I love The Price is Right. Every time I took off a day from school as a kid, I’d have some chicken noodle soup and flip on CBS at 11AM to be greeted by Rod Roddy and Bob Barker. I always rooted for the old people. Something about a 90-year-old lady getting a trip to Thailand made me believe in the best in humanity. I digress. The best part of the show was any time someone failed a challenge and was lambasted by the marvelous sound of the fail horn. You know if from Tony Bruno’s soundboard, “I hate to do it to him [bum-bum-bum-bum-BUUUUUUMMMMMMM].”
That’s the exact sound I imagine Flyers management heard with each and every profanity-laced tweet sent their way after head coach Scott Gordon stunned everyone watching his post-practice press conference, the one in which he announce Brian Elliot – not Carter Hart – would be starting Saturday’s Stadium Series game against the cross-state rival Pittsburgh Penguins.
There were choruses of fans declaring a gross mismanagement of the 20-year-old Wunderkind netminder. He was chased in consecutive games against the vaunted Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday and the Montreal Canadiens on Thursday. On both occasions Brian Elliott – who was shaky at best in two games with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms coming off yet another injury – filled in surprisingly well. I’ll be honest: I never thought Hart should’ve started those two games. No goalie was going to stop the flurry of shots the Flyers were bound to give up, and considering the circumstances of Gordon pulling Hart on Tuesday, Carter should’ve been given a few days to clear his head and prepare for Saturday. Alas, that never came to pass. Gordon went on a four minute soliloquy outlining the reasons the decision was made – too many consecutive starts, confidence, Elliott’s consistent play – but never did he once mention an injury. That’s why Saturday morning’s announcement was such a surprise:
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) February 23, 2019
I took in practice will the rest of the assembled media from the press box at Lincoln Financial Field, and not one person audibly expressed concern for Hart’s physical wellbeing. So why did the announcement happen now, and – perhaps more importantly – why didn’t the team have Gordon announce it Friday night?
Possibilities after the jump:
Hart’s Been Playing Through Injury
Perhaps the easiest answer is the correct one. It’s entirely possible Carter caught a knock in a game, didn’t think much of it, and had it exacerbated by an extended stretch of play. Perhaps the team leaned on him too much. Perhaps he realized how critical he was to the team’s turnaround and didn’t want to come out of the lineup. Bill Meltzer, who is one of the most-respected writers on the beat made a solid point:
Either Hart got injured in practice and it worsened this morning or he was dealing with something during the week he didn't think was too bad but then worsened. What is NOT is a "PR move". Optics are WORSE to say he'll start Tue or Thu then say next morning he's injured.
— Bill Meltzer (@billmeltzer) February 23, 2019
I think it’s more likely that Hart tweaked something and the team wanted to be cautious. Cam Talbot has been traveling with the team and will serve as Brian Elliott’s backup on Saturday. While neither has had an exceptional season, they’ve both shown an ability to keep teams in games in the past, albeit for short stretches.
The Social Media Backlash
A less-likely option, but one that many have and will continue to clamor to is the notion that the angry Flyers Twitter mob forced the front office’s hand. I, for one, had numerous people quote tweeting my tweet about Elliott starting with people calling out the Flyers for robbing them of what should have been an excellent moment in their future franchise goaltender’s career. Did GM Chuck Fletcher fear the game would be hijacked on TV with multiple cutaways to a bummed Carter Hart sitting on the bench longing for a chance to jump in? Were the Flyers fearful that Lincoln Financial Field was going to become a house of horrors as nearly 70,000 fans booed Brian Elliott and chanted “Car-ter Hart!”? I doubt it, but I’m not the Flyers front office.
Not for Carter Hart. It’s possible that the Flyers wanted to guarantee that Brian Elliott will have the chance to play a solid game in net, raising whatever potential trade value he could bring ahead of Monday’s 3PM trade deadline. With Hart out of the picture, it stands to reason that Elliott won’t feel the need to look over his shoulder. He knows that with Talbot’s acquisition, he doesn’t fit into the team’s long-term plans. This allows him to go out and showcase himself to the other 30 teams in the NHL.
Chuck Fletcher Knows It’s Time to Sell
I don’t believe in this one, but it’s worth noting. The Flyers got lit up against Tampa Bay on Tuesday. With a rusty Brian Elliott filling in for a pulled Carter Hart in net, I expected the Lightning to put up 8+ goals. Even if the Flyers were able to leapfrog the teams ahead of them in the standings, they’d almost assuredly get demolished in a first-round matchup against Tampa Bay. The recent winning stretch was nice. It gave the team a chance to showcase guy a guy like Wayne Simmonds in games that mattered, but if nothing else, this last week has shown that while the Flyers have pieces to build around for the future, they’re not remotely close to competing with the best teams in the conference. That’s okay. They’ll enter the off-season with more than $30m in cap space and plenty of attractive prospects to offer in potential trades around the Draft.
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