Speculation: Jeff Carter?

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After this past weekend's dealings, with Nashville sending Jason Arnott back to Jersey and the rights to Dan Hamhuis to Philadelphia for Ryan Parent, the trade buzz leading up the the draft has escalated to vuvuzela levels, and more than a few observers suggesting that Philly might move Jeff Carter to help with their critical cap crunch. 

According to CapGeek, Carter's due 5,000,000 this year before becoming an RFA in 2011-12. That's a big chunk of change, and would likely push Columbus past their current internal budget - a dicey move unless JPMac OKs opening the vault, or Philly takes some salary back. (FoxSports and Hockeybuzz blogger Eric Smith suggests Sammy Pahlsson, but given Philly's already loaded deep with centers, and Pahlsson is signed for another two years, I half wonder if they might look at an upcoming UFA like Mathieu Garon or Jan Hejda and a pick instead, or perhaps a relatively cheap combo like Marc Methot and Andrew Murray, again potentially packaged with a later round pick.)

We know Columbus and Philly can make deals - it wasn't that long ago that they swapped the #19 pick in the 2008 draft for R.J. Umberger, after all, and that was an oddly similar situation, with Umberger coming to the Jackets just before his RFA season, and Howson inking him to an extension in relatively short order, so if a deal is to be made, I don't see Howson being scared off by Carter's potential free agency.

Drafted as part of the monstrously deep class of 2003, Carter had a career year with the Flyers in 2008, delivering 84 points in 82 games in the regular season (46G, 38A), but disappointed in the Flyers' first round exit, scoring only one goal in six games. 

In 2009-10, he struggled with injury and being shuffled around the Philly lineup, including a less than successful experiment at wing, but still brought in 61 points, 33 of them goals, and contributed 5 goals and two assists in the playoffs, though he disappeared with the rest of Philly's top line for much of the Stanley Cup Finals. 

From a Jackets' perspective, Carter is a mixed bag. On the one hand, he's got great skating ability, size, and a wicked shot. He's a good penalty killer and a great offensive touch. On the other hand, he's not as physical as he might be with that size, he tends to be a shoot first, shoot again, and maybe pass third kind of guy, and he does tend to disappear for stretches during the season. (I give him a pass for the playoffs, though, given the revelation that he played most of the post-season with a broken foot.) His talent and his salary pretty much demand he would be played as the #1 center, but I don't see him working well with Rick Nash compared to a true playmaker like other rumored trade targets (Spezza, Weiss, and Savard), unless you hope for Carter taking defensive pressure off Nash by forcing teams to defend against both players? 

On the other hand, even Carter's "off year" of 61 points would have been fourth in scoring on last year's Jackets, and his 33 goals would have tied Nash for top production on the team. A Jackets lineup that combined Nash, Carter, Huselius, Vermette, Voracek, and perhaps Nikita Filatov in the top six suddenly becomes much more of an offensive force - perhaps even able to rival the scoring depth of Detroit or Chicago. 

It's a situation where it's easy to lay out pros and cons, but there's no doubt that if Howson wanted to make a big splash at the draft, the opportunity is there.

That said, sometimes the best way to judge the value of a player to ask the fans he's playng in front of, and since we've had a lot of visits lately from Broad Street Hockey's Geoff Detweiler, I thought I'd ask him for his take on Carter, after the jump...

So the Blue Jackets are looking for a center to play with Rick Nash.  What else is new?  Apparently favorite son R.J. Umberger wasn't enough for you, and now that the Flyers are supposedly shopping Jeff Carter (or not, depending on whether you believe Paul Holmgren or not), you have your eyes on him.

Twice during the season, Holmgren said he was not trading Carter this season.  Not sure why he added in the caveat "this season", but he held his word.  The season is over and the rumors are back.

Since I know more about Carter than Nash, I'll leave you to decide whether Carter is the center who can play with Nash.  Let's start with the good:  Carter is a premiere talent who has three straight 29-goal seasons, with a career-high 46 in 2008-09.  He's big (6'3" 200 lbs), young (25 years old), affordable ($5 million cap hit), and defensively responsible. 

The problem is that for all of his strengths, there isn't one that makes him elite.  His size is impressive, but he rarely uses it.  This past year, he only had 7 more hits than Danny Briere.  The one time he used his size, he laid a questionable hit on Anssi Salmela.  The fact that he doesn't use his size more often is pretty frustrating, but playing with either Scott Hartnell or Mike Richards means he doesn't have to.

Additionally, while he is a natural goal-scorer, he's also inconsistent.  In 2007-09 he fished 8th with 107 missed shots.  In 2008-09, he tied for 6th in the league with 116 missed shots.  This past year, he finished third with 141 missed shots.  That's a lot of missed shots, and most of them either went straight into the netting or deflected out of the zone.  It's incredibly frustrating, especially since he loves flying down the wing and taking a telegraphed slap shot from above the circle.

Carter's talent makes up for his inaccuracy and his predictability, though.   He hasn't averaged 0.93 points per game over the last two years by luck, after all.  And before you think he's a power-play performer like Danny Briere, he averaged 1.98 pts per 60 minutes of even-strength ice time this past year.  He is a point producer, no doubt about it.

While he is defensively responsible, he can't be confused with Mike Richards.  Yes, Carter gets some time on the PK (3:03 per game last year, 1:17 per game this year), but he's an offense-first player.  His great ability at the other end of the ice makes his above-average play in his own end appear even better than it is. 

I realize this isn't exactly a ringing endorsement of Carter, but I'll explain why.  The guy is above-average at everything, neither excellent or average at anything.  He worked on his faceoffs for this year, finishing above 50% for the first time in his career at 52.4%.  He's got a hell of a shot, but misses the net with nearly 45% of the shots he fires.  Defensively, he's much better than Danny Briere, but has never had to (or been asked to) play a two-way game like Pavel Datsyuk or Mike Richards.

Bringing him into Columbus will certainly help Rick Nash get some space, but he's not a playmaker.  Having the two of them on the same line will definitely be scary, but whenever he is on a line with another superstar (whether it be Danny Briere or Mike Richards) the results have been disappointing.  He is the focal point, not a co-star.

In terms of return, there really isn't much precedence for a player of Carter's caliber being traded.  As one of our commenters pointed out, only six 45-goal scorers have been traded.  Two of them were traded for another 45-goal scorer, one of them tried to kill a player, another actually did, and Ilya Kovalchuk refused to sign.  If Carter is moved, I expect the Flyers to ask for a promising young goalie (Steve Mason?), a highly-regarded prospect who is close to NHL-ready (Nikita Filatov?), and another prospect or pick (Matt Calvert?).  Calvert might be more than reasonably expected, but I have a serious crush on him, so of course I make another plug to acquire him.

Obviously, that might be too much for Columbus to part with, so we'll throw in Brian Boucher and call it even.  And if it doesn't work out, remember Carter is an RFA and will net at least a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd round draft pick if he leaves after next season.

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