LOS ANGELES, Calif. – Jeff Carter still isn’t sure why the Philadelphia Flyers traded him to Columbus eight months ago, and he doesn’t know why his short tenure with the Blue Jackets didn’t work out.
Yet Carter knows exactly why he has been reunited with good buddy Mike Richards in the latest twist to his crazy year. The Los Angeles Kings’ newest acquisition is expected to score goals immediately and often for the NHL’s lowest-scoring team.
“I kind of figured that out pretty quick,” Carter said Saturday while wearing a Kings hoodie and shorts two hours before his first game with his new team against Chicago. “It’s a new chapter of my career. A little bit of pressure on me, too, to come in and help the guys out, but I’m looking forward to it.”
Carter reported to Staples Center and passed his physical two days after the Blue Jackets shipped him out West in a trade for defenceman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round pick. Columbus traded Carter after just 39 games, although the forward said he never asked to leave the NHL’s worst team.
“When we went in there, we had some high expectations,” Carter said. “There was a lot of buzz around the city, and for whatever reason it didn’t happen for us. You can say that we had lots of injuries and suspensions, and the team didn’t have time to click, but that’s kind of the way it goes sometimes. When the team performs like that, they’re going to make moves.”
The biggest move has reteamed Carter with Richards, his longtime teammate and sometime linemate in Philadelphia before the Flyers blew up their core and traded both forwards last summer. The Kings are desperate to ignite their offence, and the former Flyers will get to work on it immediately.
“We never probably thought this would happen again, especially this quick,” Carter said. “Obviously, we’re both pleased with it. For me, coming to this team, I told Mike when he got traded here, ‘You’ve got a heck of a team. You’ve got a chance to win.’ So I’m excited to be a part of it. We’ve got a lot of work to do here, ahead of us, but I’m excited.”
Although Columbus has been awful, Carter wasn’t bad. A broken foot and an injured shoulder sidelined him for 21 games earlier this season, or he would be right on pace for his fifth consecutive season with at least 29 goals.
He scored 15 goals in his injury-shortened tenure with Columbus. That’s more than anybody in the Kings’ lineup except Anze Kopitar (17).
Los Angeles coach Darryl Sutter plans to use Carter and Richards on the same line. Carter doesn’t mind moving back to Richards’ right wing after playing centre this season in Columbus, saying he feels comfortable in either position.
The Kings need success immediately from their Philadelphia connection. Los Angeles entered Saturday’s game with just 129 goals in 61 games, ranking 30th in the NHL—six fewer goals than 29th-place Minnesota and 72 fewer than league-leading Vancouver.
Carter shares his new bosses’ confusion about the Kings’ scoring woes.
“You look up and down that lineup, they’ve got some great players,” Carter said. “I think it’s just a matter of time before things start going their way.”
But the drought has been getting worse lately. The Kings have scored just 15 goals in their last 10 games, including three 1-0 losses and four one-goal performances while losing eight times overall.
Los Angeles has won consecutive games just once in the past eight weeks since shortly after Christmas, sliding out of the Western Conference’s top eight and wasting a spectacular season by All-Star goalie Jonathan Quick, who has six shutouts and ranks third overall in goals-against average and save percentage.
The Kings’ hopes for a third straight playoff berth are in trouble, and Carter was the best solution available to general manager Dean Lombardi, whose own job likely is on the line if his lengthy rebuilding project skids.
Carter also played in Philadelphia alongside Simon Gagne, who signed a two-year deal with the Kings last summer. The oft-injured Gagne hasn’t played since incurring his latest concussion Dec. 26, missing his 26th straight game against the Blackhawks.
Gagne is skating in practice, and he hopes to return before the end of the regular season. If he’s healthy, the Kings could add two proven NHL scorers to their lineup for the playoff push.
Carter must get to work quickly, but he should be able to get comfortable in Los Angeles. Richards already offered a room in his Manhattan Beach house to Carter on Twitter, and Carter is under contract through the 2021-22 season.
“I think since I’ve been back from my shoulder (injury), I’ve started to play some pretty good hockey,” Carter said. “I’m looking to carry it over here.”