The Los Angeles Kings’ disappointing 2018-19 season is now behind them and they are looking ahead to a fresh start next season. Part of improving the optimism around the team heading into next year would be opening up some salary cap space, as the Kings currently have one of the highest payrolls already committed to 2019-20 with the NHL off-season still to come. L.A. showed this season that their current core doesn’t have what it takes to be a contender, so moving out an expensive veteran piece to open up room to add in free agency and trades or at least give some promising young prospects an increased role is certainly in their plans.
One of the easiest ways that the team could have seen a significant drop-off in salary would have been if veteran center Jeff Carter had opted to retire, as many fans and local media members have (wishfully) speculated. Carter, who has three years remaining on his contract at a $5.27MM AAV, turned 34 this season and celebrated with the worst season of his career. Carter – who missed considerable time due to injury in 2017-18, but was still close to a point-per-game player – managed to record only 33 points in 76 games this year, including a career-worst 13 goals and -20 rating. While the situation was not helped any by the Kings’ overall lack of production, Carter certainly showed signs of his age and was easily the worst value player on the roster. As a result, there was hope by some that he may simply retire and walk away from his remaining money.
Don’t count on it, writes The Athletic’s Josh Cooper. After sitting down with Carter, Cooper relays that not only did he deny all retirement rumors, but stated that he hopes to play out the remaining three years of his contract (and collect his $7MM left in salary). He hopes that he can do just that with L.A., as well. Carter lacks any trade protection in his current contract, so he knows that he could be moved, but would not prefer it. “I want to be an L.A. King”, the respected veteran told Cooper, “I want to help change things around here.”
Unfortunately, the team may not be so eager to continue the relationship. The cap space alone is an issue, but Cooper also cites the team’s impressive prospect depth down the middle as a reason why Carter is viewed as expendable. Carter, who is 20 games away from 1,000 in his career, is still a valuable asset for his experience and versatility, but Cooper acknowledges that he is a major candidate to be on the move this summer, regardless.
A trade is certainly possible and there would be a market for Carters’ services. However, it would not be a market that would net the Kings anything of value and could very well still cost them against the salary cap with either retained salary or another expensive contract in return. Cooper even relays word from another NHL executive that the market value for Carter is “quite low” right now. One has to wonder if trading Carter for actual value might be easier if GM Rob Blake waits until the next trade deadline and hope he re-establishes his ability in that time.
Cooper doubts that a beneficial deal to move Carter can be found, at least this off-season, so could a buyout be a better option? Such a decision does not offer much cap relief; Carter would still count for more than $3MM next year and more than $4MM in the two years prior, followed by another three years at $778K. In fact, Cooper calls Carter the “least attractive candidate” to be bought out due to the structure of his remaining contract. With the lack of savings, L.A. would be better off holding on to Carter and hoping he can rebound.
For now, there doesn’t seem to be an easy way to get Carter’s contract off the books. Perhaps Kings fans can be content in knowing that Carter is still determined to play and help the team in their rebuild. They may have no choice other than hoping the 700+-point player can return to form, as no alternative solutions seem to be on the horizon. Carter has three years left on his contract and plans to see it through – expect those three seasons to be with L.A. until the status quo changes for the veteran forward.