The goal-starved Los Angeles Kings made the first major move of the NHL Trade Deadline period, acquiring three-time 30-goal scorer Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday in exchange for defenseman Jack Johnson and a first-round selection in either the 2012 or 2013 NHL Draft.
The trade is contingent on both players passing physicals.
Unlike most deals made around the Trade Deadline, which is Monday at 3 p.m. ET, this is a deal that sees top-end talent going each way, as opposed to the more common deals that see an established player facing free agency moved in exchange for prospects or draft picks.
SOG: 130 | +/-: -11
Carter is an elite forward that was the centerpiece of the summer's biggest blockbuster eight months ago. Johnson, meanwhile, is a game-changing defenseman with elite skills in both the offensive and defensive ends of the ice.
Both players also have significant time remaining on long-term deals.
"This isn't your classic Trade Deadline deal," Lombardi said during a conference call Thursday night. "This is a good young player for a good young player. This is a hockey deal."
It's also a deal that happened because both teams needed it to happen.
Lombardi had grown desperate for a goal-scorer as he watched his team slide down the ultra-competitive Western Conference standings because of a lack of offense, and he was willing to use some defensive depth to fill the necessary gap.
The team announced Thursday night that top prospect Slava Voynov will be called up from Manchester of the American Hockey League to replace Johnson. Voynov has four goals and 11 points in 33 games with the Kings this season, but was sent down Feb. 3 to get more ice time.
Despite all All-Star season from goaltender Jonathan Quick, the Kings are scrambling to hang on to the last playoff berth in the Western Conference, holding a one-point lead on Calgary and two-point leads on Dallas and Colorado, because of their goal-scoring woes. The Kings have just 125 non-shootout goals in 61 games, a League-low 2.05 per game.
Their power play has also struggled mightily, clicking just 15.3 percent of the time. Only six teams in the League have worse power-play efficiency.
Carter, 27, has 15 goals this season and eight of them have come with the man advantage. Nobody on the Kings has more than five power-play goals.
"I am obviously excited," Carter told the Kings' website. "I am familiar with the team and a lot of guys on the team. 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."
In 500 regular-season games with the Flyers and Blue Jackets, Carter has 196 goals and 368 points. During his six seasons with the Flyers, Carter averaged 30 goals, 57 points and 77 games played. He has 15 goals and 10 assists with the Blue Jackets this season while being limited to 39 games played due to injuries. Carter is one of four players this season to score two hat tricks; his second came against San Jose on Tuesday.
Plus Carter, who was the No. 11 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft by the Flyers, has significant playoff experience, which will help the Kings deal with the dogfight they face across the regular season's 21 remaining games.
In 47 playoff games, Carter has 13 goals and 21 points. He was a big part of the Flyers run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. Current Kings forward Mike Richards, dealt this summer from Philadelphia, was also a part of that run.
"I think it's been fairly obvious this year that we've struggled with our offensive game and it's something we've been looking at for quite a while, in a number of areas," Lombardi told the Kings website. "We had to give up a very good player here, but we think we have some depth on our back end coming -- and Jeff brings a lot of things we're looking for.
"He's big, fast and has that natural scoring instinct. Obviously we're very familiar (with him) -- John Stevens has coached him, Mike Richards was a teammate of his. These are tough deals to make, but it's something we felt we had to do."
Columbus also felt it had to do something after a disastrous start to the season scuttled the high expectations accompanying the team after an aggressive overhaul during the summer, a remodeling job that was highlighted by the acquisition of Carter eight months ago Thursday.
Carter, who has 10 years remaining on a deal he originally signed with Philadelphia, has spent much of the season injured, playing in just 39 games, and never really found his place with the Blue Jackets.
"I think Jeff struggled with this right from the outset," Columbus GM Scott Howson said in a Thursday conference call. "He made a long-term commitment in Philadelphia, it was hard for him to deal with this trade."
Howson decided to make the best out of a bad situation as he enters into the next aggressive rebuild of his franchise. He has said for the past week that few players on his roster are safe from being moved. He refused to put either Carter or franchise forward Rick Nash on that list.
Thursday, one day after he moved veteran forward Antoine Vermette to Phoenix for a pair of picks and a backup goalie, Howson proved that he was not just talking a good game, but rather is intent to move the Jackets in a new direction.
Johnson, 25, will now be one of the foundations of the latest incarnation of the Blue Jackets.
"We're excited about what we got – we think it puts us in a good position," Howson said in a Thursday night conference call. "No, we did not feel like we had to move Jeff Carter or anyone else before the deadline. Again, if the opportunity was there, we were going to take, and if the return was right.
"We were not just going to make a deal. (Carter) is a talented player; he's a No. 1 center. We had to get the right return for it, and we really feel like we did in this trade."
There is a lot to like about Johnson, who joins his third team in seven years. He was the No. 3 pick, by Carolina, in the 2005 NHL Draft and was traded to the Kings the next year. A left-handed shot with a big body and exceptional skating skills, Johnson can be a game-changer from any zone.
He has struggled a bit this season, managing just eight goals and 24 points while going minus-12. Johnson, though, did have a career-high 42 points two seasons ago.
"Jack Johnson was drafted third overall in the (Sidney) Crosby draft," Howson said. "He's a talented, skilled player with the puck, he's a tremendous skater. He's got a lot of upside too – he's only 25. If you look at the historical trend of defensemen, they usually don't hit their prime until their late-20s. We talked and he was over-the-top excited about coming and joining the club."
In 343 regular-season games, all with the Kings, Johnson has 124 points (30 goals, 94 assists) and 256 penalty minutes. He is 1-11-12 with six penalty minutes in 12 career playoff games.