Jeff Carter

LA Kings’ Jeff Carter has surgery on core muscle injury

EL SEGUNDO, Calif. — Los Angeles Kings forward Jeff Carter has undergone surgery to repair a core muscle injury.

The Kings announced Tuesday that Carter had surgery last week. The veteran Stanley Cup winner is expected to be fully healthy for next season.

Carter was injured in a game at Winnipeg on Feb. 18, and he missed the final 10 games of the Kings’ season. Los Angeles is among the seven teams that won’t be returning to action when the NHL resumes competition this summer amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The 35-year-old Carter had 17 goals and 10 assists with a minus-21 rating in 60 games this season for the Kings.

He will have two years left on the 11-year, $58 million contract extension he signed with Philadelphia in November 2010.

LA Kings hope late-season surge indicates brighter future

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LOS ANGELES — The Los Angeles Kings were the NHL’s hottest team before the coronavirus pandemic ended the regular season prematurely. They’re hoping they can eventually build on that success whenever they get back on the ice.

The team with the NHL’s longest active winning streak won’t get a chance to extend it this season, thanks to the league’s decision this week to limit its playoff tournament to 24 teams. The Kings’ seven straight victories before the stoppage comprised the franchise’s best stretch since December 2017, and it had even pulled them out of last place in the Pacific Division.

The Kings haven’t lost a game since Feb. 23, and their 10-3-1 surge prior to the pause suggests coach Todd McLellan’s work was finally paying off after Los Angeles mostly struggled through the first four months of a rebuilding season. The Kings’ only public comment on the abrupt end came in a statement from team President Luc Robitaille.

”It’s unfortunate that our season has concluded, but we fully understand this was necessary and support the decision,” Robitaille said. ”At the time of the pause, we had made considerable progress in the second half and were seeing positive results and encouraging signs for the future. We’ll now turn our attention to the NHL draft and player development so that we can continue building our organization for long-term success.”

Despite their late success, the Kings already were all but certain to miss the playoffs in back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2009.

Even after two straight disappointing seasons, Robitaille, general manager Rob Blake and McLellan all appear to be secure in their jobs and locked in on a long-term plan to return the Kings to Stanley Cup contention.

Los Angeles won the trophy twice in three years before entering a slow decline caused by massive veteran contracts and unimpressive talent development, culminating in the struggles that finally showed signs of ending before the coronavirus upended everyone’s plans.

”If we had a chance to finish the season, we’d want to finish the season,” Robitaille said earlier this month. ”Especially the fact that we have a lot of young players, it’s always good experience for them to play.”

CORE GUYS

A championship-winning veteran core remains in Los Angeles, but the Kings must decide whether to keep it together for another year. Drew Doughty, Anze Kopitar, Jonathan Quick, Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter are all still-productive players locked into big contracts, but Blake knows it’s time to repair the foundation of his franchise to rebuild a winner. Blake values the leadership and experience of those veterans along with longtime depth forward Trevor Lewis, who is the Kings’ most noteworthy unrestricted free agent. Los Angeles already parted ways with stalwart supporting players Alec Martinez, Tyler Toffoli and Kyle Clifford in February, and while it wouldn’t be reasonable to expect big changes given the contract obstacles, Blake would be foolish not to consider more ways to get younger and more financially flexible.

FIND THE NET

The Kings were among the NHL’s lowest-scoring teams again this season, with Kopitar’s 21 goals and 41 assists easily leading the roster in both categories. Los Angeles had only five 10-goal scorers, while only Kopitar and Alex Iafallo topped 40 points. Despite their offensive struggles, Blake saw progress in the Kings’ implementation of McLellan’s system. ”Clearly we wanted to be a strong-shooting team, a team that got pucks to the net, recovered pucks well and generated offense off that,” Blake said. ”I think the year-end review showed that.”

PING PONG BALLS

The Kings have a 9.5% chance of winning the top pick in the complicated draft lottery this summer. For a franchise that hasn’t drafted a star since Doughty in 2008, a high pick would be an enormous boost. The Kings’ draft carries an added degree of difficulty with the departure of assistant general manager Michael Futa, whose contract expires in June. Still, Los Angeles is in prime position to add another elite talent to a solid pool of prospects including first-rounder Alex Turcotte, Gabe Vilardi, Arthur Kaliyev, Samuel Fagemo and Tyler Madden.

HIGHLIGHTS

Iafallo’s transformation from an undrafted free agent to a consistent NHL scorer in less than three years has been a rare bright spot for the Kings’ recent record of player acquisitions. Ditto for Sean Walker, an undrafted defenseman who played his way into a regular NHL role. Walker’s 24 points this season nearly matched the prolific Doughty, who had 28.

LOWLIGHTS

Carter has two more years left on his 10-year contract extension, but Blake said earlier this month that the 35-year-old veteran scorer wouldn’t have been able to return from his mysterious core injury even if the NHL season had continued for the Kings. And though Adrian Kempe was the Kings’ fifth-leading scorer, his inconsistency aggravated the front office and coaching staff. The Swede will strive for steadier production in the years ahead.

Reports: NHL may skip rest of regular season, jump to 24-team playoff format

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Could the NHL go with a plan to skip the regular season and jump to a 24-team playoff format if play resumes? That idea is at least gathering steam among many other options, according to a wide array of reporters (including TSN’s Pierre LeBrun, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman, and the New York Post’s Larry Brooks).

How a 24-team playoff format might work for the NHL

Brooks and Friedman note that even narrowing things down to 24 teams could be a bit tricky. Brooks quickly summarizes a couple 24-team scenarios:

The format of a 24-team tournament has not yet been established. But if the league goes with the top 12 teams in each conference, that would include every club at NHL .500 or better when play stopped on March 11. That structure would include the Rangers and Chicago.

If the league were for some reason to go with the six top teams in each division — the NHL hasn’t had a division-based playoff system since 1992-93 — that would mean that the Sabres (.493) would replace the Rangers (.564) and the Ducks (.472) would replace the Blackhawks (.514).

During TSN’s Insider Trading, LeBrun noted that “nothing is decided,” and that a 24-team playoff format is “not for everyone.”

As Dreger notes, the “play-in” portion could help narrow down what would feel like a bloated 24-team field. If the Rangers/Sabres/Blackhawks/etc. needed to play into such a spot, it would make their berths feel more “earned.”

In late March, I espoused some of the virtues of at least certain play-in elements. But, frankly, the best part of this proposal would be that the NHL’s lottery-fodder teams wouldn’t need to go through the motions.

It’s bad enough to play meaningless games in a dangerous sport like hockey. Imagine the stress and risk of playing out the string during this pandemic? We could see shades of that in the Kings shutting down Jeff Carter for the season.

Cutting off the regular season would also make it more feasible to hold a lottery and thus a June draft. That … is a debate for another time, or for angry people on social media.

As that Insider Trading segment notes, the NHL’s also considering 16-team and 20-team formats, not just 24.

Dizzying logistical concerns for a possible NHL return

For those of us who are sports and hockey-starved, we might feel like an anonymous exec telling Friedman that they’d be willing to play “on Jupiter.” But if you dig into the day-to-day details, the situation gets fuzzier.

Consider just some of the factors the NHL must mull over:

  • As an international league, the NHL wouldn’t just need to worry about state-by-state restrictions. Traveling to Canada and the U.S. could present obstacles, even with “hub” formats.
  • The NHL hopes to play things right in case there’s a “Phase 2” of outbreaks, with a December start for 2020-21 as one option. Threading that needle would be easier said than done, though, especially if a 24-team playoff format required many NHL postseason games.
  • The sheer scale of keeping things clean and safe is pretty mind-boggling. During that TSN Insider Trading segment, Frank Seravalli provided fascinating insight on the league’s “cost-benefit analysis.” If daily testing would be necessary, Seravalli said some wonder if it would cost teams “millions, or even tens of millions.” One estimate indicated that sanitizing locker rooms would cost about $1,500 per day.
  • Getting into the safety issue once again, what about older staffers, including coaches? Their risks would be heightened.
  • Local TV commitments are another brow-furrowing element.
  • Speaking of TV, Friedman went over many of the intriguing elements of potentially broadcasting games with empty arenas. Could a lack of crowd open the door for creative camera angles? Should a DJ add to the mood? Might teams pipe in crowd noise as if “Goldberg” was in the building?

Overall, it’s pretty staggering to ponder the many logistical challenges.

On the other hand, not playing means massive financial losses, and bountiful boredom. These are challenging times, and pulling off a 24-team playoff format (or any format) wouldn’t be easy. What do you think about the general concept, though?

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Kings say Jeff Carter won’t be back if season resumes

The Los Angeles Kings announced that Jeff Carter won’t be able to play if the 2019-20 season resumes.

Carter, 35, missed the last 10 games before the pandemic pause due to a core injury. The Kings explained that, since travel is restricted, Carter hasn’t been able to see a specialist regarding his injury.

“Part of the issue is he needs to travel to see a certain specialist to get a further diagnosis and nothing can be taking place right now,” Kings GM Rob Blake said via the team website on Wednesday. “He’s continuing a rehab program from home. He hasn’t been around the practice rink in that aspect, but I wouldn’t expect him to be able to play if our season were to start in the next couple of months.”

Honestly, it would be pretty silly to push Carter to play at anything but obvious full-strength.

Yes, the Kings entered the pause on a league-leading seven-game winning streak, but they did so with Carter on the mend. And even with that red-hot run, the Kings would just be playing out the schedule. They only have pride to play for as the second lowest-ranked West team.

Expect other Carter-type veteran players being “shut down” for 2019-20, at least among cellar dwellers. (Joe Thornton and other graybeards may need to keep themselves occupied by tragically shaving said beards.)

The Kings are better off not risking further injury to Carter. Also, Carter’s playing time could go to someone who could better use those reps.

Actually, that brings up a larger discussion surrounding Carter. What happens next, and in the longer run?

Will we see much of Carter suiting up for the Kings in the future?

Carter isn’t totally useless even in a more modest form, but it might sting his pride to be limited to 17 goals and 27 points this season. Carter’s headed for three straight seasons under 20 goals after being one of the league’s most dynamic snipers for quite some time.

All of the losing in Los Angeles probably wears on Carter almost as much as the literal wear-and-tear.

So, is there room for a “soft retirement” onto LTIR? Consider the structure of Carter’s contract starting in 2020-21:

2020-21: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary
2021-22: $5.273M cap hit, $2M salary

Trading Carter’s cap hit to a budget team seemed like a logical direction, although there were possible stumbling blocks discussed in December 2018. But with the Kings in a rebuilding phase, and Carter struggling at times physically, maybe an extended LTIR trip might make sense? Could we even see Carter’s contract move around during the time of the Seattle expansion draft?

Let’s face it. Draft lottery machinations are likely to be the most exciting thing for Kings fans to consider over the next few months. There may be parallels for Carter, as off-ice shuffling might be more intriguing to watch than how the former All-Star fares on the ice. You know, if he eventually returns.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

What is the Kings’ long-term outlook?

With the 2019-20 NHL season on hold we are going to review where each NHL team stands at this moment until the season resumes. Here we take a look at the long-term outlook for the Los Angeles Kings.

Pending Free Agents

The Core

The Los Angeles Kings currently revolve around two cornerstone pieces, captain Anze Kopitar and defenseman Drew Doughty.

They were central figures during two Stanley Cup seasons in 2012 and 2014 and remain vital to the organization. The Ilya Kovalchuk experiment ended when they placed the veteran winger on unconditional waivers for the purposes of terminating his contract in mid-December.

But now the focus has shifted, and general manager Rob Blake is tasked with finding new pieces to help usher in a different era of Kings hockey.
Blake and his staff aim to build through the draft and own 11 picks in the upcoming draft, including three in the second round, two in the third round and two in the fourth round. The Kings currently sit in the bottom five of the NHL standings and will have a premium first-round pick depending on the results of the lottery at the conclusion of the NHL season.

The Kings also made two selections in the first round of the 2019 draft and have a top-five NHL farm system, according to The Athletic’s prospect rankings this past summer.

Los Angeles won’t return to glory overnight, but they have the ammunition to rebuild their foundation and become a contender in the Western Conference once again.

Long-Term Needs

The Kings need to hit on their upcoming draft picks, simply put. The decisions made by the front office in the upcoming offseason could define the success of the franchise. It will be the difference between a three-year rebuilding process or 10-year absence from the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Los Angeles also has to manage the salary cap over the next few seasons. Its patience will be tested, but the organization needs to wait until Dustin Brown and Jeff Carter’s lucrative contracts expire after the 2021-22 season. Goaltender Jonathan Quick’s deal expires the year after.

With new talent on the horizon, the Kings are in a position to clear out bad contracts but should avoid long-term commitments until a new core is established at the NHL level.

Long-Term Strengths

The good news is Kopitar and Doughty are still performing at a high level. The captain led the team in scoring with 62 points, surpassing his total from last season in 11 fewer games. Doughty leads the team in ice time, averaging a shade under 26 minutes per game and was close to eclipsing the 40-point mark for the sixth straight season.

In addition, Sean Walker secured a spot on the blueline with strong play in the first 70 games of his career. The undrafted defenseman also showed ability on the offensive side of the ice with 24 points, most of which came at even strength.

Most importantly, Todd McLellan looked to be making strides in his first year as head coach. The Kings finished (maybe) the season with an impressive seven-game winning streak and went 10-2-1 in the final 13 games.

The team has a lot of flexibility going forward and now it’s up to Blake to make the correct decisions, and McLellan to execute that plan on the ice.

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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.