"I struggled a little bit personally. I wasn't 100 percent healthy to start the season," Hartnell said the other day. "I worked really hard off the ice to try to get back and to get close to 100 percent. And then I got a break."
The "break" - being put on a line with Claude Giroux and Jaromir Jagr - resurrected Hartnell. And the Flyers.
"My mind-set was just to not let that [opportunity] go," Hartnell said.
The shaggy-haired Hartnell looked lost in the season's first two weeks, going goal-less and managing just two assists in his first seven games. But since moving onto the line with Giroux and Jagr, Hartnell has emerged as one of the league's most dependable scorers. He began Saturday with career highs in goals (35 ) and points (64). He was tied for fourth in the NHL in goals, and tied for first in power-play tallies.
Jagr, 40, a future Hall of Famer, has been a mentor of sorts to Hartnell, an 11-year veteran who was chosen to his first all-star team this season. Watching the work Jagr puts in - on and off the ice - has carried over to Hartnell.
When Hartnell talks about his career season, the influence of Jagr - a physical-fitness addict who doesn't think twice about putting on a weighted vest and going on a midnight run - is evident.
"I try to be the best player I can every day and take care of myself off the ice, be prepared at practice," said Hartnell, who will turn 30 next month. "When Jags talks to us, he's helped me out a lot in how I play and how I shoot the puck and control the boards in the corners. Things like that. I feel really fortunate to have Jaromor Jagr involved every day, and obviously playing with G, he makes some unbelievable passes and I give a lot of credit to him.
"It's been a real fun year . . . but the most important thing is to win as many games and finish as high as we can. The goal is to win the Stanley Cup."
He has provided the Flyers with a much-needed physical presence in front of the net, hasn't been adverse to dropping the gloves to try to wake up his team (130 penalty minutes), and has become the essence of an elite power forward.
Oh, and to his credit, he has embraced the #HartnellDown craze that has swept the Twitterverse, where some fans keep a running track of how many times he falls to the ice. In the beginning of the season, when Hartnell was struggling, the tone of those tweets was mocking. Now the tone is different. Hartnell has become revered because he scores despite his falls - and because he good-naturedly pokes fun at himself along the way.
(The #HartnellDown phenomenon, started by Flyers fan Seth Hastings, has led to a #HartnellDown Foundation, and a website that includes a Down-O-Meter that tracks the wingers falls. #HartnellDown merchandise is available on the website, hartnelldown.com, with proceeds going to charities.)
As for Giroux, I'd give him the edge for the team MVP, but Hartnell is close behind. With Mike Richards and Jeff Carter gone, Giroux has flourished in the role of go-to guy and is among the NHL's top three MVP candidates. The only knock against him: He sometimes tries to get too fancy - or is too unselfish - and doesn't shoot enough.
Unlike Hartnell, Giroux plays in all situations, including the penalty kill, and averages nearly four more minutes per game than Hartnell. He entered Saturday second in the league in points (85) and assists (58). In addition, Giroux has taken on more leadership responsibility this season, as has Hartnell.
Hartnell entered Saturday at plus-22, while Giroux was at plus-6.
Jagr was asked who would be his MVP if he had to choose between his linemates.
"G is the MVP. I don't think it's a tough call," Jagr said. "I like Hartsy a lot, but I don't think Hartsy would score so many goals without G. Hartsy brings a lot of things, but G plays a lot more minutes and kills penalties and takes face-offs."
That's probably how the media will see it when they choose the team's MVP, but just the fact that Hartnell is even in the MVP picture is a credit to his commitment and his remarkable turnaround.
Now, the trade rumors have become a distant memory - and it's difficult to imagine where the Flyers would be without Hartnell, whose contract ($4.2 million cap hit) expires after next season.
Inside the Flyers: Scott Hartnell's Career Year
In his 11th NHL season, Flyers left winger Scott Hartnell has career highs in the following categories (entering Saturday):
Shooting pct.: 16.7%.
Power-play goals: 15.
Avg. time on ice: 17:50
- Sam Carchidi
Contact Sam Carchidi at email@example.com or on Twitter @BroadStBull.