The Evolution of a Trade: Jeff Carter to Columbus
ED Note: A legitimate point was raised through feedback to the original piece that Elliotte Friedman is unclear whether he was referring to the 2010 playoff run, or the 2011 playoff run. As a result of this uncertainty, the Friedman section has been removed.
On June 23, 2011, the final domino toppled over in a long line of discussion, debate, and outright haggling. Jeff Carter was dealt to the Columbus Blue Jackets for promising winger Jakub Voracek, and 1st and 3rd Round Picks in the then-upcoming 2011 NHL Draft.
This transaction was not the result of an impulsive sell-athon initiated by Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren, regardless of the fact that captain Mike Richards was moved in another trade on the very same day. No, this trade surely was the product of long hours of negotiating between Holmgren and his Columbus counterpart, general manager Scott Howson.
In the pre-internet world, such a move would simply be accepted and analyzed by the mainstream media, with only a passing mention given to the processes that had led to the trade itself. Beat writers and league insiders are often privy to trade rumors months in advance of a potential move, but without on-the-record sources, responsible journalists keep the information to themselves, using the rumors as deep background for their stories, and occasionally dropping veiled hints into their columns.
But today, fans are not limited to their local newspapers in order to learn about their team. As a result, attentive observers of teams can put together more complete narratives of the inner workings of their favorite organizations by compiling various reports from different reporters, from cities all across the country.
Of course, it’s not as simple as searching “Jeff Carter trade rumors” on Google. Context, extensive research, and educated guesses are all necessary to present a viable narrative.
The origins of the Jeff Carter trade, in particular, can be traced back as far as the 2010 offseason, simply through intelligent usage of search engines and the use of logic. The Carter trade proves to be a perfect case study as to how a fan can become an retrospective insider without ever stepping foot into the locker room.
Origins of the Deal
Jeff Carter had long been a (arguably unwarranted) target of Philadelphia Flyers fans’ wrath. More reactionary fans championed a trade due to his propensity to miss the net on a regular basis, a perceived aversion to physical play, and supposed inability to perform in the clutch. Other fans noted that Carter’s high cap hit and the multitude of centers on the Flyers’ roster made him an ideal trade candidate, especially with players such as Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk in eventual need of contract extensions.
The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, had no such concerns.
On October 24, 2010, blog Flyers Faithful posted regarding a TSN documentary on the Edmonton Oilers. The made-for-TV special, called “Oil Change,” was a behind-the-scenes look at the Oilers’ 2010 draft strategy and offseason rebuilding efforts. But what caught the eyes and ears of those at the Philadelphia-based blog was a brief mention of the Flyers during the documentary. Apparently, Philadelphia had been engaged in talks with Columbus for the 4th overall pick in the 2010 draft, later used by the Blue Jackets to take center Ryan Johansen.
A scene at the entry draft was shown between Oilers General Manager Steven Tambellini and owner Daryl Katz discussing Columbus General Manager Scott Howson and the 4th overall pick. In this scene the Flyers get mentioned.
The scene is as follows:
Tambellini was meeting with Katz at the entry draft. Katz mentions Kevin (Lowe) was talking to Scott (Howson) and was wondering if there was something there (in regards to a trade). Tambellini mentions that yeah he was talking about the 4th pick. Katz asks what he (Howson) wants for it. Tambellini mentions well from Philly he was talking about moving the 4th pick if *name censored* was made available. Katz then responds ” so he is going to give up the pick and take on 5 and a half million?” Tambellini questions “yeah, Scotty is going to do that?” Katz then says give me a break and we move on to the next scene.
In their post, Flyers Faithful posited that the unnamed player could have been former Flyers forward Simon Gagne, who was traded to the Tampa Bay Lightning later in the 2010 offseason for Matt Walker and a 4th round pick in a salary dump. Writer “penaltykiller” came to this conclusion due to two main factors. First, the simple fact that Gagne was dealt was proof that the forward had been dangled to some degree by the Flyers, making it likely that his name had come up in trade talks prior to the Lightning trade. Second, Gagne’s $5.25 million cap hit for 2010-11 came very close to the mystery player’s $5.5 million salary, as mentioned by Oilers owner Daryl Katz.
However, let’s take a step back. At the time, Gagne was a 30 year old, concussion-prone forward on the last year of a contract that would never be considered a bargain. The likelihood that Columbus would have been willing to deal the 4th overall pick in the entire draft for such a player, even as part of a larger package, seems remote.
On the other hand, Jeff Carter would have been an appropriate return.
Consider the facts. Carter was moved to Columbus for the 8th overall pick in the 2011 draft, in addition to Jakub Voracek and a 3rd round pick. If Carter was the unnamed player of 2010, an offer of the 4th overall pick would be a reasonable starting point for a fair value package, to which additional picks and young talent could be added in later negotiations.
But the most convincing evidence that Carter was the unnamed player comes in the form of his 2010-11 base salary.
Flyers Faithful was correct in their piece when to state that “there is no one on the Flyers with a “5 and a half million” cap hit.” However, while no Flyer on the roster had a $5.5 million cap hit, one did have a base salary of $5.5 million. That Flyer? None other than Jeff Carter.
It makes sense that the Edmonton GM and owner would be skeptical that a smaller market squad like Columbus would be willing to take on a $5.5 million salary. For small market teams, salary means as much as, if not more than, overall cap hit. Therefore, it is logical that Tambellini and Katz would speak in terms of base salary rather than cap hit when discussing a Carter-to-Columbus rumor.
According to the documentary, the Flyers balked at a Carter-for-4th overall pick deal. But the two sides were officially talking about the forward. And talks would become more serious later.
Flyers Get Serious
In a move that would ostensibly squash all trade rumors, Jeff Carter was signed to an 11-year, $58 million contract extension on November 13, 2010. The goal-scoring forward would now be a protected member of the Flyers’ core for years to come.
But only two months later, Carter was back on the market.
Following the announcement of the finalized trade in June, The Columbus Dispatch reported that talks had begun in January. The Flyers had been interested in acquiring Jakub Voracek, and the Blue Jackets continued to have interest in Carter. In addition, these early January talks involving Jeff Carter were confirmed to FlyersFocus by a source with knowledge of the situation.
In February, rumors of trade talks between Philadelphia and Columbus begun to leak. Delaware County Times Flyers beat writer Anthony SanFilippo reported on February 13, 2011 that discussions had progressed to a such point that former Flyer R.J. Umberger had been consulted regarding his opinion on the players involved.
SB Nation Philly and Broad Street Hockey writer Geoff Detwelier weighed in on the trade rumor on the 13th, as well. Detweiler theorized that the player that Columbus had attempted to acquire was defenseman Braydon Coburn, considering the fact that Umberger and Coburn had been teammates for over a full season, and Columbus had a need for a talented young d-man.
It remains possible that Coburn’s name was brought up in the talks. However, considering the evidence, it seems more likely that Umberger was mostly asked about Jeff Carter.
Why? The circumstantial evidence has shown so far that Carter had been the main target for the Columbus front office. In addition, Umberger and Carter spent more time together as teammates than Umberger and Coburn. Carter had played on the 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms Calder Cup Championship team along with Umberger, and the two spent three full seasons together on the Flyers, from 2005-2008.
In addition, the two have long been friends. Therefore, it seems likely that the Blue Jackets would ask Umberger his opinion of Carter’s talent, personality, and work ethic.
On June 9, 2011, Columbus Dispatch reporter Aaron Portzline broke the story that the Blue Jackets had targeted Jeff Carter as a top offseason trade possibility.
Within two weeks, Carter was no longer a Flyer.
The initial trade offer appears to have been Jakub Voracek and the 7th overall pick in the 2011 NHL Draft. But with Paul Holmgren actively shopping Carter to other NHL squads, Columbus GM Scott Howson sweetened the offer, according to the Dispatch.
At 11:15 p.m. Wednesday, Howson and Holmgren chatted and agreed to talk again in the morning. When they spoke around 11 a.m. yesterday, Howson said the deal solidified, and Holmgren mulled it over.
An hour later, worried that Holmgren was talking to other GMs – he certainly was – Howson offered the third-round pick, and the deal was done.
A deal a year in the making was now complete.
The Jeff Carter trade was the product of consistent negotiations between the Philadelphia Flyers and Columbus Blue Jackets. Talks regarding Carter had occurred as early as the 2010 NHL Draft, and may have originated even earlier.
Fans do not have a bird’s eye view of the hours of work that general managers and other members of a team’s front office spend to come to an agreement on a blockbuster trade. But in the internet age, experienced observers can put together a surprisingly clear picture of the negotiating process, through research and retrospective analysis.
We may not be GMs. But trades like the Jeff Carter can allow the fans some insight into the thought processes of those general managers, and the difficulties that go along with such a job.