Well, so much for those long-term, big-money contracts that don’t seem to make any sense being untradeable. After all, Jeff Carter’s deal has been traded twice in eight months. Which goes to show that if there’s not a sucker, there’s at least a desperate GM born every minute.
This much we know. Carter did nothing in his short-term stay with the Columbus Blue Jackets to dispel the reputation he has for being a sourpuss. A member of the Philadelphia Flyers organization once referred to Carter as, “the most bitter millionaire” he had ever encountered and Carter did not exactly hide his disappointment at going to Ohio. And it showed on the ice.
We also know this. If Carter is placed in a situation where he’s wanted and deployed properly with good players around him, there’s nothing to suggest he can’t return to being the 30-to-40-goals-like-clockwork player he had established himself to be prior to this season. And if he can’t find that environment with the Los Angeles Kings, then there’s probably no hope for him.
The conditional deal that sent Carter to the Kings in exchange for Jack Johnson and a first round pick is one of those transactions that should benefit both teams. But it will probably benefit the Blue Jackets more. And the worst thing GM Scott Howson, wherever he is next season, could do is lament trading Carter even if he becomes an offensive stud in Los Angeles. It simply wasn’t going to happen with the Blue Jackets and good on him for recognizing that and being proactive in dealing him.
If it takes a big man to admit his mistakes, then Howson has just added about a foot to his 5-foot-11 frame over the past couple of days. First, he signed Antoine Vermette to a five-year, $18.75 million deal prior to last season, then managed to move his $3.75 million cap hit for each of the next four seasons to the Phoenix Coyotes, you know the team that is being run by the league and is losing something in the range of $40 million a year. Then after taking on Carter’s contract, he managed to move it and get a guy who has the potential to be an offensive stud from the blueline and a first round pick.
And whether or not Rick Nash is traded by Monday or gets dealt during the off-season, it’s pretty clear Nash’s days in central Ohio are coming to an end. That horse took off out of the barn when the Blue Jackets put him on the market and there’s no turning back now. And from a Blue Jackets’ perspective, what’s the downside? The way they probably see it, they could finish 30th in the NHL without devoting almost $15 million in cap space (and real money in Columbus) to Nash, Carter and Vermette.
Hey, if you’re going to strip it down to the wood, you might as well go all the way. It’s hard to call Columbus a rebuild, simply because with the exception of one season there hasn’t been much there to get excited about to start with, but the slate will be clean once Nash clears out his locker. The rebuild can begin, presumably around Nail Yakupov (but with the Blue Jackets’ luck with Russian first-rounders, you never know) and what is shaping up to be a fairly decent defense corps. A top four of Johnson, James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin and Marc Methot doesn’t exactly harken memories of Savard, Robinson, Lapointe and Bouchard, but it’s a decent start.
Johnson, for what it’s worth, could turn out to be a poor man’s Chris Chelios. He’s the kind of player who wants to win the game every time he touches the puck. That’s a great attribute that sometimes leads to disastrous results. But he’s only 25 years old and the ability to better pick his spots will come as he matures.
As for the Kings, they’ve got to be hoping that rekindling the Carter-Mike Richards relationship will help them get out of their scoring funk in the short-term and make them a serious contender in the long-term. But when you’ve had a Terry Murray-Darryl Sutter succession of coaches, when does it become more about the way you play than the personnel you’re deploying? Simply put, the Carter trade won’t do a lick of good for the Kings if they don’t let these guys play the style that made them terrific offensive players in the first place.
And losing the high-risk, high-reward Johnson should not be a huge detriment for the organization. They already have their offensive force in Drew Doughty and if there was one place they had organizational depth, it’s at defense. One of Slava Voynov or Alec Martinez will likely become a full-time player and the Kings won’t miss a blueline beat.
The interesting thing about all this is that the Kings apparently aren’t finished dealing yet. There is word they’re dangling backup goalie Jonathan Bernier to get themselves another forward and if that causes the dominos to topple their salary structure, Dustin Brown apparently will be very much in play.
And won’t that be interesting? What team in the league wouldn’t be able to use a gritty winger who can provide you with a decent modicum of offense, has tons of positive leadership qualities and consistently finishes in the top three in the league in hits? Is it just me or would Brown not be one of the true crown jewels of the trade deadline if he were made available? With those attributes and a cap hit of $3.175 million each of the next two seasons, you bet he would.
If that’s the case, expect Toronto Maple Leafs GM Brian Burke to call early, and often. And he’ll probably have a lot of company.
Ken Campbell is the senior writer for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com with his column. To read more from Ken and THN’s other stable of experts, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.