Jeff Carter is one of the best players available at this years deadline, but who are the teams that will target him?
The rare appearance of a #1 C on the market will have a number of GMs kicking his tires, evaluating a potential fit. The fact that it has been publicly announced is a sign that the usual behind the scenes phone calls did not get the Blue Jackets a satisfactory offer.
So what is the realistic size of the Carter market? Given his contract, his role and long-term planning what is the short list of potential teams that will be willing to pay the highest return to the Jackets?
Read on for a team by team evaluation from the "No-Chance" to the "Probable" for Jeff Carter.
Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks are essentially out of the playoffs already and certainly a team in seller mode as the deadline approaches. Add this fact to the presence of Ryan Getzlaf on the team and there is no way a Ducks - Jackets deal is in the works.
Edmonton Oilers: A rebuilding non-playoff squad whose timeline does not fit a Carter acquisition at all. The early evaluations on Ryan Nugent-Hopkins have a player destined to be the Oilers #1 Center for many years.
Pittsburgh Penguins: With Crosby, Malkin and Jordan Staal on the roster Carter makes no sense for this team except as a Winger. Even if the Pens play through worst case scenarios of "Crosby done forever", it is unlikely they will add a long contract which can interfere with their resigning horizons and options on Malkin and Jordan Staal.
Philadelphia Flyers: The simple fact they just traded him away should drive home the point they will not require him at the deadline. Paul Holmgren was widely mocked when he made the deal last off-season. No one mocks him today as he has picked up two young stalwarts at Center in Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn.
Boston Bruins: Carter does not fit here. The Bruins have a surplus of young Centers and the team is gelled and winning. Not a team that will pay max price for Carter or introduce a top 6 player into their successful and proven mix.
Tampa Bay Lightning: With recently resigned Steven Stamkos on the #1 spot and Vincent Lecavalier on his own monster long-term contract there is no way Jeff Carter goes to Tampa unless he puts on Goalie pads and a mask and stands between the pipes.
New York Islanders: Practically out of the playoffs, on a tight budget and with John Tavares locking down the top spot budget conscious owner Charles Wang will not clear a Carter acquisition. He is still spitting on DiPietro's long-term deal.
New York Rangers: A team that should probably be in the no-chance category but one can never under-estimate their willingness to go after the big fishes. Very slim chance with Brad Richards acquired last off season and given their strong season and solid playoff position at this point.
San Jose Sharks: Joe Thornton, Logan Couture and a Patrick Marleau who plays both Center and Wing. Slim to none that the Shark tank is in the running. Doug Wilson may kick the tire once but only because both Thornton and Marleau are over 30 years old.
Winnipeg Jets: Under new management and patient. The Jets may kick the tire but are highly unlikely to buy. Kevin Cheveldayoff will not make a defining trade like this that could take his team in the wrong direction if it doesn't work. The slow and steady build is under way in Winnipeg.
Phoenix Coyotes: Nothing hockey related here to do with their placement as slim. It is all about the lack of ownership and hazy future of the team. Martin Hanzal is a respectable Center and a Jeff Carter acquisition could fit but it isn't going to happen given the Yotes hazy state off-ice.
St. Louis Blues: The fruit is finally ripening in St. Louis and they are doing just fine this season. Solidly in playoff position, a young team that is fortifying, they fall into the category "if it ain't broke don't fix it". Given the Blues coming into bloom and with a 99.9% chance of making the playoffs, as of today, there is slim to no chance they add Carter to alter their successful young mix.
Possible but not Probable
Florida Panthers: Dale Tallon, like Holmgren was another GM that took a few smug snickers in the off-season and proved his doubters wrong. Bungeeing from the basement to the top of the SE division. Stephen Weiss and Jeff Carter would provide a strong one / two punch up the middle. Can Tallon get clearance from owners to take on a long term contract with some serious dollars attached to it? He did with Brian Campbell, so the Panthers are possible.
Los Angeles Kings: Dean Lombardi is a heavy buyer this deadline. The Kings would be a strong candidate to go after Carter BUT reuniting Jeff Carter and Mike Richards may cause pause for Lombo. Reading between the lines there must have been a reason why Paul Holmgren did not hesitate to trade Richards and Carter and break them up. Is it prudent to reunite them in a town that has no shortage of off-ice distractions?
Lombardi if he can get the right trade, dumping Dustin Penner for example, may be willing to take the risk but with his core of Kopitar, Richards, Doughty, Johnson and another long-term deal likely for Quick is it wise to acquire another long-term contract that may paralyze the team in stone for 5+ years? The Kings are possible but not probable because of this.
Buffalo Sabres: If it wasn't for their dismal season and the fact they sit today with a 1.3% chance of making the playoffs they would be a stronger candidate. He fits their team. They have a strong owner who has proven he will spend money but like Columbus something has just gone wrong for them this season. Not a buyer who will give top return at the deadline.
Montreal Canadiens: Similar to Buffalo a team that would be probable if they were in the running for a playoff spot. Today they sit with a slightly better chance then the Sabres with a 6.5% playoff probability. Teams in these positions do not pay top dollar at the deadline.
New Jersey Devils: Kovalchuk and Parise and no strong #1 C. Jeff Carter should be a prime target. But questions surround this team and the future of it with or without Parise and dollar issues and bankruptcy talk, make them a possible candidate but not a strong one. If it was the off-season, different story. If the state of ownership financially is a concern they may be more inclined to focus dollars on re-signing Parise to a normal contract length and anticipate Adam Henrique evolving. If dollars / ownership long-term are not really an issue; upgrade New Jersey from possible to probable.
Colorado Avalanche: Matt Duchene is destined for the #1 C spot but the strongest features of this team in going after Carter is the fact they have nothing for long-term contracts. The entire team's contracts will expire in 2014, except for Jan Hejda who will be in his final year. All depends how valuable the Avs see Paul Stastny today and if they push or fade for the playoffs in the coming weeks. They are borderline probable and it depends where they stand as the deadline approaches. With Statsny and Duchene they really don't need a Center long term but Carter can play Wing…
Ottawa Senators: Jason Spezza locks down the #1 C spot and the recently acquired Kyle Turris gives the Sens some solidity at Center but they have been on a bit of a slide lately, if they feel they can get Carter on a bargain they may go from possible to probable. They may buy at the deadline to stay solidly in the playoffs. Alfredsson is going on 39 and the team may also consider Carter part of the picture to solidify the ranks in a post-Alfie era. Like Colorado this team may go after Carter depending on the next few weeks performance.
Minnesota Wild: Even with Mikko Koivu signed to a long-term deal the Wild may consider Carter especially if they feel he will take them into the playoffs but the long-term contract would give them pause with Koivu and Heatley on the books long term already. They are possible and need extra scoring punch, not a team to count out of the negotiations.
Probable (the strong contenders for now)
Teams would downgrade from probable to possible if they slide out of the playoff race.
Washington Capitals: Alexander Semin comes off the books and the Capitals performance without Nicklas Backstrom speaks for itself. They could take a run at Carter with the thought he can play Wing or Center and fit into their top 6 either way. This is a team that may be a surprise player in the Carter deadline negotiations. On paper they are excellent but they are not winning and they are in a win now mode. Something that may lead McPhee to roll the dice on Carter.
Dallas Stars: With new owner Tom Gaglardi the Stars are out of the internal financial strait jacket. They lost #1 C Brad Richards and despite Mike Ribeiro's best efforts he isn't close to that level. They are a team in the thick of the playoff race and sitting on a mountain of Cap room at the deadline. Nothing really for long-term contracts and a strong contender for Carter provided the long-term contract doesn't put GM Joe off.
Toronto Maple Leafs: Carter does fit the Leafs needs but Brian Burke is their GM. He is a GM who is simply not likely to do this, but he may. Carter is going to cost a 1st as a starting point and Burke may hang up the phone right there. Burke also hates long-term contracts. The Leafs are still probable because Carter directly addresses a clear need they have, they are in the thick of the playoff race, they have the Cap room and the ownership is rich beyond belief. But Brian Burke will not overpay in a trade…
Nashville Predators: This team has overachieved for so long and has been greater than the sum of its parts for so long, one wonders when the day will come when they will open the bank and go for it. Jeff Carter is a good fit for this team with 2 of the NHL's best Defenders and a top Goalie in Pekka Rinne. Carter would pump up their forward ranks and may be that forward core piece that could take them over the top. The problem is a deadline deal can be treacherous for the Preds with their two elite defenders, Shea Weber and Ryan Suter, unsigned for next season.
On the positive getting Jeff Carter may be the sign both Suter and Weber need to see that ownership is going to spend the money they need to get a Cup contending team together. The risk is that tying up the dollars and term in Carter and still having Weber or Suter or both walk could be a disaster for the Preds. Carter has to be under serious consideration for Nashville. Like Dallas they are sitting on a mountain of Cap room, aside from the recently signed Rinne they have no really long contracts going forward but being in a strong playoff position already, they simply may not be willing to pay a trade deadline price for Carter.
Calgary Flames: Like the skinny kid at the beach that keeps getting beat up and knocked down but still gets back up the Flames simply will not lay down. They have lusted after a true #1 C for over a decade, it is unlikely that they are not in these talks and will remain in them until their playoff hopes are extinguished. They currently sit at a 20% probability to make the playoffs and they will be buyers until those odds fall.
They are not scared to make big trades, they have rich owners who support the "win now" principle and Carter fits for them for a playoff push and in the future in a post-Iginla era. While Olli Jokinen has performed adequately this season, he is also 33 and getting Carter now for the Flames would fit just as much in the long-term given their shortage of prospects at Center.
The market for Jeff Carter will continue to narrow in the coming weeks. A surprise trade may be made for him by a team with a longer perspective on how he fits but for the Blue Jackets looking to get maximum return, now is the time.
The off-season may bring a broader market but it may also bring lower offers. If the Jackets want picks and young prospects now is the ideal time to trade him but if they want to get proven roster players, they may wait till the off-season.