Less than a year after the Columbus Blue Jackets acquired center Jeff Carter from the Philadelphia Flyers in a blockbuster trade, they're now reportedly trying to move him.
Carter's name first appeared in trade rumors in late November, when RDS reported he was unhappy in Columbus and wanted out.
That prompted strong denials from Carter, his agent and Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson, but the rumors persisted, forcing Howson in late December to claim he had “no intention of trading Jeff at this point.”
Since late January, however, the situatio has changed.
TSN's Darren Dreger recently claimed Carter was “100 percent available,” with the asking price being similar to that which Howson gave up to land him last summer: a first round pick and a good young roster player.
On Feb. 2, the Columbus Dispatch reported multiple sources confirmed the Blue Jackets had placed Carter on the trade block. Unlike the earlier rumors, which Howson swiftly denied, the Blue Jackets GM has declined comment on the center's trade status.
For his part, Carter shrugged off the rumors, maintaining he hasn't requested a trade and remains focused on returning to form after missing several weeks to a shoulder injury.
Despite his injury woes and struggles with the Blue Jackets this season, Carter is an undeniable offensive talent. Most NHL teams would love to have him centering their first line, which was the thinking by Howson when he acquired Carter, believing he'd become a perfect fit with star right winger Rick Nash.
Unfortunately, things didn't work out as hoped for the Blue Jackets, currently mired dead last in the overall standings. Ownership recently sent out a letter to Jackets season ticket holders promising change. Moving Carter could be among the changes being explored.
A significant snag in any attempt to move Carter is his expensive, long-term contract, which still has 10 more seasons remaining at a cap hit of over $5.3 million per season.
That contract originally came with a “no-trade” clause, due to commence on July 1, 2012, but Carter's agent told Eric Francis of the Calgary Sun that clause didn't carry over when he was dealt to Columbus.
It's been suggested Carter would be a perfect fit with the Toronto Maple Leafs, but GM Brian Burke reportedly isn't interested. That's not surprising, as Burke tends to favor contracts no longer than five years. It would be out of character for him to take on Carter's big contract.
While it's not impossible for the Blue Jackets to move Carter at the trade deadline, they stand a better chance of attracting suitors by the June entry draft, when teams have more cap space and willingness to make significant deals, akin to the one which sent Carter to Columbus.
Given the uncertainty over what will be contained in the next collective bargaining agreement, such a move could still prove difficult.
That raises a distinct possibility the Blue Jackets won’t have any takers for Carter. If so, their only other option would be to buy out his contract, especially if there's a buyout amnesty period at the start of the next CBA. An amnesty buyout would allow the Blue Jackets to be rid of Carter's contract without the buyout portion counting against their cap.
An amnesty buyout would allow the Blue Jackets to be rid of Carter's contract without the buyout portion counting against their cap.
That move would be a waste of a talented asset, however, as he'd become an unrestricted free agent and lose him for nothing.
It remains to be seen what will happen with Carter, but if the Blue Jackets do end up trading him for less than what they originally dealt away it'll serve as yet another example of the mismanagement that has dogged the franchise since its inception.
Rumor Focus appears regularly on thehockeynews.com. Lyle Richardson has been an NHL commentator since 1998 on his website, spectorshockey.net, and is a contributing writer for Eishockey News and Kukla's Korner.