When one national writer connects a contending team with a trade candidate, it’s simply speculation. When three link the two in the span of a few days, there is usually something to it. Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman suggested that the Boston Bruins could be a possible destination for Los Angeles Kings veteran center Jeff Carter in his latest “31 Thoughts” segment. The same day, The Athletic’s Fluto Shinzawa published an entire piece on Carter’s ideal fit in Boston. His colleague, Craig Custance, also wrote about how the best blueprint for a rebuild in L.A. could be to emulate the Bruins, who recouped picks and young players in 2015 by trading away Milan Lucic and Dougie Hamilton, but largely leaving their core intact. This time around, could Carter be in Lucic’s shoes with the Bruins and Kings swapping roles? It’s looking like a real possibility.
The logic behind a Carter deal is obvious for the Kings. L.A. sits in last place in the NHL, with just 24 points through 33 games. The team is far older than they would like to be given their struggles and, as Custance suggests, would benefit greatly from moving out a handful of veterans to inject youth and potential into the roster along with a solid core of Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty, and Jonathan Quick. It is no surprise that TSN’s most recent Trade Bait list features Kings defenseman Jake Muzzin at No. 2, Carter at No. 5, and Alec Martinez at No. 16. Although Carter, still a capable offensive player, has three years remaining on his contract beyond this season at a remarkably reasonable $5.27MM cap hit and even lower salary, he is also 33 years old and is unlikely to improve in the years it could take for L.A. to return to the postseason. The Kings would be able to add some impressive young pieces in exchange for Carter, kick-starting their rebuild. TSN’s Frank Servalli warns that Carter could use the threat of retirement to decide on his destination, but he would be unlikely to turn down the opportunity to end his career with a contender like Boston.
However, does the deal make sense for the Bruins? Obviously, the first aspect worth noting is Boston’s depth down the middle. Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, while aging themselves, are still playing at an elite level and are both signed long-term. Adding Carter would give the Bruins three centers age 32 or older signed through at least the 2020-21 season. The Bruins would have the gauge the asking price on Carter against the fact that he would most likely be their third-line center. Yet, this alone doesn’t rule out a Carter trade. Shinzawa notes that Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson, while improving, is not yet ready for prime time match-ups as the anchor of his own line. Carter would be a very helpful addition in the short-term, especially as the Bruins square off against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning and their equally impressive depth down the middle. Carter playing alongside a young winger like Ryan Donato or Danton Heinen could be a dangerous combo this season and beyond. If and when Forsbacka Karlsson – or Trent Frederic, Jack Studnicka, or Jakub Lauko – looks ready to take on a regular role over the next few years, the right-shooting Carter could also slide to the wing, where the Bruins have yet to identify a long-term option next to Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
The Bruins could find a way to make a talent like Carter’s work, but the cost will likely dictate whether or not a deal gets done. If Carter is playing the Lucic role in Custance’s proposed role reversal, the Kings would likely land a strong if unspectacular return. Lucic had just one year remaining on his contract as opposed to Carter’s three, but was younger and healthier and expected to play a top-line role in L.A. The Bruins received a first-round pick, established backup goaltender Martin Jones (who they flipped to San Jose), and standout AHL defenseman Colin Miller in exchange for Lucic. The Kings don’t need a young goaltender, nor do the Bruins have much to offer in that department. Boston will also be hesitant to move a first-round pick after forfeiting that pick last year in the Rick Nash trade. However, the Kings need scoring and the Bruins have a plethora of young forwards. Heinen could fill the Jones role of an established young NHLer, although the Kings could instead ask for Donato or Anders Bjork, while one of the team’s prospect centers could be substituted for the first-rounder and Jeremy Lauzon or Jakub Zboril could play the part of Miller. Anything more than that package of three talented young players would probably be a deal-breaker for GM Don Sweeney and company, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the combination gets a deal done.
With a seemingly sensible fit on both sides and several major pundits pedaling the rumor, this isn’t the last of Carter-to-Boston speculation. However, the Bruins have also been linked to Carter’s teammate Tyler Toffoli, the Minnesota Wild’s Charlie Coyle, and the New York Rangers’ Kevin Hayes and Mats Zuccarello, yet no move has been made. There is no guarantee that Boston is looking to make a move right now, but as the season wears on these names will only continue to pop up until the Bruins inevitably make a move in pursuit of the Stanley Cup.