Saturday, September 24, 2011

Jeff Carter's Worth: More Than Goals

Columbus Blue Jackets General Manager, Scott Howson, aka "Roster Ninja", made the biggest acquisition in franchise history in late June when he traded the team's first round pick from 2007 (promising youngster Jake Voracek) and the team's 2011 first round pick (which eventually became Sean Couturier out of the QMJHL) to Philadelphia for the Flyers' all-star center, Jeff Carter.

He previously understudied for  N*sync
The Carter trade signaled a shift in attitude for a franchise desperate to win now and that's what Jeff Carter brings, the ability to win now. Carter's averaged goals in the mid 30's over the last 4 seasons, including 46 in 2008-2009 (Read: good). There's no question that he'll score goals for the Blue Jackets, but his ability brings so much more than just basic point production. Here's several reasons why Carter's presence makes the Blue Jackets an instantly better team. 

Rick Nash
The words, "Imagine how great he could be if they could just get him some help" have followed Rick Nash for his entire career. Nash is one of the league's premier talents, but one player can not carry a team in the National Hockey League. With constant double teams, and game-plans centered around him, Nash has been left on an island for all 8 years he's been in the league. 

Playing Carter at center with Nash on the wing essentially forces teams to pick their poison when game-planning for the Blue Jackets. Do you focus on the massive power forward in Nash or do you focus on the smooth skating centerman with one of the game's nastiest wrist shots in Carter? Neither is desirable for any opposing defense and both players will benefit from the others presence.

Worst case scenario, Carter and Nash fail to develop any chemistry and the Blue Jackets roll with a 30 goal-scorer on each of their top two lines.

Rick Nash: Mr. Blue Jacket
If Rick Nash is anything like me, then he jumped on his bed and threw out a few hearty fist pumps upon hearing the news of Jeff Carter's acquisition. Carter will allow Nash to finally realize his true potential. 

Ryan Johansen
Ryan Johansen of the Portland Winterhawks was taken 4th overall by the Blue Jackets in the 2010 draft. He's a big kid with the ability to take over games by himself and a knack for putting the puck in the net. He potted 40 goals in 63 games with Portland in the WHL a year ago, was one of the best players at the World Juniors, and has a high ceiling. (Read: good) He is the future of the franchise.

Johansen is too young by rule to play for the Blue Jackets' minor league affiliate in Springfield, but he may be too advanced to go back to dominating juniors, and there's always concern about pushing a guy into the NHL before he's ready. It's a tricky situation, or at least, it would've been in the past.

By scouts' accounts, the Blue Jackets have another Nash/Carter waiting in the wings
Blue Jackets fans are weary of rushing prospects to the big team. We've seen that movie before. The tale of Gilbert Brule still resonates worry amongst the Union Blue faithful, but Brule's sad-sack story of NHL potential soured by playing in the league long before he was ready will be different from the scenario that Johansen faces. 

Brule was hurried to the NHL by former General Manager Doug Maclean (one day I'll write a piece about the damage Maclean did to the franchise, and my so-called "Florida Panthers Theory"). He was forced to play second line minutes and against second line talent. It swallowed him up and killed his confidence. He never reached his advertised potential or returned to the player he was in juniors. The teams Brule played with didn't have the depth that the current group has and Brule was made to play above his head. 

Jeff Carter allows centerman Derrick Brassard (who's been playing over his own head the last few years) to move to the second line. Brassard on the second line allows the team to play Johansen in a minor role as a third or fourth line center meaning the Blue Jackets can ease him into the NHL. If he proves he's capable they can move Johansen up and give him more ice time. It's really the ideal situation for a young player of Johansen's caliber and similar to the model Boston used last year when breaking in Tyler Seguin.

The Power Play
Scott Howson also went out and signed free agent defenseman James Wisniewski who showed last season his prowess as a power play quarterback. This will benefit the club as Carter is adept at burying chances set up by others. 

The power play was a serious problem last year for the Jackets as they finished 29th in power play percentage converting on just 14% of their man-up opportunities (Read: bad). Sidenote: As point of reference, Vancouver with the #1 PP unit scored on 24.4% of their powerplays. 

Jeff Carter and Wisniewski will make the power play more dangerous. This means more goals, but it also brings up positive side-effects that come with having a deadly powerplay unit. If teams are fearful of going a man-down they'll be more careful about committing penalties. Expect cheap shots and violent hits against the Blue Jackets to decrease in 2011-2012 and expect the offense to be given slightly more space to operate. Even when playing 5-on-5 the threat of a dangerous power play keeps teams from bearing down defensively and opens everything up.

The Defense/Steve Mason
This one is pretty simple, Jeff Carter is a decent two-way player and he back-checks and plays defense. Even more though, Carter means the Blue Jackets will possess the puck more, which means they won't have to play defense as often. This means Steve Mason will see fewer shots and give up fewer goals. It's a team sport, everybody wins. 

Jeff Carter brings point production and offensive credibility to a team that has lacked it for going on 11 years now, but he also elevates the entire team by simply being who he is and wearing a Blue Jackets sweater. Combine "Tha Carter 7" (I'm hoping this Lil Wayne inspired nickname catches on) with the rest of the NHL pickups by Howson this offseason and this is on paper the best team the Columbus Blue Jackets have ever iced. 2011-2012 will be a good year for playoff starved hockey fans in Columbus. 

I don't know about you, but I can't wait. 

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