Rick Nash will not be going to Los Angeles as Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson traded centre Jeff Carter to the Kings instead on Thursday night.
But Nash may still be on the move before Monday's NHL trade deadline. Howson promised more moves shortly after making the blockbuster trade. "I expect to be very busy here and very active," Howson said of the next four days.
Carter, 27, was sent to the Kings for defenceman Jack Johnson, 25, and a first-round pick in the 2012 entry draft. If the Kings miss the playoffs this season, the pick will be moved to the 2013 draft. If the Kings make the playoffs, the Blue Jackets will have the choice of taking the pick this year or next. The deal is also conditional on the players passing medical exams.
Aside from being the first major trade of this year's trade-deadline bazaar, the deal reunites Carter with his friend and fellow centre Mike Richards. They were both traded from the Philadelphia Flyers last summer in a deal that shocked the hockey world shortly after they signed rich, long-term contracts. Carter's stay in Columbus was short and far from sweet, as he never really accepted the trade. He had 29 points in 39 games with the Blue Jackets.
"We had high expectations when we acquired Jeff Carter," Howson said. "But we just couldn't find the right fit for him. I think Jeff struggled with this right from the outset.
"He made a long-term commitment to Philadelphia. It was hard for him to deal with the trade [from Philadelphia to Columbus]."
Carter happened to be at Nationwide Arena on Thursday night, attending a fan function. The event ended at 8:15 p.m., and Carter was summoned to Howson's office, where he was informed of the trade. He left the building quickly without speaking to reporters.
When Carter signed the 11-year contract that carries an annual salary-cap hit of $5.3-million (all currency U.S.) with the Flyers last summer, it was thought to be a deal that was practically impossible to trade. But now it's been moved twice in eight months.
The "right fit" Howson spoke of was with Nash, the Blue Jackets' star right winger. When the Jackets sent Jakub Voracek and Columbus's first-round pick in last year's draft (Sean Couturier) and a third-round pick (Nick Cousins), they expected Carter and Nash to become a potent offensive force. But it never happened, and combined with the team's defensive and goaltending problems, the Blue Jackets tumbled to the bottom of the Western Conference.
Kings general manager Dean Lombardi said he felt all along that his team was one premium forward short, and even if the Kings were a middle-of-the-pack offensive team, "I'm still looking for this deal.
"Part of that is the way our secondary scoring dried up, which would take the heat off some of our top guys, who need to be better. This kind of snowballed on us … it's almost psychological right now.
"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 Johnson, a U.S. Olympian in 2010 and the third player chosen in the 2005 entry draft behind Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan.
Howson said the Carter trade begins "the process of moving forward and rebuilding our team."
However, he declined to say if he is any closer to trading Nash. "We're looking at everything and all opportunities to improve our team. But I'm not going to comment on specific players," Howson said.
The Blue Jackets' GM did say he is not looking for a starting goaltender right now even though No. 1 goaltender Steve Mason is in his second consecutive season of subpar play. But Howson implied he would be looking come summer when more goaltenders are available.
Kings backup goaltender Jonathan Bernier was thought to be part of any trade talks with the Blue Jackets. Howson would not say if he was discussed.
Johnson was taken third overall in the 2005 NHL entry draft by the Carolina Hurricanes, who traded him to the Kings. He is an offensive defenceman and had 24 points in 61 games with the Kings this season.
With a report from Eric Duhatschek