While the trade to acquire Jeff Carter from Los Angeles in exchange for conditional 2022 third-round and 2023 fourth-round draft picks became official at 1:40 this morning, it's a deal that had actually been in the works for about a month.
That's when Penguins general manager Ron Hextall started planting the seeds about whether the 36-year-old forward would consider a move to Pittsburgh. After 10 seasons with the Kings, Carter thought he might finish his career there. But the chance to join a contender like the Penguins was ultimately too good of an opportunity to pass up.
"I talked to him last night, and he was in a terrific mood," Hextall said. "His exact words to me were, 'I'm all in. I can't wait to get there.' So we have a player here who's won two Stanley Cups and he's hungry to win another."
It's the only move the Penguins made before prior to the trade deadline hit at 3 p.m., and it is an excellent one. The team is adding a versatile, veteran leader with a championship pedigree to their already impressive depth, and for a reasonable price at that. The Kings are retaining 50% of Carter's contract, which goes through the 2021-22 season and carries an average annual value of $5,272,727.
Hextall said the way the Penguins have played since he took over as general manager back in February and the tremendous job they've done despite injuries to key players essentially forced them to give up some assets to add a player like Carter.
:We've had a lot of guys step up," Hextall said. "The team made us think long and hard about where we're at and what area we could try to get better to give us a better chance to first of all, make the playoffs and then have success in the playoffs. Acquiring Jeff is really a credit to the job that our players have done."
Hextall has a long history with Carter dating back to when he was first drafted. Hextall was director of player personnel with the Philadelphia Flyers when the team took Carter in the first round (11th overall) in 2003.
Hextall was then assistant general manager with the Kings when Los Angeles orchestrated a deal to acquire Carter from Columbus ahead of the trade deadline back in 2012. Carter went on to help the Kings win their first championship in franchise history that season and again in 2014, playing an instrumental role in both of those runs.
That relationship is a big reason why Hextall felt comfortable adding Carter to a team that's proven to have some special chemistry.
"I know Jeff Carter pretty well, and I know Jeff is the sort of the guy that's going to come into the room and just wants to go out and play hockey and be a good guy and be a good teammate," Hextall said. "So I know Jeff's not going to affect our chemistry in an adverse way and on the ice, we think he's going to give us a big boost."
Video: Ron Hextall speaks with the media
Carter is a proven goal scorer, having reached the 30-goal mark four times. His best season came in 2008-09 with the Flyers (where he spent the first six years of his career) when he recorded career highs in goals (46), assists (38) and points (84) in 82 games. He now comes to the Penguins with eight goals and 19 points in 40 games.
Carter is also someone who can play all over the lineup and will provide the coaching staff with lots of options in terms of where he can be utilized. And even though he's on the back nine of his career, Carter can still play.
In fact, he's been rejuvenated after fully recovering following surgery to repair a cut tendon in his left ankle during the 2017-18 season, which is similar to the injury Brian Dumoulin dealt with last year.
It was a long and difficult rehab process, and it took Carter a while to get back to normal. But after a strong summer of training in 2019, Carter said he was much more comfortable and felt like he had his skating back, which is one of his biggest assets.
"Jeff offers a lot," Hextall said. "I mean, first of all, in his game, he's got speed. He's a playoff-proven player, he's got a lot of versatility, he can play special teams, five-on-five, he can play center, he can play the wing. So, he just brings a lot to the table for us. I know our guys are excited about this deal, as are our coaches and management team."
Penguins president of hockey operations Brian Burke certainly is.
"We believe this team is capable of making some noise, especially adding Jeff," Burke said. "We had chances to move some guys out and refused to do so. These guys have worked so hard. We've got good chemistry. Everyone was pulling harder on the rope when people got hurt, and we'll start getting healthy here pretty soon."
While Hextall said he doesn't think Brandon Tanev (upper-body, four games missed) will be back before playoffs, Evgeni Malkin (lower-body, 13 games missed) should return before the end of the regular season and Kasperi Kapanen (lower-body, nine games missed) should be back in about 10-14 days.
When players of that caliber start re-joining the lineup, those are like trade deadline acquisitions in themselves.
"As good as we're going right now, you bring Geno and Kappy back as a pair and you're adding a couple of nice pieces," Hextall said. "We've proved that we have quite a bit of depth here. We felt like adding one more forward would really solidify our group. I like our group right now and when we get healthy, hopefully we'll stay healthy. We'd like to have some playoff success."