Jeff Carter is undoubtedly one of the league's top goal scorers and will certainly be a force to be reckoned with in the years to come. He has an extremely dangerous shot, and because of that he finished only second to Alex Ovechkin in goals last year after lighting the lamp an incredible 46 times.
He's under-performing right now, but it's safe to say that few hockey executives find this as a reason to question his long-term value.
Recently, the hockey world received mixed messages on Carter's availability.
The Ottawa Sun reported on December 24th, that Carter was likely to be dealt after the Christmas roster freeze was lifted, and yet CSNPhilly.com Flyers-Wont-Trade-Carter-This-Se=1&blockID=107643&feedID=704">reported on that same day that an inside source claimed that Carter wasn't going to be traded this season.
Does anybody have any idea what is actually going on with Jeff Carter? Is Paul Holmgren denying the possibility like he downplayed the idea of firing John Stevens prior to doing so? Is the Ottawa Sun just making things up? Most importantly, is dealing Carter actually a feasible, realistic possibility for the Flyers?
The popular answer to this question is "yes," and while I hate to jump on the bandwagon, that is certainly the correct answer.
Carter is actually the perfect player for the Flyers to deal because he would clearly be more valuable to a number of other teams than he is now to the Flyers. The Flyers already have two centers signed long-term (Daniel Briere and Mike Richards), and Carter's contract is up after next year (he will earn $5 million both this year and next year).
While dealing Briere would be a popular move among fans, few (if any) teams are going to want to take on his high salary (at least $7 million per year for four of the six remaining years of his contract). Even if a team would be willing to absorb it, the Flyers would probably have to either take on another overpriced player or get a small return that would render the trade nearly useless.
It also doesn't help that there simply aren't any buyers right now, as the teams who would be interested in a high-salary player are already pressed up against the cap. It's an unfortunate reality that Briere is probably here to stay.
Another problem with keeping Carter would be having to sign him to a new deal when he hits restricted free agency in 2011. This new deal would mean that the Flyers would have three high-salary centers for an extended period of time. This would guarantee that the Flyers' current salary cap problems would continue to plague them.
So, if Briere and Richards aren't going anywhere, then Carter is going to have to.
Trading him would probably bring a big return, and would leave the Flyers with cap room to fill their needs. Perhaps Ilya Kovalchuk could even be brought in by dealing Carter and another player.
Now, while the Flyers wouldn't necessarily have to get Kovalchuk in a Carter trade in order to make it worthwhile, the price would need to be right for a trade to take place. The key question; how desperate are the Flyers?
It seems that Paul Holmgren isn't going to let Carter go unless the trade is an even one, meaning that a desperate, compromised trade isn't going to happen. Still, given the fact that the Flyers aren't looking like the Stanley Cup front-runner that they appeared to be when the season started, it may be time for Carter to go, even if the return isn't perfect.
If they dealt Carter, the Flyers would need to replace his scoring. However, given his value, as well as the current and future cap space trading him would free up, filling that void might not be all that difficult.
Perhaps the most compelling reason to deal Carter is who he is displacing at the center position. Even if the assumption is made that Briere can't hope to replace Carter as the second-line center, what if he doesn't do so? Suddenly Briere (who is unlikely to be traded) is forced to either be a third-line center or a winger. Briere is too good to play on the third line, but he also isn't a natural winger.
This problem has given the Flyers an imbalance up front, as Briere isn't the only center who is forced to either play on the wing or be forced onto a lower line by Carter.
Blair Betts, Darroll Powe, and Jared Ross are all natural centers who have NHL talent, but are playing minor roles in the organization. While they aren't at all comparable to Briere, Carter, or Richards, two of them would be adequate centers for the third and fourth lines. Even if Briere or Richards are injured, a winger who has played center before, like Giroux or Gagne could fill in, and these guys could stay in place on the checking lines.
So, if Richards and Briere could fill the first two lines, where does that leave Carter?
The most popular argument for keeping Carter (the argument that Paul Holmgren seems to be following) is that Carter is simply too good of a goal-scorer to trade.
This is certainly true, but the presence of Briere complicates the matter. If the Flyers hadn't signed Briere long-term, then Carter and Richards would be the perfect one-two punch. However, the fact that Briere is here to stay, combined with the fact that Richards is the heart and soul of the organization, means that Carter is bizarrely enough the one who doesn't fit into the puzzle.
Carter is too good to trade, and yet the circumstances clearly warrant it—a clear indicator that Paul Holmgren made some mistakes in rebuilding the team. It also seems backwards that trading a top goal-scorer is supposed to help on offense, but the whole fact that a team with such a good core of forwards is having scoring problems in the first place is a sign that this team is lacking chemistry, not talent.
Now, if it weren't for the cap, the Flyers could relatively easily use trades to help create chemistry.
However, given the Flyers' cap situation, creating chemistry is going to take sacrifices. Unfortunately Jeff Carter looks like the most likely candidate to be sacrificed. Had the Flyers been more patient in rebuilding, they could have given Carter time to flourish so that they could build the team around him and Richards.
However, they rushed out of the gate by signing Briere, and because of it they've forced themselves to build around Richards and Briere, rather than around Carter and Richards.
Our full discussion of Flyer players who could be traded is available in a slideshow entitled "The Five Most Expendable Flyers."