Penguins Made the Right Move Protecting Jeff Carter

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Jeff Carter was one player with speculation surrounding him that he would be exposed for the expansion draft. But a recent transaction by the organization increased the likelihood the veteran will be playing his 17th season in the NHL as a member of the black and gold. He was traded from the Los Angeles Kings to the Penguins on April 12 as a depth piece with the injury to forward Evgeni Malkin keeping him out of action. He is a multi-time Stanley Cup champion with the Kings during the 2011-12 and 2013-14 seasons, and his championship experience is vital for the younger players on the Penguins to learn from.

History With Hextall

Penguins general manager Ron Hextall has a history with Carter that dates back several seasons to when he worked with the Philadelphia Flyers as a talent evaluator during the 2003 NHL Entry Draft. The Flyers selected the 36-year-old in the first round of this draft with the 11th overall pick. He displayed from his playing time with the Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds of the Ontario Hockey League (OHL), and briefly with the then Philadelphia Phantoms of the American Hockey League (AHL), that he could be an impact player in the National Hockey League.

In 2006, Hextall was appointed as the vice president and assistant general manager of the Kings and reunited with Carter after the forward was traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Kings in February 2012. The Kings went on to win their first Stanley Cup championship, in which he was instrumental during the playoffs that season with 13 points through 20 games. Hextall would leave his role with the Kings after the shortened season of 2012-13 for another management position with the Flyers, but the two would reunite again.

Jeff Carter Los Angeles Kings
Jeff Carter, former Los Angeles Kings forward (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

He was traded last season, and Hextall commented on what Carter adds to the Penguins.

“Jeff offers a lot. He’s a playoff proven player. He’s got a lot of versatility. He can play special teams, five on five, center, play the wing. He just brings a lot to the table.”

From “Ex-Flyers Jeff Carter, Ron Hextall reunite for Stanley Cup run with Pittsburgh Penguins” by Wayne Fish, Bucks County Courier Times, 4/15/21

Carter’s Production With the Penguins

Carter provided head coach Mike Sullivan with another option at the center position that would become even deeper with the return of Malkin. He scored 9 of his 17 total goals of the season after the trade, which included a four-goal game against the Buffalo Sabres. In the first-round series against the New York Islanders, he had five points in six games, which included four goals.  

The forward’s experience, particularly in the playoffs, was another factor in deciding to protect him from the Expansion Draft.

“In the six-game playoff series loss to the Islanders, as younger teammates were being muscled out of high-danger scoring areas, the 36-year-old Carter went where he pleased. The 6-foot-3, 219-pounder was a constant threat, tallying four times, against an opponent renowned for taking away time and space. So if the Penguins truly remain in “win now” mode, they made the right choice to include him among the seven forwards they protected in the Kraken expansion draft.”

From “ Reed: Did Penguins make right call in protecting Carter?” by Tom Reed, DK Pittsburgh Sports, 7/19/21

Carter’s Future With the Penguins

Carter is not the same offensive force at this point in his career, but he still can be an effective player on occasion for the Penguins. He is in the last year of an 11-year contract and will earn $2.636 million next season. Brandon Tanev, a forward who the team chose to not protect for the expansion draft, is younger than him but has a modified no-trade clause (M-NTC) in his contract and has an average annual value (AAV) of $3.5 million for the next four seasons. Malkin had surgery on his right knee in June and may miss the start of next season. Carter could fill his role on the second line, potentially playing with up-and-comer Kasperi Kapanen.

Carter is motivated to provide whatever the Penguins may need of him and knows what it takes to win multiple Stanley Cup championships like Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Malkin. His flexibility to play center and right wing is another benefit to keeping him, as Sullivan can maximize his value through finding the best players to pair him with on special teams and even strength. The organization remains built to contend for another championship as it has been for the last 15 seasons. And the veteran would like to do his part in contributing toward another Stanley Cup championship for the organization and the city of Pittsburgh next season.

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