'Get Carter' Coming To A Rink Near You?

Pretty soon the phrase “Get Carter” might be more than the title to a bad movie to GM’s around the NHL. Once again, Anson Carter has put together an early season hot streak and is driving the Oilers’ offense. Usually Carter cools off with a major slump (last year) or a significant injury (every other year) but this is a critical contract year for him and it could be different this time. Last year, Carter almost made the Canadian Olympic Team with a roaring start, but then his game went colder than Martha Stewart’s personality and his hands got stiffer than her facelift. As a result, he was forced to sign a one year – $2.4 million deal this past offseason. (managed to cash in like Martha too) This will make him an RFA at the end of the year just like fellow Oiler top guns, Comrie and Smyth.The first question then is: “What do you do when the contracts for your entire first line are due at the same time?”

Prioritize, of course. (Unless you are the Rangers, then you just pass out three pens and three small pieces of paper – “Boys, just tell me what you want, and don’t worry about the zeroes; save those wrists for the goalscoring”)

Comrie is the local boy #1 centre, only 22 yrs old with huge upside and best of all, has absolutely no leverage whatsoever. (You get to appreciate watching players playing for nothing when you grow up with the Oilers) Lowe will keep him for sure and try to tie him up long term if possible, with a likely $2.5-3.5 million/year ticket. Smyth is the best player on this team without question and he is the heart and soul of the Oilers. Lowe would have to swallow real hard to let him go, much harder than dealing Weight. Smyth has plenty of leverage with an Olympic gold, years of Oiler service and the fact that he is the only real scoring threat on LW for the Oil. (he shares a Oilers’ scoring record with Gretzky too – PP goals in a season. Means little but looks good on the resume) Smyth has arbitration rights and will want 2-3yrs at $3.5-4.5 million per season, especially if he continues his recent play. (also reminiscent of early last year) I would expect Lowe would do whatever he can to sign him.

If Carter can complete an entire year with 30-35 goals and 70-75 points he will be looking for $4-5.5 million a year. Carter has never been easy to negotiate with in the past and if he has leverage this time, you can be guaranteed that he will use it. The Oilers just can’t afford to throw $12-13 million at their first line because they won’t be able to put a team around them. Carter has less value to the team than Comrie or Smyth and thus will be the odd man out. Hemsky will be ready to eat up RW minutes in scoring opportunities next year and Jani Rita spent most of his junior career on the RW.

It looks like maybe a problem for next year, but Los Angeles and the New York Islanders are regularly rumoured to be after Carter. In fact, the rumours started as soon as he got to Edmonton. Could the Oilers get the best possible value right now? The Islanders are looking for a winger for Yashin and have Isbister, Scatchard and Torres to dangle to the Oilers. Isbister is dicey and actually not too cheap, Scatchard is serviceable and the Oilers would like Torres. LA is one of those teams with little to offer a small-market club in a trade. All of their significant roster players are older and expensive, while any younger guys are core players. They are also a little low on prospects. Cammalleri, Aulin and Frolov come to mind, but the Kings will want to keep Frolov for sure and the Oilers probably don’t want another 5’9″ centre in Cammalleri.

So if you were Kevin Lowe what would you do? Would you move Carter this year? At the draft? Sign him and trade him early next year a la Bill Guerin? (ironical since that is how they got Anson) Would you even choose Smyth and Comrie over Carter?

(I would sign him and move him next year to a different team with a decent young roster player to offer. The Oilers should be able to make a playoff run this year and I don’t think they can get equal value for Carter for this year)