EVERETT — After Carter Hart shut out the Spokane Chiefs 3-0 on Friday night at Xfinity Arena — his unfathomable fifth shutout in 16 appearances this season —the Everett Silvertips’ star goaltender didn’t engage in any extra-demonstrative celebrations with his teammates. Nor did he direct any wistful gazes around the arena to soak in the atmosphere of the adoring crowd. The only thing he showed any emotion about was neglecting to perform his customary post-win leaping hip bump with roommate Riley Sutter.
It sure didn’t seem like the reaction of someone who’d just played his final game in the building that’s been his home for three-and-a-half years.
Hart may be the WHL’s most coveted asset among teams that style themselves as championship contenders, and his name is the first mentioned when trade rumors are discussed. But even though Hart would warrant a king’s ransom in a deal, the Silvertips say he’s not for sale.
“Teams started inquiring months ago, and that’s continued,” Everett general manager Garry Davidson said prior to Friday’s game. “We were keeping an open mind on it and said we weren’t sure we were going to do it, and I’ll be honest, right now I’m telling teams that I don’t see us moving him.”
Hart is well on his way to being the greatest goaltender in WHL history. He’s already a two-time winner of the Del Wilson Trophy as the WHL’s Goaltender of the Year, and he could become the league’s first ever three-time winner as this season he’s somehow elevated his play to yet another level. His 1.34 goals against average through Friday would shatter Kelly Guard’s single-season record of 1.56, while his .960 save percentage was 23 percentage points better than anyone has posted the past 20 years. Those are video-game numbers — except no video game, even with the goalie’s attributes all pumped up to 99, would ever spit out those kind of stats.
“Oh yeah, and then some,” Everett coach Dennis Williams answered when asked if Hart has been as good as his numbers. “It’s hard to describe, but he’s in such a zone.
“My old goalies may not like me saying this, but no I haven’t (seen a junior goalie as good as Hart).”
Think a team like Moose Jaw, which leads the league in points but has a lone question mark in goal, wouldn’t pay a pretty penny for Hart’s services? Or a team like Regina, which is hosting the Memorial Cup but struggling around .500, wouldn’t see Hart as the one player who could potentially even the scales with the CHL’s elite teams?
Hart leaves to join Canada’s training camp for the 2018 World Junior Hockey Championships at the end of the weekend, and he isn’t expected back until after the WHL’s Jan. 10 trade deadline. Therefore, if Hart is traded — as has been the speculation all season long — then Friday’s win against the Chiefs would be his last game at Xfinity Arena in a Tips jersey.
The windfall of top prospects and high draft picks Everett could receive in exchange for Hart, who as a 19-year-old signed by the NHL’s Philadelphia Flyers will not be back in the league next season, could potentially set the franchise up for years. No one considered Everett a contender for anything this season, so it was always assumed the Tips would allow contenders to bid the price up and take the best offer.
But Everett’s recent run of form, having won seven straight through Friday on the back of Hart’s goaltending to improve to 17-12-1-1 and move into second place in the U.S. Division, has Davidson thinking more about the present than the future.
“We feel right now we’re a dangerous team and we can play with most teams most nights, and Carter can be the difference many nights,” Davidson said.
“I shouldn’t say never (about trading Hart), because things can change,” Davidson added. “But right now our plan is to go forward and try to add a few pieces here and see what we can do as a group.”
Davidson also said he talked to Hart about the situation, and that Hart expressed his desire to stay with the organization that drafted him in 2013, gave him his WHL debut as a 15-year-old, and cultivated his development into arguably the best goaltending prospect in the world. Hart echoed that sentiment following Friday’s sensational performance against Spokane, a game in which goaltending was the sole determining factor in the outcome.
“I love playing here,” Hart said when asked if he’s paid attention to trade speculation. “To be honest, I don’t really see myself playing anywhere else. This is my home away from home. We have a great group of guys this year who I don’t want to leave. I have a great billet in Parker Fowlds and a great roommate in Riley Sutter. It’s a second home for me and I don’t really see myself playing anywhere else.”
So apparently a trade that seemed inevitable seven weeks ago when Everett was 4-9-1-0 isn’t inevitable anymore.
Is holding onto Hart instead of cashing in the right move? That’s certainly a matter for debate.
But the Xfinity Arena regulars? No doubt they are thrilled at the prospect of having the privilege of cheering on Hart the rest of his junior career.
Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.