OTTAWA - Since Scott Hartnell arrived in Philadelphia via free agency back in 2007, a span of 386 contests, he had played less than 11 minutes and 37 seconds in a game just seven times coming into this season.
In one, Hartnell was given a game misconduct. In another, he spent 15 minutes in the penalty box. Hartnell also left one of those games with an injury. For the most part, those seven games had extenuating circumstances - not part of a coach's game plan - that kept him off the ice.
Through the first four games of this young season, Hartnell has not played more than 11:37 in any single game, cutting his ice time down almost 5 minutes below his 10-year career average, which also includes an entire 82-game rookie season in which he averaged 10:54 with Nashville.
"It bothers me that I'm not getting the minutes that I used to have," Hartnell said. "It's frustrating. But I'm still having fun. We're winning, we're all playing well and everyone is contributing."
Part of Hartnell's ice-time reduction is because it's still October. Up and down the Flyers' roster, nearly everyone has seen a cutback in ice time. Jaromir Jagr, 39, is down 7 minutes from his career average of 22 minutes per game. No one needs to be worn out with 78 games left on the slate.
Part of that is because young players like Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Wayne Simmonds have gobbled up some of Hartnell's time.
And part of that is by design, from Peter Laviolette, because Hartnell struggled in training camp.
"There's only so many spots," Laviolette said. "Based on what we saw in training camp, we had to have a starting point somewhere. Players who have certain roles need to continue to push, because a guy like Scott is working hard and he wants more ice and more opportunity.
"I understand that [he is frustrated]. But we had to begin somewhere."
Last season, Hartnell did not have a single game - in the playoffs or regular season - where he played less than 12 minutes. In fact, there were seven games where he skated more than 19 minutes. He was on one of the Flyers' top lines with Danny Briere and Ville Leino.
This year, he's spent much of his time with Couturier and Read. On Saturday, he saw a little time with Max Talbot.
What do those three players have in common? They all play on the penalty kill. So, when the Flyers get into trouble - they are tied for second with 27 minor penalties in four games - it's easy for Laviolette to leave Hartnell as the odd man out on the bench while his linemates kill penalties rather than break up his other even-strength lines.
The financial disparity, for minutes played to dollars earned, can be astonishing. Hartnell, still just 29, has averaged less time through four games than everyone except Andreas Nodl and Zac Rinaldo - yet he is the Flyers' second-highest offensive salary-cap hit next to Briere, at $4.2 million.
Brayden Schenn, 20, is also knocking at the door with the Phantoms after posting a hat trick on Friday in the AHL.
Hartnell, who has watched close friends Mike Richards and Jeff Carter get shipped out of town in a hurry, has heard the trade rumors, with chatter that circulated even as recently as the first week of the season. But he also holds a trump card in the form of a no-trade clause.
The good news, for Hartnell, is that all of this is subject to change. There will be injuries. And others will play their way into slumps, as Hartnell, a streaky goal scorer, can attest. Minutes are up for grabs on a nightly basis.
Like him or not, Hartnell's down-and-dirty style of play can be a solid fit in Laviolette's up-tempo and aggressive style. Hartnell said he has not had "one word" of conversation with Laviolette, but that the message has been the same as it always has been.
"I didn't have the camp, obviously, that I would have liked to have," Hartnell said. "But you need to work hard and do the right things in order to get the minutes. If I work hard, I will get back up there."
It sounds altruistic, but Saturday's loss to Los Angeles - after the Flyers' perfect 3-0 start - could have been the best thing to happen to him.
"I haven't changed anything up because I like what we've done so far and we've been successful," Laviolette said on Friday. "I think Scott's working hard right now. He's fighting for ice time."
Don't be surprised if goalie Sergei Bobrovsky gets his first start of the season tonight in Ottawa, even though Peter Laviolette would not commit to it. One start every five games would put Bobrovsky on pace for about 16 games . . . Alex Auld is starting in goal for Ottawa..
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