for Grubauer, who's signed through 2026-27 at $5.9 million per season.
The Red Wings have also struggled mightily between the pipes, as Alex Nedeljkovic — a UFA after this season — posted an -11.0 GSAx in nine games before being assigned to the AHL. That has left Ville Husso and Magnus Hellberg as the club’s goaltending duo, which would greatly benefit from an external addition — someone to bridge the gap to prospect Sebastian Cossa.