More than eight years later, now as general manager of the Los Angeles Kings, Lombardi consulted former Flyers assistant coach and current L.A. assistant John Stevens when he needed to know more about Carter.
The verdict from everything he's known and heard about Carter told him that the risk he took Thursday night in swinging a blockbuster deal to acquire Carter from Columbus was worth it.
"It's not easy to go out and find a guy that's 27 years old who's a 40-goal scorer," Lombardi said in a conference call after he acquired Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets for elite defenseman Jack Johnson and a conditional first-round draft pick.
"Sure, there's been some questions here with Jeff, but having known him here …. putting it all together, I think this is a good move for us. Again, I didn't think we'd be making (this move) from 30th (in scoring).
"Jeff's proven he's a winner in the way he's come up and seeing with what he had done with the (AHL's Philadelphia) Phantoms and the World Juniors… it's in him. You always hope that with young people that they never lose that because everything's secure."
Carter comes to the Kings with a desperately needed to score goals with regularity, but also with some serious questions. Perhaps the biggest concern revolves around the fact that Carter is just in the second year of a whopping 11-year, $58 million contract extension that he signed with Philadelphia in November of 2010, just months before he was traded to Columbus in the summer's biggest blockbuster. The Kings are now on the hook for $5.2 million annually through 2022.
"You've got a huge risk here that this player is going to be committed despite financially secure," Lombardi said. "But the payoff is that he's (going to deliver offensively). You're trusting the player's character that he's going to earn this thing."
Talks for Carter heated up about a week ago, but Lombardi said he doesn't want it to be seen as a desperation move.
"I think the only way we can make this deal is because we have some young defensemen coming through the system," Lombardi said. "We're still one of the best teams in the League defensively….It kind of allowed us to reach out to a young player of this caliber, a young player who's still in his prime."
Offensive-minded rookie defenseman Slava Voynov has been recalled from the minors and will join the club Friday as he continues a surprisingly solid season. He will obviously have to take on a bigger role with Johnson's departure. Johnson was playing more than 22 minutes a game for the Kings.
Ideally, Lombardi would have like to make a bold move like this in the summer, although he did acquire Mike Richards and Simon Gagne.
But Richards' production has slowed and Gagne is facing a season-ending concussion. Coach Darryl Sutter recently called out top-line center Anze Kopitar and captain Dustin Brown for being stale on a line together. Both have underachieved, but they have company among the other Kings forwards in that department.
Los Angeles entered Thursday at No. 8 in the Western Conference, but it has hardly looked like a playoff team.
Dead last in the League at 2.05 goals per game, the Kings have been held to one or zero goals in 24 of 61 games, including back-to-back 1-0 shutouts to Phoenix and Calgary last week. The Kings blew a 3-0 lead and lost in a shootout to Phoenix on Feb.21 and looked discouraged in Wednesday's 4-1 loss to Colorado.
That discouragement is also what forced Lombardi's hand as pressure mounts on the Kings, which holds just a one-point lead on ninth-place Calgary and a two-point lead on Dallas and Colorado.
"It's an almost psychological now," Lombardi said. "It's been beating us up mentally, and that's part of it. They're going to have to fight their way through."
It is not known if Carter, a three-time 30-goal scorer who notched 46 goals for the Flyers in 2008-09, will play on a line with Richards. They played on separate lines for Philadelphia the majority of the when it made its run to the Stanley Cup Final in 2010. But his wicked wrist shot will be a welcome sight for remarkably patient Kings fan base that has stood by in the sixth year of Lombardi's plan.
Once thought to be immovable, Carter and his contract have been traded twice.
Carter is not expected to join L.A. until Saturday, when the Kings host Chicago.
"I am obviously excited," Carter said through L.A. team officials. "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."
Lombardi and the Kings were reported to be contenders to land Columbus winger Rick Nash. But Lombardi said that "(Columbus GM) Scotty (Howson) never told me if we were on the list or off the list."
Asked if getting Nash was a realistic possibility, Lombardi said, "I don't know."
What the deliberate and chatty Lombardi did know was that he feels the Kings can get going this late in the season, with a new winger and the loss of Johnson, who had not yet developed as much as the organization would have liked offensively but was key member of their defensive core.
"I have confidence that we're going to get this back on track," Lombardi said. "They're good kids and they care."
It's a tribute to him, and everything he's done and deserved is coming to fruition tonight with his jersey in the rafters. He's going to be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. And I said today, if he's not, take my stuff out. If he doesn't deserve to be in there first ballot, no one does. Except for (Wayne) Gretzky, I guess.
— Hockey Hall of Fame member Brett Hull on former teammate Mike Modano, whose No. 9 was retired by the Dallas Stars on Saturday