The 30-year-old left winger put up career highs in goals (37) and points (67) while playing alongside Claude Giroux during 2011-12, prompting Flyers fans to wonder whether or not Hartnell would be offered an extension to the six-year deal he signed in the 2007 offseason.
Holmgren, perhaps looking to make Hartsy an offer he couldn’t refuse with a new CBA in the works, signed Hartnell to a six-year extension worth $28.5 million.
The Hartnell question could have lasted the entirety of the 2012-13 season (assuming, of course, that there is a 2012-13 season), particularly given Hartnell’s rocky reputation in Philly for the duration of his tenure here.
Less than a year ago, Hartnell’s mediocre start to the 2011-12 season, which saw him playing on the third line with players like Brayden Schenn and Matt Read, led former Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Jason Sapunka to speculate that Hartnell might serve as trade fodder to move his $4.2 million cap hit.
Last season’s frustrated water cooler talk was the culmination of years of Philly’s love-hate relationship with Hartnell.
He plays a distinctly Philadelphia style of hockey, putting himself in the box more often than he put the puck in the net, but he represented the problem with relatively long, relatively expensive contracts for players who were more likely to find themselves losing their cool than winning the game.
For years, Hartnell’s contract was seen as an albatross the team couldn’t wait to get rid of. He served his purpose on the ice, but he simply made too much money.
Then, Peter Laviolette gave him a chance.
James van Riemsdyk was failing to produce on the top line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr, and Hartnell was building little chemistry with the young players in the bottom six. Laviolette shuffled lines, putting Hartnell on the top line.
The line of thinking was certainly that Hartnell would provide more top-line toughness than JVR, at the expense of JVR’s big offensive potential.
That turned out to be half right.
Hartnell never lost his edge, his fearless attitude or his ability to irritate, but he managed to find his scoring touch. His chemistry with Giroux was impossible to predict when the season began, and impossible to deny once the season had ended.
Hartnell helped Giroux reach careers highs in goals, assists and points just as much as Giroux helped Hartnell do the same.
Once free agency began, Hartnell became eligible for a contract extension. But with Philadelphia caught up in trying to poach Shea Weber from Nashville and re-signing players like Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, it seemed that a Hartnell decision would be tabled for a few months.
And tabling the decision would not be a bad move. After all, Hartnell ups, including his ability to create chemistry with linemates from Danny Briere to Joffrey Lupul to Jeff Carter to Giroux, have not come without their share of downs, like his reputation for taking more minor penalties than anyone else in the league.
Who could blame Holmgren if he wanted to see another full season of the Hartnell-Giroux combo before making it a long-term project?
Philadelphia is a what have you done for me lately? hockey city. Our calls for Hartsy’s contract to be moved were quickly forgotten when he emerged as Giroux’s ideal complement. Our love of the Carter-Lupul-Hartnell unit was forgotten just as quickly when Hartnell was shuffled back to the role of “expensive agitator.”
Does this new six-year deal, which keeps Hartnell in Philadelphia through 2018-19, mean that the Flyers faithful are finally ready to accept Hartsy as a mainstay in Philly?
That’s never a sure thing in Philly, but this columnist believes that Hartnell has finally pervaded the city’s sports culture.
After all, Hartnell is not simply Philadelphia hockey because he is Robin to Giroux’s Batman.
Hartnell is tough as nails, willing to stand up for his teammates, anxious to get under the skin of his opponents.
Near the end of the 2011-12 regular season, Hartnell was at the center of a near-brawl between the Flyers and Penguins after Briere took a hard hit late in a game that was already decided. Not only did Hartnell chirp with the Penguins, but he famously and hilariously mocked the Hulk Hogan lookalike sitting behind the Flyers bench.
Hartnell fits into Philadelphia off the Wells Fargo Center ice, too. When the Twitter trend #hartnelldown began to keep track of the number of times Hartnell fell while playing, Hartnell embraced the trend and turned it into charity. He donated $1,000 to charity every time a #hartnelldown occurred in the 2012 NHL All-Star Game.
Likewise, after infamously throwing his glove and costing his team a penalty shot in 2008, Hartnell turned his gaffe into charity. A Philadelphia Phantoms (AHL) game later that week was declared “Scott Hartnell Glove and Mitten Toss” Night, where fans were encouraged to bring gloves, mittens and other warm clothing items and toss them onto the ice to be collected for a charity that distributes the items to the homeless.
Anecdotes like these and images of his on-ice antics are a reminder why Hartnell is more valuable to the Flyers than simply his role as Claude Giroux’s right-hand man (or more accurately, left-hand man).
He brings toughness to the Flyers, he keeps hockey fun and he is committed to making the Flyers a better franchise on all levels.
Perhaps he will contribute another 37 goals in 2012-13. Perhaps his production will drop, but if it does, Hartnell will still be contributing to the team’s success in other ways.
The time has come to truly embrace Hartsy’s role in Philadelphia sports and the Philadelphia community. As fans become more in tuned to the many facets of Hartnell’s game and less concerned with his cap hit, Hartnell will be embraced like no Flyer the team has seen in a long time.
He has the ability to be thought of as a fan favorite in the vein of Rod Brind’Amour, John LeClair and Dave Schultz. Hell, if he plays through this whole contract, only Bobby Clarke will have played in more games as a Flyer.
And after this contract expires, don’t expect Hartsy to fade away. Something tells me he’d be the perfect candidate for Steve Coates’s job offering color commentary from between the benches.