With Jeff Carter’s time with the LA Kings now over, it’s time to have a discussion about just how important he was to the franchise.
Six numbers have been retired by the LA Kings: Rob Blake’s 4, Marcel Dionne’s 16, Dave Taylor’s 18, Luc Robitaille’s 20, Rogie Vachon’s 30, and, of course, Wayne Gretzky’s 99, retired both by the Kings and the NHL.
There are four more players currently playing for the LA Kings who will almost certainly have their numbers hanging from the Staples Centers rafters someday. It’s a pretty safe bet that no King will ever again wear Drew Doughty’s 8, Anze Kopitar’s 11, Dustin Brown’s 23, or Jonathan Quick’s 32.
What will be interesting to see, though, is whether the Kings see Jeff Carter’s tenure with the organization as one that was worthy of having his number 77 retired.
Carter’s time in LA somewhat surprisingly came to an end after parts of 10 seasons with the team when he was dealt to the Pittsburgh Penguins for a pair of conditional draft picks on the eve of the trade deadline. With the book now closed on his Kings tenure, it’s time to think about whether Carter deserves to be considered on par with the likes of Doughty, Kopitar, Brown, and Quick in Kings lore.
Unlike those four players, Carter was not homegrown. He arrived after those four already as an established star and left before them. He didn’t win any major individual awards and played in only one All-Star Game as a King. He was the team’s leading scorer once and their leading goal scorer three times, though he only had one 30-goal season.
Carter scored 194 goals and had 189 assists for 383 points in 580 regular-season games with the Kings. He does not rank in the top 10 of the franchise’s all-time leaders for games played or points, and he just barely cracked the top 10 in goals, tying Mike Murphy with that 194th goal.
However, there are no rules about where a player has to rank on a list of a team’s all-time leading scorers for their number to be retired by them. And there is a case to be made for Carter’s number to be retired by the Kings once you factor in his contributions to the franchise’s only two Stanley Cup championships.
The deal that saw LA acquire Carter from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Jack Johnson and a first-round pick in February 2012 will always be seen as one of the best trades in LA Kings history and a catalyst of the team’s success over the following few years. Carter tied for the team lead with eight goals in 20 playoff games during their 2012 run.
From his hat trick in Game 2 of the Western Conference Final against the Phoenix Coyotes to his overtime winner in Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final against the New Jersey Devils, to his two-goal performance in the Game 6 clincher, he had some of the biggest games and biggest goals during the LA Kings’ run to their first title.
Carter was also a key part of LA’s 2014 run, contributing 10 goals and 25 points in 26 playoff games. In particular, he came up huge during the Western Conference Final, scoring five goals and 11 points in seven games against the Chicago Blackhawks, including a hat trick in Game 2.
Without Carter, the Kings may still not have any Stanley Cup banners to hang from the rafters. So perhaps it’s only fair that someday his number hangs up there with them.