COLUMBUS, Ohio – The Los Angeles Kings needed a goal scorer. The Columbus Blue Jackets simply needed a redo.
Both teams met their needs Thursday night by pulling off a major trade that sent forward Jeff Carter from Columbus to the Los Angeles Kings for defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft pick in either 2012 or 2013.
Carter, 27, is expected to supply offence for the goal-starved Kings, who have scored just 129 times this season and started Thursday night in eighth place in the Western Conference.
“Even in the summer, I always felt we were a top forward away,” Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said. “Now, that said, I certainly didn’t think we were (going to be) 30th in the league in scoring.”
Carter signed an 11-year, US$58 million deal with the Philadelphia Flyers in November 2010, but now will be joining his third team since agreeing to the contract.
Acquired in a blockbuster trade with Philadelphia last summer, Carter was expected to centre the Blue Jackets’ top line with captain Rick Nash, who is also rumoured to be on the trading block leading up to Monday’s trade deadline.
But Carter missed 20 games due to a broken foot and a separated shoulder. He had three goals in the Blue Jackets’ previous game and has 15 goals and 10 assists in 39 games this season.
Carter will be reunited with forward Mike Richards, who was traded by the Flyers to the Kings last June on the same day Carter was shipped to Columbus in a major Philadelphia housecleaning.
“I am obviously excited. I am familiar with the team and a lot of guys on the team,” Carter said. “I looked at the Kings at the start of the year as being a club in a good position to win. I look forward to coming to L.A. and being a part of it all.”
Carter, who has 368 points (196 goals, 172 assists) in 500 career games, has scored at least 30 goals three times. He has hit the 20-goal mark five times during his six-plus seasons in the NHL but struggled to find a role in Columbus.
“We were excited and had high expectations when we acquired Jeff Carter, but we just couldn’t find the right fit for him here,” Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson said.
Johnson, a 25-year-old former University of Michigan star, has eight goals and 16 assists this season, his fifth in the NHL—all with the Kings.
If the Kings fail to make the playoffs this season, they will automatically send their first-round pick in 2013 to the Blue Jackets. If Los Angeles qualifies for this spring’s post-season, Columbus will have the choice of taking this year’s pick or next year’s.
“I think the only way that we can make this deal is because we have some young defencemen coming through the system,” Lombardi said. “It kind of allowed us to reach out to a player of this calibre, who’s still a young player barely in his prime.”
Lombardi said the deal provided a unique opportunity for both teams as the trade deadline approached.
“This isn’t a rental. To me, this isn’t your classic trade-deadline deal, where you’re giving up young players for a rental-type situation,” he said. “This is a good young player for a good young player. This is a hockey deal.”
At a hastily called news conference late Thursday, Howson said Johnson was “over the top excited” about the trade.
There had been grumbling from fans last summer when Carter appeared to be less than enthusiastic about coming from the talent-rich, playoff-proven Flyers to a franchise that has made only one post-season trip in its 11 seasons. And that ended with a four-game sweep three years ago.
Howson said the addition of Johnson immediately improves the Blue Jackets’ questionable defence.
“We’ve got a quality top-four defenceman,” he said. “We now have a very good defence.”
Columbus dealt one of its top centres, Antoine Vermette, to Phoenix on Wednesday for a minor league goalie and two draft picks. With rumours still flying about Nash, Howson said he expected to be busy through Monday.
Howson added that recent deals will go a long way toward remaking the struggling franchise.
“We are committed to a competitive culture with huge expectations for everybody in our organization,” Howson said. “We’re looking for every and all opportunities to improve this organization.”
Both players have long-term contracts. Carter carries an annual cap hit of $5.272 million through the 2021-22 season, while Johnson’s contract averages out to $4.357 million until 2017-18.
In 343 NHL games, Johnson has 30 goals, 94 assists and 256 penalty minutes.
Columbus has sought to remake its team after a disappointing season. The Blue Jackets (18-35-7) are last in the NHL, by far, in wins and points.
“We were patient and wanted to see what was out there,” Howson said, without mentioning Nash by name. “I’m really excited about where we’re going.”