When someone leads the team in scoring and pushes the 40-goal plateau, expectations will be high on that player to maintain such a pace. It becomes an even bigger focal point when that player signs a massive contract extension that could potentially make him the highest paid forward on the team. Unfortunately for Scott Hartnell, the showman failed to deliver in a year where all eyes were on him.
It all started last season, when the winger enjoyed his best year in the National Hockey League to date. Playing alongside Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, he placed career bests in many offensive categories while also providing non-stop entertainment (and not in the Ilya Bryzgalov sense of the word). With copious amounts of offense at their disposal, James van Riemsdyk was used to acquire more defensive depth and a new top-line winger was etched into the depth chart.
For good measure, the Flyers decided to lock him up before his actual contract season began. He was rewarded by the organization with a new six-year deal valued at $28.5 million dollars, for an average cap hit of $4.75 million a season that will begin next year.
Unfortunately that’s about where the good news ends for #19. After suffering a broken foot when he was struck with a shot from a teammate, he was forced to miss significant time just three games into the season. He returned a month later to a Flyers team in turmoil, and the results where less than stellar.
Playing primarily with the team’s top scorers, he could only manage 12 points in 32 contests, the second worse offensive season of his career (only trailing his rookie season). Averaging top power play minutes, he tallied just four goals. Even worse, three of his eight goals came in a single contest. As the second highest paid forward, Hartnell finished the season ranked ninth amongst forwards in points – regardless of having a higher offensive zone start percentage than leading scorer Jake Voracek and second-year pro Matt Read.
The one place where he picked up the pace was in the dumb penalty department. Of the 70 penalty minutes he tallied, 36 of them came in the third period. For a team that just barely broke even when the season came to a close, it seems safe to say they could ill-afford to lose what should be a top scorer when they were trailing so many times in the final period of play.
The coaching staff took note of his drop in performance and discipline. Hartnell averaged over 17 minutes before his injury, but he reached that number just five times in the 29 games that followed. As a high paid veteran, he simply failed to live up to expectations in key aspects of his game and play like the top winger he was paid to be. His injury and ultimate regression had a significant effect on the team as they struggled to climb the standings and fill the massive, curly-haired void.
It will be interesting to see what lies ahead for the power forward. At age 31, he will be starting this contract on the back end of his career. Depending on what the Flyers do with their buyouts this summer, another poor season for Scotty could put the team in the precarious position of buying him out just one year into his new deal. With a no-movement clause built into the contract, the options will be limited.
However, if they do use the buyouts on Danny Briere and Ilya Bryzgalov as widely speculated, he suddenly becomes the highest paid forward on the team – awkwardly placed above many of his younger, higher performing teammates. Is an organization that badly needs to rebound next season willing to bank its success on an aging power forward returning to the scoresheet on a regular basis? It will be interesting to see if the Scott Hartnell act in Philadelphia is suddenly overpriced and on thin ice as the offseason gets underway.
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