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From Ross D. Franklin, AP Photo

Penguins Add Depth in Jeff Carter

GM Ron Hextall’s first deadline has passed. His only move was trading for 36 year old forward Jeff Carter from the Los Angeles Kings. The Penguins paid a relatively small price, sending a conditional 3rd and a 4th round future draft pick to the Kings. It should be noted that neither of these picks are from the upcoming draft. The conditions on the pick, according to TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, are the 3rd round pick could become a 2nd in 2022 if the Penguins play in the Stanley Cup Final this year and Carter plays in at least half of the games. 

What the Penguins get

Jeff Carter and Ron Hextall have a history together in Los Angeles, and surely the familiarity factored into this deal. Carter is a two-time Stanley Cup Champion with the Kings, where he was an especially prominent player for them. In the King’s 2014 Stanley Cup win, Carter had 10 goals and 25 points in 26 games. He brings a career of nearly 400 goals and 750 points in addition to his bonafide playoff pedigree. In his prime he was known as a sniper, but now he’s a malleable player that can score all over the ice. He has 8 goals and 19 points in 40 games this season, which is good for 5th highest amongst Penguins forwards. He’s a versatile forward who can play center and right wing. My best guess is they want him to play as a third line center, pairing him with a speedy winger in either Jason Zucker or Jared McCann. It’s also possible he could be an option for the second line as one of Geno’s wingers. Management was adamant about adding a versatile, bigger player, and Carter fits the bill. 

How big of an impact will he have?

This trade sends two messages. The first is that management and staff believe their team is getting healthy at the right time. The second is that the previously stated goal of getting bigger wasn’t about fighting and toughness as some thought. The Penguins have an M.O. at trade deadlines in the Crosby era: adding aging forwards to be a positive postseason presence. The best of cases saw Billy Guerin be instrumental to a Stanley Cup championship, while the worst of examples saw Patrick Marleau or Daniel Winnik fade into oblivion in their short runs in Pittsburgh. Expectations should be moderate for Jeff Carter. If they get healthy, he slots into the bottom six and adds scoring depth, grit, and an intangible veteran presence. Where expectations should be highest on him is in the playoffs. With the departure of Patric Hornqvist, they needed a battle tested player to strengthen their forward depth. It seems they have their man, but will he pan out?

The downside

It behooves the Penguins to keep all future assets as the post-Crosby era looms larger with every passing season. Despite this, GM Hextall and Brian Burke made it clear that they were in a position to add. I’d say they paid a small fee for a player of Jeff Carter’s capabilities and accomplishments. If the draft pick acquired for him turns into a 2nd rounder under the trade’s conditions, another championship is worth it. Otherwise, two middle round draft picks are a relatively small price to pay for a middle six forward. The real potential downside will be whether or not Carter fits in the lineup. He has the skillset to fit in to this fast paced offense, but where remains to be seen. Is he a third line center or winger for Geno? If Carter can’t find a place with the team, it’ll look like a team that tinkered too much for their own good and hemorrhaged more of their future for nothing. 

All in all, I’d say GM Hextall did average for his first deadline. The options were limited due to their cap situation . Still, Hextall did what he said he wanted to do and acquired a high skill player that can play throughout the lineup. How much value he will add is unknown, but the Penguins believe in their team when healthy. Time will tell whether this was the right move or not, but the team is now, after so much speculation, set for the year.