This summer, Flyers goaltender Carter Hart shoved aside the pitfalls of the 2020-21 season like a puck sliding through the blue paint of his crease.
Following the Flyers’ massively disappointing season, Hart took some time to “recharge” away from the rink, dabbling in his go-to summer pastime of golf and picking up tennis. When the first day of Flyers training camp arrived, Hart said he felt refreshed and ready to prepare as a group for the season.
“Last year is in the past, so it has no effect on this upcoming season,” Hart said. “I think summer, we made a lot of good moves, lost some great players. But I think some guys coming in are gonna fill some big roles and step up. I think I’m just looking forward to a clean start here this season.”
Hart finished the year with an .887 save percentage, which ranked last among the 51 goalies who played 1,000 minutes, and stood in stark contrast to his performance through his first two seasons in the league (.917 in 2018-19 and .914 in 2019-20). His inconsistent goaltending combined with all-too-frequent defensive breakdowns resulted in the Flyers allowing a league-worst 201 goals.
Despite Hart’s down year, Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher showed confidence in his young goaltender by signing him to a three-year, $11.9 million extension. Fletcher decided to upgrade Hart’s help on the blue line, replacing defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg, and Philippe Myers with more-proven veterans Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, and Keith Yandle.
“I think the guys coming in will do a good job,” Hart said. “They’re veteran guys. They’re solid defenders and I’m looking forward to playing alongside them. I mean, goalies and defensemen, defensemen gotta be the goalie’s best friend.”
While Fletcher redesigned the makeup of his defensive corps, Hart focused on making tweaks to aspects of his own game this offseason. He spent most of the summer working out in his hometown, Sherwood Park, Alberta, aiming to get “bigger, stronger and faster.” Head coach Alain Vigneault took notice upon seeing Hart return to the Flyers Training Center.
“He’s out walking, he’s smiling,” Vigneault said. “If you guys saw him with a shirt on, he does look bigger. He does look real fit. He was able to have a normal summer of training with other players and Dilly [Flyers goaltending coach Kim Dillabaugh] went out to see him, he had his goaltender coach there also that Dilly exchanged with throughout the summer. I think it was a real good summer for him and for the rest of our group.”
Next week, Hart will have the opportunity to play in exhibition games for the first time since 2019-20 and build his confidence heading into the regular season. They’re not just any preseason games — they’re preseason games in front of fans, an addition Hart welcomes after the COVID-19 pandemic kept spectators out of stadiums in the 2020 Stanley Cup playoff bubbles and through most of the 2020-21 season.
He got a sneak preview of that atmosphere a week early. As Hart made a glove save in the opening drills of training camp, cheers from spectators echoed across the ice.
“To have them out here supporting us, it’s cool to see again,” Hart said. “Feels like we’re back to normal again.”
With new help on the blue line and a refreshed mindset, Hart looks to get back his own version of normal, too, and resurrect the goal-stopping capabilities he demonstrated in his first two seasons with the Flyers.
Giroux’s contract year
During the opening one-on-one drill at training camp, Flyers captain Claude Giroux squared off against defenseman Justin Braun. Giroux, ever the competitor, shoved Braun to the ice after the rep, both with big smiles plastered to their faces.
“It wasn’t meant for him to go down, but I guess I got him on the chin,” Giroux said. “Me and him went at it actually in camp last year. We told each other we weren’t gonna do that this year, but he’s a fun guy to be around and it’s always fun to compete against Justin.”
The competitive nature he exuded on the first day of training camp was standard for Giroux, who enters the final season of his eight-year, $66.2 million deal. Even without a new contract in hand, the 33-year-old said he “feels the exact same” heading into this year’s camp as he did entering each previous one since his rookie season in 2007-08.
“I don’t really think about that right now,” Giroux said. “I’ve had some conversations with Chuck, but it’s not something that we’re gonna address right now.”
What’s different for Giroux, however, is his level of confidence in the team after missing the playoffs last season. That confidence is rooted in the influx of veterans Fletcher acquired this offseason. Between Yandle, Ellis, Ristolainen, Derick Brassard, Cam Atkinson, and Nate Thompson, the new contingent of Flyers possesses 71 years of NHL experience combined.
From the newcomers to the returning players, Giroux said the team has something to prove this season.
“Any time you have new players coming in, a different team, there’s always a little excitement,” Giroux said. “I get to know the guys and I think this camp is maybe a little different than the camps we’ve had before. Guys are excited, but doesn’t matter the roster you have. You need to find a way to be able to get chemistry and today was a good first day.”
Twenty-two-year-old Morgan Frost centered the second line of James van Riemsdyk and Joel Farabee on the first day of camp. As center Kevin Hayes recovers from abdominal surgery, Frost has an opportunity to make the Flyers’ opening-night roster. ... Brassard, who also has experience playing on the wing, centered the third line of Oskar Lindblom and Cam Atkinson. “When I look at our team right now,” Vigneault said. “Brass, I wanted to see in the middle because for me, he’s played his best hockey in the middle.” ... Ristolainen worked in a pair alongside fifth-year defenseman Travis Sanheim. “I think he’s a big boy, too, so big boy with a good stick,” Ristolainen said. “Can skate and make plays. I think it’s gonna be fun. We can both play offense. We can both defend.” ... Group C featured several prospects likely to be a part of the team’s long-term future, including right-winger Maksim Sushko. The 2017 fourth-round pick played roughly 19 minutes total through two games for the Flyers last season when the team was shorthanded due to COVID-19 protocols. Sushko did not participate in rookie camp while dealing with an undisclosed injury. ... Fans will be allowed into the Flyers Training Center for Day 2 of training camp at 9:30 a.m. Masks are required for all in attendance, while vaccination cards are not.