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Carter, Gaborik flourish again after trades to Kings

by Corey Masisak

CHICAGO -- Jeff Carter was going to be a member of the Philadelphia Flyers for all, or close to all, of his NHL career, and he had the legal document with his signature on it to prove it.

Carter signed an 11-year contract with the Flyers in November 2010 that would have kept him in Philadelphia until after his 37th birthday. He didn't make it to 27 with the Flyers, and a few months after celebrating that birthday, Carter was traded for a second time.

He landed with the Los Angeles Kings just before the NHL Trade Deadline in 2012 after a layover with the Columbus Blue Jackets. After being one of the top young stars in the NHL, Carter's reputation had been slighted upon his exit from Philadelphia and after he was unable to produce to expectations in central Ohio.

Carter became a great addition for the Kings. He added a scoring spark and helped balance out the forward lines. Los Angeles won the Stanley Cup a few months later.

Marian Gaborik joined the Kings just before the trade deadline this season in nearly an identical situation. He's a little older than Carter was, but Gaborik was once one of the League's elite goal-scorers and he had just been traded by two teams in less than a calendar year when he arrived in Los Angeles, from the Blue Jackets no less.

Like Carter, Gaborik has been an instant hit with the Kings.

"It is an easy group to come into," Carter said. "There's great guys in this room. They welcome you with open arms. That's a big thing when you're coming to a new team, especially late in the year. You need to fit into that room real quick. With a guy like [Gaborik], he's got all the skill in the world, and you put him with a guy like [Anze Kopitar] and the on-ice stuff comes pretty quick. The main thing is just getting comfortable with yourself in the room."

Los Angeles has become a destination point for star players whose careers have traveled off course.

Carter and Mike Richards were moved by the Flyers in a seismic dressing-room shakeup in Philadelphia less than a year after each had signed the equivalent of a lifetime contract. They have found a comfortable situation as reunited teammates with the Kings.

Gaborik has scored at least 40 goals in the League three times, but a collarbone injury derailed this season with the Blue Jackets, and they traded him to Los Angeles despite being in the middle of chasing one of the final playoff berths in the Eastern Conference.

The Blue Jackets made it but were gone in six games. Gaborik has flourished next to Kopitar on the Kings' top line and leads the 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs with nine goals. He's tied for second behind Kopitar with 15 points.

"I believe Marian's skill set speaks for itself on the ice," Kings forward Justin Williams said. "But fitting in with a hockey team isn't just going out there and playing the game. To be part of a team, you want to be part of a team on the ice and off the ice. Marian's fit in quite easily, whereas looking at his stats, he could be kind of a pompous jerk (Gaborik was sitting next to him), but he's really a nice guy. He's fit in real nicely with us, and I think that's why ... everybody's taken to him."

Gaborik has scored a lot of goals in this postseason, and his next contract (he is an unrestricted free agent in July) is going to look a little different than it might have if he didn't have a monster playoffs. He's also proving to be more than just a skilled scorer with great speed, which was his reputation as a younger player.

He's fit perfectly next to Kopitar and either Williams or Dustin Brown in the neutral and defensive zones too. Gaborik is not going to punish players like Brown, but he's incredibly smart and anticipates plays or moves and he uses his stick skills to intercept passes and steal the puck from opposing players.

"Good players fit in everywhere," Kings coach Darryl Sutter said. "It's not like we have a special way we play. I mean, teams are still playing a 200?????????foot game. Marian fits in because he plays a 200?????????foot game."

Sutter's unwavering expectation that players will compete in all three zones may have had an effect on Gaborik, and it might have on Carter as well.

Carter hasn't reached the goal-scoring heights he did in Philadelphia, but there's no question his reputation as an all-around player has improved. Sutter has trusted him to center the two youngest players on the team, and there's no way the coach is doing that if he has any concerns about Carter's defensive aptitude or commitment.

The players are welcoming. The coach is demanding but fair. The team has a track record of success. Put all of that together and it's been a great situation for players like Carter, Richards and Gaborik.

"It was good to start on a [road] trip," Gaborik said. "We were on the Canadian trip, so I got to know the guys off the ice as well. Very good group, great group of guys. They welcomed me very nicely, so I was very excited about everything."


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