Los Angeles Kings center Jeff Carter keeps creeping into trade rumors involving the Bruins. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman brought up a Boston-Carter possibility during last week’s edition of the 31 Thoughts podcast.
There’s no doubt that even after Patrice Bergeron returns from his ribs/collarbone injury the Bruins are going to have to do something to stabilize their third line. Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson has forged chemistry with wings Ryan Donato and Danton Heinen, but that line can’t be trusted in the defensive zone or to be matched up against anything resembling a top-two line in the NHL. And they can’t seem to finish around the opponent’s net. There’s a lot of skill there, but not a lot of experience or strength.
The Kings are last in the NHL overall standings and seem ready to sell. Carter could fit the bill, as always, if the price is right.
Let’s look at the pros and cons of a trade for Carter:
Carter will turn 34 this Jan. 1 and is signed for a $5.3 million salary-cap hit the next three seasons beyond 2018-19. That’s actually a manageable number if Carter can produce the way he has in the past. He’s also due just $7 million in actual cash ($3 million next season, $2 million in each of the last two years).
Despite missing a chunk of last season because of a sliced tendon after an errant skate cut him, Carter had 22 points (13 goals, nine assists) in 27 games for the Kings. In 2016-17, he had 66 points (32 goals, 34 assists) in 82 games.
In addition to his value as an experienced, two-way performer on the third line, Carter could solidify the Bruins’ first power-play unit as a net-front presence, allowing Jake DeBrusk to bolster the second unit when he’s healthy. And Carter’s versatile enough to play wing in the top six if coach Bruce Cassidy needs to jolt his lineup.
Just days ago TSN’s Bob McKenzie pointed out that Carter doesn’t have no-trade protection in his contract but that, “if he does get traded somewhere he doesn’t want to go, retirement could be an option for him.”
And then Friedman, who drew a line between the Bruins and Carter on his podcast, offered up the following during the Headlines segment in between periods of the Hockey Night in Canada games on Saturday:
“[I] don’t think his family wants to leave California.”
“Anyone who’s interested is going to have to work with him and make sure he’s happy with the fit to make sure it’s going to work.”
In addition Carter has just 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in 34 games this season – about half his rate of production for his career, after going point-less in Vegas’ four-game sweep of the Kings in the first round of last year’s playoffs.
As far as Carter not wanting to leave California, the Bruins haven’t had a problem fitting veteran players into their culture in the past. Rick Nash agreed to come here, as did David Backes. Of course, those were two players from a lot closer than California. One would have to think that a London, Ontario native could be coaxed into joining a historic, East Coast franchise like the Bruins. (Although if the wife and kids aren’t willing to trade sun and sand for snowballs and foliage, all bets are off.)
Beyond the family issues, the production drop-off is troubling. The Bruins, or any team, would be banking on his being revitalized with better linemates (do the Bruins have those for their third line?) and a winning atmosphere.
If a Carter trade still makes sense after the aforementioned two issues are addressed, what do the Bruins give up? Well you should probably backburner your dreams of Boston shedding David Backes’ contract, which counts against the cap at $6 million the next two seasons. He has a full no-move clause and doesn’t seem like the type of guy who’s uprooting his family to move across the continent midseason.
Carter’s contract may be manageable but it’s still quite a steep cap hit for a third-line center, especially beyond this season when the Bruins are going to be upping the ante with several restricted free agents and trying to keep defenseman Zdeno Chara at a respectable salary.
In my mind, if the Bruins are taking Carter at his full cap hit, then he’s not worth more than two second-tier prospects, a group I would argue includes Jeremy Lauzon, Peter Cehlarik, Ryan Fitzgerald and possibly Jakub Zboril and Zach Senyshyn (although there are varying opinions on the two 2015 first-round picks).
Ideally, the Bruins would get the Kings to retain at least $1 million in salary. Then you could consider giving up a better prospect or young players with experience. Would Danton Heinen and a third-round pick get it done? What about Anders Bjork? There’s a lengthy list of prospects that should be off the table because you’re not really sure how much you’re going to get out of Carter this year and the next three. Based on past trade deadlines, the asking price will probably be too high and it’s really not worth the Bruins blocking up the works, while Studnicka, Forsbacka Karlsson and Trent Frederic are still too young to give up on without giving them a shot to be at least the No. 3 center for the next few seasons.
Barring a major price drop or the Kings retaining a whopping amount of the Carter’s cap hit, the Bruins should pass.