It’s foolish to ponder “what ifs” in professional sports. Every team, in every season, has variables that alter its fate.
But it’s challenging for Philadelphia Flyers fans not to ponder how their playoff outlook would be different had Carter Hart been promoted from the American Hockey League earlier in the season. With rookie Hart as the team’s No. 1 goalie, the Flyers, 8-1-1 in their last 10, are eight points out of an Eastern Conference playoff spot.
Since he played his first game for the Flyers on Dec. 18, he has posted a .924 save percentage. That’s better than the New York Islanders’ NHL-leading team save percentage (.923).
When someone other than Hart has played in Philadelphia’s net, the Flyers’ save percentage is .887, which explains why only four NHL teams have a lower team save percentage than Philadelphia this season.
The difference in the Flyers with Hart (11-6-1, 2.48 goals-against average) and without him is more than just numbers. “It’s not like we can play looser,” Flyers center Travis Konecny said. “(But) it’s definitely giving us confidence to play offensively and create opportunities up the ice.”
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The question now is whether the Flyers and Hart have enough games left to force their way into the post-season. Hart tops our list of people who will have a major say in the playoff push down the stretch.
Here are others:
►Coach Rod Brind’Amour, Carolina Hurricanes: The first-year coach is making the right decisions as the Hurricanes make a serious run at making the playoffs for the first time since 2009. They are three points out with 25 games left to play. The ‘Canes are 7-2-1 in their last 10, and they have outscored the opposition 41-24.
►Patrick Kane, Chicago Blackhawks: Early in this season, the Blackhawks looked like they were in contention for the first overall pick and therefore in the running to select Jack Hughes No. 1. Today, they are in the hunt for the playoffs. They are four points out of a spot and Kane has played a major role in their rise. He’s on a 15-game point scoring streak during which he has totaled 11 goals and 20 assists. Kane could rally them into the playoffs.
►General manager David Poile, Nashville Predators: Poile could alter the playoff landscape if he can land a scorer to put a charge into the team’s struggling power play (13.1%, last in the NHL) and Nashville’s second line. Always an aggressive trader, Poile will have to inquire about Ottawa’s trio of potential unrestricted free agents Matt Duchene, Mark Stone and Ryan Dzingel.
►GM Kevin Cheveldayoff, Winnipeg Jets: It’s possible that Jets will face the Predators in the playoffs, and Cheveldayoff could be looking at the same Ottawa group to boost his team. It could be Cheveldayoff vs. Poile in the race to add players. The Jets also want to re-energize their second line like they did last season when they added Paul Stastny.
►Artemi Panarin, Columbus Blue Jackets: Whatever happens with Panarin will have a significant impact on the playoff picture. The elusive Panarin could spice any offense. Imagine if he ended up with the Predators or Flames or Golden Knights? The Blue Jackets would have to acquire a proven scorer in the Panarin deal or a following one. Otherwise, their postseason outlook would be severely damaged.
►Detroit Red Wings: General manager Ken Holland has a few players that other teams want, particularly potential unrestricted free agents Gustav Nyqvist and Jimmy Howard. The issue is Holland would like to re-sign both players. If does trade them, Holland could help a couple of playoff teams.