Jeff Carter will make his Penguins debut on Thursday and the irony of his first opponent was a topic of discussion with new teammate Sidney Crosby.
“Sid and I were talking about that [Tuesday] morning,” said Carter, a 2003 first-round pick of the Flyers, and a key part of deep playoff runs here in 2008 and 2010. “The battles that we had when we first came into the league and whatnot.”
Carter, 36, was traded to Columbus before the 2011 draft in a deal that brought in Jake Voracek and the first-round pick that ended up being Sean Couturier. On its face, it’s been a pretty good deal for the Flyers, except they’ve been swaddled in mediocrity for most of the last decade.
Now a bad Flyers season has the potential to get a lot worse, especially with the four teams in playoff position in the East Division making major moves at the trade deadline.
We saw it Tuesday night as the Flyers were bullied by Anthony Mantha literally from the opening shift. Ten seconds in, he pushed Robert Hagg off the puck on the forecheck which led to a shot on goal by Dmitry Orlov.
Next on the schedule is the Penguins, who are riding major momentum heading into the final month of the regular season. The neatly-wrapped gift under their trade-deadline tree was Carter, who won two Stanley Cups with the Kings — including 2012 when Ron Hextall was assistant GM.
Buoyed by that nice little line on his resume, the Flyers brought Hextall here in 2013, but fired him in 2018 without a playoff series win.
Hextall is now the Penguins GM and, coincidental or not, Pittsburgh is 22-8-1 since hiring him on Feb. 9 for a .726 points percentage. They were 5-5-1 before bringing him on.
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Hextall’s first move in Pittsburgh was claiming Flyers defenseman Mark Friedman off the waiver wire in February. His first trade was for Carter in April. The Penguins gave the Kings a third-round pick in 2022 and a fourth-rounder in 2023. Both are conditional.
“Basically my whole career we’ve been following each other around,” Carter chuckled. “It’s always nice when you go to a new place to have some familiar faces. I’ve known Hexy for a long time. We have a really good relationship.”
Since the Flyers and Penguins last met on March 6, Pittsburgh is 14-4-1 (.764). The Flyers are 7-11-2 (.400).
Carter was a center early in his career but played mostly wing during his 10 years with the Kings. He figures to go back to the middle while Evgeni Malkin remains out with a lower-body injury. (Malkin hasn’t played since March 16, but he is skating. Hextall said on Monday he expects Malkin back before the end of the regular season.)
Carter had eight goals and 11 assists in 40 games this season for the Kings. He had 181 goals, 162 helpers in six seasons with the Flyers.
Penguins buy, Flyers sell
Carter’s second championship came in 2014 and at the expense of Alain Vigneault, who was coaching the Rangers at the time. There were no trade-deadline presents under Vigneault’s tree as Flyers general manager Chuck Fletcher acquired no one, and instead dealt the expiring contracts of veterans Michael Raffl and Erik Gustafsson.
“It’s what was to be expected,” Vigneault said. “As a team, myself and my players haven’t shown the consistency a playoff team needs to bring. … Because we hadn’t shown that consistency, management did what they had to do. I totally understand that.”
Fletcher had no faith the Flyers were a playoff team, and they went out Tuesday and showed he was correct with the latest in a string of humiliating losses.
Meanwhile, on the other end of the state, Pittsburgh will have had three days off before Thursday’s game. The Penguins will be rested, and their newest acquisition is feeling rejuvenated.
Carter played 11 games against the Flyers while he was with the Kings (three goals, two assists), but he’ll experience something he hasn’t had in more than a year.
“It’ll be nice and refreshing to get out there on Thursday and play against the Flyers,” he said. “It’ll be nice to have some fans in the stands. We haven’t had any in L.A. That’ll be nice.”