Is Jeff Carter back on the trade market?
Today both Darren Dreger of ESPN and Columbus Blue Jackets beat writer Aaron Portzline broke the story that the team is actively shopping 27 year-old center Jeff Carter with the hopes of yet again rebuilding for the future.
Columbus dealt tremendous future assets to acquire him from Philadelphia during the off-season (solid young winger Jakub Voracek and an early first-round pick which turned into young mega-talented center Sean Couturier), in the hopes that he would be a perfect first-line compliment to long-time Blue Jackets’ star winger Rick Nash.
The deal back-fired, as Carter has been oft-injured and has not meshed well with Nash, just two of the many reasons why the Blue Jackets now sit last overall in the NHL standings.
Years of mostly poor drafting and far-from-savvy acquisitions have left Columbus thin on talent all over the ice. Up front, young center Ryan Johansen has all the markings of a future star, while Rick Nash is already a sublime top=tier talent whose career numbers have only been diminished by a lack of similar talent around him. Aside from them, most of the Columbus forwards and forward prospects seem better suited to second, third or fourth-line duty. On the blueline, the Jackets are atrocious. James Wisniewski, Marc Methot and Fedor Tyutin are all mid-pairing defensemen overpaid to mega-year deals. On the horizon, there are a couple of more young mid-pairing defensemen on the way in John Moore and David Savard, but the Jackets lack high-end talent on defense anywhere in the organization. In goal, Columbus is a downright disaster, with the worst goaltending tandem in the league spear-headed by the maddeningly inconsistent Steve Mason.
Thus, the Blue Jackets need help everywhere. Like most teams out of contention at the trade deadline, they are likely to deal off their impending unrestricted free agents for future considerations. Unfortunately, while UFAs Vaclav Prospal, Sami Pahlsson and Radek Martinek should garner some mid-level prospects and mid-round draft picks at the deadline, they are not exactly game-changers on the trade market.
Jeff Carter, however, is.
Never seemingly or reportedly happy in Columbus, Carter remains an astounding talented hockey player. With a sick wrist shot, and a tantalizing mix of size and skating abilities, most in the hockey scouting community believe that Carter could easily return to his 46-goal form of 2008-09 in the right situation. A three-time 30-goal scorer who can star at center or right wing is a commodity most teams playing for Lord Stanley’s Cup would love to add to the equation. Signed at $5.3 million per year through 2018-19, there is a bit of risk in acquiring Carter, but the potential return on that investment is equivalently astronomical.
So, who would be among the bidders? And what would they realistically offer up in return?
St. Louis Blues
Ken Hitchcock previously coached Carter in Philadelphia, so there is familiarity there. Moreover, if the Blues have one need entering the playoffs, it is for a game-breaking goal-scorer. Carter would potentially fit that bill. The Blues have two electrifying blue-chip forward prospects in center Jaden Schwartz (captain of this year’s Canadian WJC team) and RW Vladimir Tarasenko (a hero of last year’s Russian WJC gold-medal team). A package of one of those two along with a very good goaltending prospect in Jake Allen should be at least a good starting point in completing a deal. The Blues would then be able to ice two formidable offensive lines with David Backes centering David Perron and T.J. Oshie, then Patrick Berglund centering Chris Stewart and Carter.
Nashville is actively shopping for a game-breaker at the deadline, as they are deep in goal and on the blueline but have more trouble scoring than a eunuch at a nymphomaniac convention. In Nashville, Carter would immediately slot on the right side of the top line alongside Mike Fisher and Sergei Kostitsyn. In exchange, the Predators can offer a package around one of their two blue-chip rookie offensive defensemen, Ryan Ellis or Jonathon Blum, along with fairly-coveted young goaltender Anders Lindback.
Just in case Sidney Crosby ever gets healthy again, the Pens are going to want a right-wing to slot alongside him, since James Neal seems to have found a happy home on Evgeni Malkin’s right flank. And what would drive the arch-rival Flyers fans more nuts than seeing their former wonder-kid Carter scoring 45 goals for the Penguins? Pittsburgh could dangle very talented but far-from-NHL-ready RW Beau Bennett and defenseman Simon Despres, NHL ready with top-pairing upside, though they would need to add more to match the aforementioned hypothetical offers of St. Louis and Nashville.
San Jose Sharks
The Sharks drool at the idea of a power play line of Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Carter, but having traded most of their prospect pool this off-season in a deal for defenseman Brent Burns, they would have to offer up a pair of #1 draft picks along with top goaltending prospect Alex Stalock in order to interest the Blue Jackets.
Toronto Maple Leafs
What would an NHL trade rumor be without the Leafs? If Carter’s available, you can bet Toronto GM Brian Burke is reaching for his cell phone. Carter is exactly what the Leafs need — a #1 center with size and offensive talent to slot between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on the top forward unit. Burke would not be shy in offering up young defensive defenseman Luke Schenn, top center prospect Joe Colborne and one of their two goaltenders, either Jonas Gustavsson or James Reimer, in exchange for Carter and possibly current Jackets’ netminder Steve Mason.
The Wild need offense to make new head coach Mike Yeo’s system work, and they are painfully thin at right wing. Carter could immediately slot onto the top line alongside Mikko Koivu and Dany Heatley. Minnesota has a ton of room under the cap and is deep in prospects. They could offer talented back-up goalie Josh Harding and any two of blue-chip forward prospects Mikael Granlund, Charlie Coyle and Jason Zucker and compete strongly with offers by St. Louis, Nashville and Toronto.
All of this is purely speculative, keep that in mind. That being said, my odds-on favorite for landing Carter would be:
Los Angeles Kings
Desperate for a right-winger to play with Carter’s long-time Philadelphia teammate Mike Richards, Carter would be the perfect fit. The laid-back California atmosphere has suited the high-strung Richards, and would likely suit an often-emotional Carter, as well. The addition of Carter would jump the Kings past San Jose as the team to beat in the Pacific Division. The Kings have reportedly been willing to part with Jonathan Bernier, perhaps the best young goalie in the NHL without a starting gig, but only for a top-line offensive winger. Carter would fit that bill, and Bernier would solidify Columbus between the pipes for years to come. If the Kings were willing to toss in young blue-chip offensive defenseman Slava Voynov, they would effectively out-bid any other NHL franchise and fill two glaring future needs for Columbus.
That being said, Toronto GM Brian Burke would rather shave his own tongue than be out-bid for a player he covets, and could counter-offer with all of the Maple Leafs’ first-round draft picks until the year 2047.
In sum, I often am critical of NHL “trade rumors”, but I must say my experience as a hockey writer leads me to believe that Carter, reputedly unhappy and playing for a team spinning its proverbial wheels for its entire existence, will in fact be dealt at the deadline. Everything else could not be more speculative, but that’s my job: making things up so you don’t have to.