Jeff Carter wasn’t planning on leaving Los Angeles. The veteran forward put down roots during a decade with the Kings, a highly successful run that included a pair of Stanley Cups.
Then Pittsburgh general manager Ron Hextall called early Monday morning with an offer to chase a third. And the 36-year-old Carter’s mind changed quickly.
“He said, ’I’m all in, I can’t wait to get there,” Hextall said Monday afternoon while announcing the first major move since he replaced Jim Rutherford in February. “We have a player here who has won two Stanley cups … his reaction last night was terrific.”
“He said I can come out whenever you want, I’m ready to go tomorrow, which is today,” Hextall said. “Credit to Jeff, he should be here (Monday night) and hopefully we can get him in with the rest of the guys (on Tuesday).”
Carter was the lone move the Penguins made at the deadline, one made easier thanks to both Carter’s Cup-winning pedigree and the Kings’ offer to pick up half of Carter’s salary, which carries an average annual value of $5.2 million.
Los Angeles will receive a conditional third-round selection in the 2022 draft and a conditional fourth-round selection in 2023.
Carter has played 16 years in the NHL with the past nine-plus seasons coming with the Kings, whom he helped to a pair of Stanley Cup titles. The 36-year-old forward was acquired from Columbus during the 2011-12 season. During his time with the Kings, he led the team in power-play (57) and game-winning goals (44), was second in goals (194), third in points (383) and fourth in assists (189).
In 40 games this season, Carter has eight goals and 11 assists. He leaves Los Angeles tied for 10th in franchise history in goals and first in overtime goals with 11. The Kings are likely to miss the postseason for a third straight season. They have won only three of their past 10 and are six points out of the final playoff spot in the West Division.
While the Kings are sinking, the Penguins are soaring despite a series of injuries to high-profile players such as center Evgeni Malkin and forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Brandon Tanev. Pittsburgh sits just two points back of Washington and the New York Islanders in the East and is 8-2 over its past 10 games.
Hextall felt compelled to find a way to bolster the Penguins based on the team’s play in the face of significant adversity.
“Acquiring Jeff is really a credit to the job our players have done,” Hextall said.
The move is the first splashy acquisition for Hextall, hired two months ago after Rutherford’s abrupt resignation. Hextall and Carter have a history together. Hextall was Philadelphia’s director of player personnel when the Flyers selected Carter in the first round of the 2003 draft.
Hextall was assistant general manager for the Kings when they acquired Carter at the 2012 trade deadline. Four months later, the Kings won the Stanley Cup with Carter scoring eight goals during the postseason run.
Hextall pointed to Carter’s versatility as one of the driving factors behind the deal and believes there’s plenty of life left in both Carter’s legs and his shot 16 seasons into his career.
Pittsburgh will get a chance to ease Carter into the lineup. The Penguins are off until Thursday and are in a stretch that includes a series of games against also-rans in the East.
Pittsburgh hosts reeling Philadelphia before a weekend set against woeful Buffalo then three more games against the New Jersey Devils.
Who else will be around for the stretch drive is a bit up in the air. Hextall believes both Malkin and Kapanen will be back before the playoffs start in mid-May. Tanev’s future is a bit murkier. Carter’s arrival, however, should give the Penguins plenty of depth up the middle in a division that features three of the best teams in the NHL.
Hextall indicated the Penguins “dabbled” in some things but opted not to make any other moves. Financial constraints for a team that typically spends right up to the salary cap was an issue. So was the prospect of disrupting a group that’s been electric over most of the past two months despite the steady stream of players to injured reserve.
“I know Jeff Carter pretty well and Jeff is just sort of the guy coming into the room and just going to play hockey,” Hextall said. “I know Jeff is not going to affect our chemistry in a big way.”
Carter’s departure leaves only four members of the Kings’ two Stanley Cup teams still with the franchise — captain Anze Kopitar, forward Dustin Brown, defenseman Drew Doughty and goalie Jonathan Quick.
Carter will have one year left on his current contract, with a $5.27 million cap hit entering next season.