Pittsburgh’s 2023-24 season finale turned out to be the last game of Jeff Carter’s impressive 19-year career, one that has him knocking on the door of the Hockey Hall of Fame with 442 goals, 409 assists, 851 points, 1,321 games, and two Stanley Cups.

“This was it,” the 39-year-old said from the visitors room at UBS Arena after the Penguins’ 5-4 loss to the Islanders on April 17. “I kind of knew coming in at the start here that this would probably be it, and then it went on, and it was time. It was a lot of fun. A lot of fun.”

He admitted with a smile that it was “kind of a weird day,” since he couldn’t sleep, and just felt odd knowing that it was the final time lacing up his skates. “But I was excited for the game,” Carter said. “My family got to come in, which was great.”

Jeff’s wife Megan and their two children, son Caden and daughter Emersyn, watched as he lined up for the opening draw, with Sidney Crosby moving to the wing. He’s known Carter for two decades now, starting when they were teammates with Hockey Canada at the 2004 World Junior Championship, and has so much respect and admiration for Jeff as a player and a person.

“Honestly, he's the same guy that I remember meeting when I was 16. Just a lot of poise, great guy in the room, brings it every single night,” the captain said. “He’s had an amazing career. When you look at everything he's accomplished, he's basically won everything possible. He had a Calder Cup (in the AHL) early, just to get that out of the way [laughs]. So, he's got a pretty amazing resume and it’s been a lot of fun, and it's been an honor to play with him.”

Later in the game, after Penguins Head Coach Mike Sullivan sent Carter out with the top power-play unit, Crosby set him up for a tally at the side of the cage. “Who writes this stuff?!” cried SportsNet Pittsburgh’s Josh Getzoff as the players mobbed Carter during a particularly emotional celebration, with Evgeni Malkin making sure to grab the puck.

“That was really nice,” Carter said. “I think when Sully put me out there, I knew I wasn't leaving the net, and you could tell they were trying to get there every chance they could. Pretty special moment to get one there at the end, and something I'll remember for sure.” 

Megan and the kids came down to the event level for the final minutes of play to take it in from the bench. After the final buzzer sounded, no one went down their respective runways. Instead,  the Islanders lined up to shake hands with him before both teams watched Carter do one final twirl, with the Penguins tapping their sticks for the game’s Third Star.

In the midst of that, Crosby made his way over to the family, hugging Megan and presenting Caden and Emersyn with pucks before Jeff stepped off the ice one final time. He then led the team to the dressing room, accompanied by his loved ones.

“Our family will forever be grateful to the Penguins organization for including us in Jeff’s last game,” Megan said. “It’s very special here in Pittsburgh, the way the Penguins treat all of the families of the players like family. We have felt so much support and love over the past few years. We have so much respect for the Penguins, and we are so appreciative for everything they do here.

“It starts from the top of the organization, and Sidney really is a part of these decisions. He’s been a great friend to Jeff. That’s what we will miss the most, the friendships. We have had some great times here in Pittsburgh, and we know those friendships will last forever.”

Crosby is the one who presented Carter with his retirement gift in the locker room on Thursday morning, a Toro TimeCutter riding lawnmower. Megan joked she’ll need to get Jeff a drink holder for it, as he may be in high demand to cut his teammates' grass. 

He’s looking forward to spending a lot more time with them at home for the foreseeable future, which will be in Pittsburgh, as the Carters moved there full-time in August. They’ve loved it, with Jeff calling it a great fit, not to mention it’s central to their extended families in London, Ontario and State College.

"I'm going to be a dad,” he said. “You miss a lot being a hockey player - you're in and out in a way... My family sacrificed a lot for me to live out my dream. I'm going to be home and be a dad and then figure it out from there."

Megan said they’ve talked about retirement a lot this past year, going back and forth about what would be best.

“It was a huge decision, and we wanted him to do what was best for him and his career,” she said. “When he made the decision, we started preparing our children for it. It will be life-changing for all of us. Honestly, physically he’s still in incredible shape. I know he could still play, but I also know he’s ready for this next chapter. Our family is excited to have him around more and for him to be more present. It will be a good change of pace for him.”

They truly couldn’t be prouder of the career Jeff put together leading up to this point, with Megan saying it’s been really special seeing him play and watching him win in such a competitive league.

Earlier this season, he became the 70th player to appear in 1,300 games, split between the Philadelphia Flyers (2005-11), Columbus Blue Jackets (2011-12), Los Angeles Kings (2012-21), and the Penguins, who acquired him at the trade deadline three years ago after Carter had thought he would finish his career in California. The move ended up working out for the best.

“I said to the guys before you came in that I think coming here gave me a couple extra years, you know? So, I can’t thank them enough. It’s been great,” Carter said. “When you get traded, you don’t know what to expect, right? Good thing is I had a relationship with Sid, I knew Tanger (Kris Letang), so there was a couple of familiar faces in the room.

“But I'll tell you what, I still remember walking in that first day and it was like I was there for five years. It’s an unbelievable group here, high-character guys that just accepted me right away, my family right away. It really is a family in here.”

Jeff made a big impact right away with his veteran presence and scoring ability, potting nine goals in 14 games down the stretch and finishing with four tallies in six games during Pittsburgh’s first-round loss to the Islanders. He followed that up with another four goals as the Penguins were eliminated in seven games the next year by the Rangers.

As his role evolved from a scoring center to more of a defensive winger, he handled it incredibly well, with Sullivan calling Carter an extension of the coaching staff, and an incredibly popular presence amongst the group during his time here.


"Cartsy's a one-of-a-kind guy,” Bryan Rust said. “Obviously, a guy that had a phenomenal career, did a lot of special things, won pretty much everything that you can win in this league and other leagues and around the world. I think, more importantly, he was an unbelievable guy. He's really become a really good friend of a lot of guys who have been here for a long time, even guys who are relatively new. He just kind of meshes with everybody. He's a guy who genuinely cares about everybody around him and makes sure everybody comes first before him.”