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2016-17 in Review: Will Jeff Carter maintain his level of production in 2017-18?

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Carter was the catalyst of the Kings’ two Cup runs, and remains the big gun of the team’s offense with his consistent production.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

For the next month or two, we’ll be taking a look at the players who made the Los Angeles Kings’ 2016-17 season what it was: a crushing disappointment that got people fired an up-and-down journey which managed to be both unusual and familiar. Rather than the good-bad-future-grade format we’ve used in past seasons, we’ll ask a crucial question and answer it using it what we saw this year.

Will Jeff Carter maintain his level of production in 2017-18?

(Before I start: I just found out that hockeyanalysis.com has shut down. My job will be more difficult without you, and I regret not writing this article sooner when your site was still up. Thank you for what you have done; sites like yours revolutionized the way fans think about hockey. Here is the site’s farewell message.)

Farewell

Twelve years ago my website did start/Tables of stats and even the odd chart/Blog posts and short tweets/WOWYs and spread sheets/It's been a whole lot of fun but now I depart

Thanks to everyone who made the last 12 years so enjoyable however the time has come to tackle new challenges.

In a season characterized—no, epitomized—by a struggling offense, it’s no secret that the reason the Kings managed to stay in the playoff hunt in 2016-17 was Jeff Carter. The high-scoring center was traded in February 2012 by the Columbus Blue Jackets to the Kings for defenseman Jack Johnson (a fan favorite) and a first-round draft pick. At the time, the Kings were exactly where they are now—a bubble team struggling offensively. Jeff Carter added genuine firepower to propel the Kings into the 2012 playoffs. In 20 playoff games, his 8 goals and 5 assists helped the Kings win their first Stanley Cup. And in the 2014 playoffs, he emerged as one of several MVPs, scoring 10 goals and 15 assists en route to...well, you know the story.

There is no doubt—you cannot talk about the Kings’ two Cup wins without Jeff Carter.

Individual goal highlights do not fully illustrate the skill set that Jeff Carter brings to the rink. So here is a tribute montage by Permuuda Apina:

The video shows exactly why Carter succeeds—high speed (ah yes, we’ve heard that before), proper positioning, and a slick, laser-beam wrist shot that can’t be beat when he has room to unload. He has even shown some toughness when needed, ensuring that his skills are not silenced by physical intimidation from opponents.

Carter’s production has been wonderfully consistent throughout his career. Since joining the Kings, his 200-foot game has improved, and he has stepped up into a leadership role. In 2016-17, he led the team in scoring with 66 points, and was basically the MVP of the team.

  • 2005-06: 23 G, 19 A
  • 2006-07: 14 G, 23 A
  • 2007-08: 29 G, 24 A
  • 2008-09: 46 G, 38 A
  • 2009-10: 33 G, 28 A
  • 2010-11: 36 G, 30 A
  • 2011-12: 21 G, 13 A (only 55 games due to injury)
  • 2012-13: 26 G, 7 A (lockout-shortened season)
  • 2013-14: 27 G, 23 A
  • 2014-15: 28 G, 34 A
  • 2015-16: 24 G, 38 A
  • 2016-17: 32 G, 34 A

(Statistics: hockey-reference.com)

An analysis of Carter cannot be complete without a discussion of That 70’s Line. Here’s a quick history: The line of Carter, and rookies Tanner Pearson and Tyler Toffoli was red-hot late in the 2013-14 season. With 51 points in 26 playoff games, the trio’s firepower stymied even the Chicago Blackhawks. The trio got off to a hot start early into 2014-15, but various factors such as (in no order) the acquisition of Milan Lucic, the broken leg of Pearson, a cooldown in production, and even the benching of Pearson and Toffoli, caused Darryl Sutter to shake up the line ever since. Despite this, That 70’s Line has been reunited at times since 2014, to revitalize slumping forwards (guess who).

The cooldown in production, however, was bound to happen. In a “3-2 league” as Sutter calls it, one line cannot continue to score two points each game. It’s like a goalie’s shutout streak—it’s bound to end someday, but do we criticize the goalie for it? Statistically, That 70’s Line was still very productive when the three forwards played together (and this is where I wish hockeyanalysis.com was still in operation so I can show you). The trio’s Corsi stats were very high when playing together in 2016-17.

So will Carter maintain his production in 2017-18? My answer: Currently there is no reason why he would not, as his production has been consistent throughout his career. And with Anze Kopitar grinding against the first-line centers of the NHL, Carter benefits by playing against second-line centers, which will help his durability as he approaches his mid-thirties.

But fans forget that in 2012, Carter missed twenty games due to a broken foot and separated shoulder. Fortunately, Carter has remained healthy since then, and we hope that Carter does not turn out like another high-scoring forward that the Kings acquired from the Blue Jackets. How quickly prospects can change in a sports career, in which one injury can derail it all.

To help Carter remain consistent, it is imperative for the Kings to play That 70’s Line regularly. The line continues to threaten offensively when together, and the statistics prove it. And with the Kings no longer accommodating the big role of Milan Lucic, and with Dwight King no longer available for a revised 70’s Line (which actually worked for a while), there is no need to supplant the original 70’s Line with substitutes.

Here’s to several more years of a healthy, high-scoring Jeff Carter, who is signed for $5.27 million until 2021-22.