Acquiring centre/left winger Jeff Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets for defenceman Jack Johnson and a first-round draft choice is the ultimate high-risk, high-reward deal for the Los Angeles Kings.
Risk: In Carter, they get a player who sulked through much of his one-and-only season in Columbus, where he was unhappy after leaving the Philadelphia Flyers, the organization that drafted him originally in the NHL's 2003 first round.
Reward: Only three years ago, Carter scored 46 goals, tied for the NHL scoring lead. Since the Kings have essentially been unable to score goals for this entire season, ranking 30th in the league in offence, Carter will help mitigate that shortcoming, as they fight to make the 2012 playoffs.
Risk: Financially, Carter is playing on the first year of an 11-year, $58-million (all currency U.S.) contract that stretches until the end of the 2021-22 season, this after the Kings took on Mike Richards from the Flyers in a blockbuster summer acquisition, a player playing on a 12-year, $69-million contract. If either or both stumbles, the Kings are on the hook for a lot of money in the years to come.
Reward: With so many ex-Flyers personnel in the organization, including assistant coach John Stevens, the Kings probably have a better book on Carter than any other NHL team right now. Stevens coached Carter in Philadelphia and Kings centre Mike Richards played with Carter since the two turned pro together with the AHL Phantoms in the spring of 2005. If Carter needs familiar surroundings in order to produce, the presence of those two, plus two other Flyers alumni – assistant GM Ron Hextall, plus Lombardi, who scouted for Philadelphia before landing the L.A. job – will provide that.
"It's not easy to go out in the marketplace [and find a player]with the potential to score 40 goals, who is 27 years old," Lombardi said. "The other thing is, the cap number [$5.272-million per season on Carter]is very favourable in terms of me keeping this nucleus together. Sure, there's been some questions on Jeff here, the last year or two, but having known him well … putting it all together, this is a good move for us."
Lombardi wouldn't acknowledge if he was in the running for Rick Nash, the other Columbus star forward that's currently on the trading block, although Carter's acquisition essentially takes the Kings out of contention for Nash anyway.
Lombardi also conceded that in his mind, the Kings were one premium forward short all along. Even if they had been a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, Lombardi said he would "still be looking for this deal."
"Part of that is the way our secondary scoring dried up," said Lombardi, noting that both Scott Parse and Simon Gagne have been out with injuries and Dustin Penner hasn't had a very good season. Had that been better, it would have taken "the heat off some of our top guys, who need to be better.
"It's been beating us up mentally … and they're going to have to fight their way through."
According to Lombardi, the Kings' organizational depth on defence permitted them to trade Jack Johnson, a U.S. Olympian in 2010 and the third player chosen in the 2005 entry draft behind Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan.
"Jeff Carter is not going to come in and be the cavalry," Lombardi warned. "We've got a lot of guys who still have to perform at a higher level, grow into becoming winners and get some other players back to their identity in doing what they do well."