Is this the Flyers Final Chapter with Carter Hart?

Briere has taken calculated risks in the past, will he take another one on the embattled netminder?
Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers
Pittsburgh Penguins v Philadelphia Flyers / Bruce Bennett/GettyImages

The Flyers officially parted ways with Carter Hart on June 30th of this year when the team failed to tender a qualifying offer to the goaltender, making him an unrestricted free agent. In reality, Hart’s time with the team ended on January 23 when he asked for and was granted an indefinite leave of absence to work through criminal charges in Canada. But I am not so sure this is the last the Flyers will see of Carter Hart.

Being a General Manager is a constant exercise weighing the long and short term, and evaluating risk. Hextall was a little too focused on the long-term for the Flyers management, and Chuck Fletcher never saw a ridiculous gamble that he did not love. Danny Briere has seemed to balance both sides of the equation, and Carter Hart may be another peek into Briere’s psyche.

Deciding not to qualify Hart with an offer, one that would have exceeded 4 million dollars, was a no-brainer. Given the team’s cap space and Hart’s questionable availability, there was no other option.  While it was painful to give up the claim to Hart it had to be done. The Flyers were already paying Cal Petersen five million a season not to play goalie for the team.  But If Briere thinks that Hart is innocent, will be found innocent in court, and the trial will be concluded before the 2025 season, is this the type of gamble Briere might consider making? 

Is Carter Hart's career with the Flyers truly over?

There are several variables that Briere needs to balance. First, if he is certain that Hart engaged in something abhorrent, that should probably be the end of the exercise and the Flyers should permanently cut ties with Hart, some things are more important than hockey. If Briere thinks that Hart is innocent, an opinion which the Flyers have tacitly supported, since Hart has played over 200 games for the team, the Flyers have to consider if he would be found innocent at the trial’s conclusion. In addition, the length of the trial must be considered, as the start date has already shifted beyond October and there is no telling how long it will last. There is a likelihood that Hart will be in court well into 2025.

Briere is in a unique position as compared to the rest of the league. He should have the best intelligence on Hart. Further, he has an existing relationship with Hart and his representation. Would it make sense for Briere to look at signing Hart later this season? It could potentially be a strong win for the Flyers with very little downside.  

As the trial heats up, and the NHL paycheck stops coming to Hart, maybe Briere offers Hart something in the range of a three-year deal at about one million a season. Hart would probably welcome the influx of cash, and will probably realize that playing hockey in the 24-25 season is not going to happen. All the while legal bills continue to pour in.  A three-year deal might be appealing, giving Hart some certainty that money will be coming in for two more seasons, even if he never plays again in the NHL.

The upside for Hart is part of the downside for Briere. Hart may never play an NHL game again, but the Flyers are paying Kevin Hayes 3.5 million this season alone to play for someone else. If everything breaks well for Hart legally, there is no guarantee that he will regain his top form and will be an AHL player. All this is somewhat mitigated by the low salary where only a fraction of it would count against the cap if Hart was sent to the minors.

Some may argue the biggest risk for Briere, if he were to sign Hart to such a deal, is if Hart is found guilty and the PR black eye that the Flyers would suffer for signing such a player. I am not sure about the logic in that case. Hart has played for the team for the last four years. I would assume that the Flyers presumed Hart’s innocence, whereas the alternative explanation is they knowingly paid a bad guy to play for them. At this point, and to any point before the trial, they can say they still believe Hart to be innocent. If they get new information, they can change their posture. 

But considering the self-inflicted public relations disasters the team has endured over the last decade, defending Hart seems minor. Taking down Kate Smith was a bad move, and it was made worse because they followed the NY Yankees' lead. The Provorov Pride Night insanity was a self-inflicted hellscape that finally found a way to divide and exclude Flyers fans, in the name of diversity of course.  My personal favorite was listening to the Flyers explain how they were too good and moral of an organization to sign Tony DeAngelo to a 1 million dollar prove-it deal, then only a year later they trade a 2nd, 3rd, and 4th round pick for the right to sign DeAngelo to a $5 million a year contract.  Way to keep the moral high ground fellows! 

If things break bad for Hart, the Flyers can bury him in the minors, and in the worst case release him and eat the contract. But if Hart is proven innocent and can regain his form, the Flyers have shown they will stand by their player. How much might that be worth to potential free agents?  Even if it means nothing, the Flyers get a quality netminder at a discount as a reward. It is probably too early now but as the trial approaches let’s see if the Flyers feel lucky.