Analysis: Jeff Carter for Jack Johnson deal a royal coup for Kings, conditional success for Jackets
"The Columbus Blue Jackets have acquired defenseman Jack Johnson and the Los Angeles Kings' first-round selection in either 2012 or 2013 for forward Jakub Voracek, the eighth-overall pick in the 2011 draft and a third-round pick in the 2011 draft …"
Read that again. Digest it. Stripped of context and conditions, and taken at face value, it wouldn't be a bad trade for the Columbus Blue Jackets, given that Voracek was an RFA and Johnson is signed through 2018 with a $4,357,143 cap hit.
Plus, he played in the Big 10! Just for the wrong colors, in Buckeye country.
Alas, that's not how it played out. The Jackets shipped that latter package to the Philadelphia Flyers last summer for Jeff Carter; on Thursday, they moved Carter to the Kings for the former package, ending an injury-plagued, innuendo-laden 39-game career in Columbus.
Johnson's a good defenseman. Hell, he's the most talented offensive defenseman the Jackets have ever had on the roster. On special teams, he'll be a revelation: He had 28 points on the power play last season; that's a higher total than any Columbus player since David Vyborny's 32 power-play points in 2005-06.
What Jack Johnson is not: a No. 1 center. That's what Columbus GM Scott Howson traded for last summer, saying, "We've never had a No. 1 center in Columbus and now we have one and are thrilled."
Yeah, about that …
The problem is that the Jackets traded for Carter about a week before they traded for the negotiating rights for James Wisniewski and then signed him to a 6-year, $33 million contract. With Johnson, the Blue Jackets now have two very good but not great defensemen that are better known for their offense than their defense. This is problematic when (a) keeping the puck out of the net has been the season's greatest failing and (b) the team is fourth from last in offense.
The Rick Nash trade, when it happens, will likely rectify the No. 1 center issue, whether it's Brandon Dubinsky from the Rangers or Joe Pavelski from the Sharks or some other asset coming back for the captain. But that's trading a top line wing for (presumably) a top-line center; and will any semblance of defensive defense or goaltending come back for Nash after it had no home in the Carter trade?
Personnel wise, Blue Jackets fans can be understandably pleased about this Carter deal. He had to go, and Howson got a first-round pick and a significant roster player for him — a better one than, say, Trevor Daley, whom the Dallas Stars were rumored to have anted up. Taken as a whole, the Voracek/Johnson trade described above is a win for Howson.
Philosophically, though, it's maddening. A presumptive No. 1 center was traded for an offensive defenseman, which is a redundancy after Wisniewski's signing. It's an indictment of how far off the rails this franchise's plans have rolled.
For the Los Angeles Kings, let's start with the obvious:
Jeff Carter. Mike Richards. Los Angeles. Party rock is in the house.
The best hope here is that these two Dry Islanders have received a hell of an education in the last year; the Flyers' deconstruction of their locker room snapping them into some burgeoning level of maturity and comprehension of consequences.
GM Dean Lombardi believes that Carter's character issues have been overblown. There's also reason to believe that Carter's in more of a comfort zone in LA than he ever was in Columbus: From Richards to Simon Gagne to assistant coach John Stevens, who coached Carter in the AHL and NHL, to Ron Hextall, who was with the Flyers when Carter came through the system.
Here's Lombardi on the trade:
As Lombardi said, the Kings are strong down the middle. Carter's a natural center but can play wing. But most importantly, he's going to be asked to snipe with frequency rather be a supportive pivot to a scoring winger, which was the awkward relationship with Nash in Columbus. More on Carter here from Mayor's Manor, before the trade.
Meanwhile … Slava Voynov just popped the champagne.
The 22-year-old Russian rookie will slide up and take Johnson's minutes on the blueline, which is one of the reasons Johnson was expendable.
Another reason: Because he's Jack Johnson. He's been mentioned in trade proposals and rumors for the last two years. He's well-liked, has tremendous potential, but was never considered an untouchable, even after inking his long-term deal. Lombardi himself had been public in his frustrations at times.
But perhaps the most important reason: Dean Lombardi's trying to save his job.
Rudy Kelly thinks it's a false narrative, but we're in Year Six of the Lombardi regime and we've seen more Kings head coaches (5) than we've seen playoff victories (4) in that time.
He's slowly pushed his chips into the middle of the table, through free-agent signings and two blockbuster trades for former Flyers. Now, he gets Jeff Carter for half the asking price of Rick Nash — rumored to be a frontline player, two prospects and a first-round pick — and for a much smaller cap hit ($5,272,727 to $7,800,000).
Carter tallied 115 goals from 2008-2011. The Kings could be Michael Fassbender with a fistful of roofies and they still couldn't score. To add this sniper to that roster is a coup for Lombardi.
It's a trade that will help the Jackets and the Kings. But while it adds to the awkward reconstruction of a crumbled franchise in Columbus, it pushes the Los Angeles Kings closer to a Stanley Cup than they were with Jack Johnson and an muted offensive attack.
Some additional reading:
L.A. Kings Hockey for Women on JJ: "You came to us from Minnesota and you played for U of Michigan. The cold was all you knew until the Kings! I hope that the familiar will help you with this transition. I hope that Columbus knows what a true hockey lover you are. You played over 20 mins a night for the Kings and when Drew Doughty was out injured, you stepped up and shined! I hope for you and Ohio that you will shine for them and they will appreciate you as we have. But remember, we have never taken you for granted."
Eric Cooney of Pro Sports Blogging: "Kings. Need. Goals. Jeff Carter has a history of scoring those things. He's now reunited with his cohort Richards and hopefully will get some chemistry going. The Kings top-6 looks much sexier (not in a literal sense, although I'm sure some might feel that way) with Carter's name in the fold. Carter can play the wing or center (like they need more of those). Carter is not a playmaker, he's a GOAL SCORER. Have I mentioned the Kings need goals?"
From Mike MacLean on The Cannon: "To be honest I'm happy that this deal doesn't involve Jonathan Bernier. I think it's about time the Jackets focused on acquiring an experienced goaltender, rather than going on potential alone. Bernier has the talent, that much is known, but he barely plays and has yet to fill the role of number one goaltender."