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2018-19 Season in Review: Jeff Carter, International Man of Mystery

What really happened to Carter and is this a new, worrisome trend? Or is there hope for the future?

Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Michael Martin/NHLI via Getty Images

With the 2018-19 NHL season firmly in the rear view mirror, it’s time to look back at what we learned about the players of the Los Angeles Kings. How did they fare in a down season? What’s next for each of them? Who will still be here on opening day? Join us as we take a look back at the season, try to figure out what went wrong, and see where we go from here. Today we look at forward Jeff Carter, often looked at as a potential trade target due to his contract, and how he’s managed to defy expectations two seasons in a row.

It seemed that since he turned 30, Jeff Carter was determined to beat the statistics and prove that he was still a very good player. Starting in 2014-15, with 28, 24, and 32 goals respectively, it appeared as though he could still be a highly useful player, and could probably be counted on to score somewhere in the neighborhood of 20-25 goals. But then came the awful year of 2017-18 in which he was greatly injured (thanks Jeff Petry), rushed back to help with the playoff race (which was a total disaster anyway), failed, and was completely useless to the team.

With the additional rehab over the summer, it would’ve been normal for Carter to be a little slow out of the gate. Let’s face it: the whole team tends to be a little slow on the uptake when the season starts, so it would’ve been no big deal. But as the team’s luck didn’t change, neither did Carter’s. In other words: no one was scoring goals last year. And yet, even remaining mostly healthy (he did suffer some kind of lower-body in February on the road against the New York Rangers), nothing could really seem to turn the tide for the forward.

So, was it just a bad year or is this a sign of things to come? That’s the big question. On the one hand, it seems rather unlikely that he’d go from a 20-something goal scoring player to just 13 goals each year. On the other hand, as we saw with Mike Richards, it is possible for players to experience a swift and sudden decrease in their offense, especially when they’re no longer in their 20s.

This chart from Evolving Wild basically shows the rate at which players decrease over time. Basically, over the last few years, it should be more of a slow, gradual decline in scoring. Anything is possible, but it’s not probable that Carter should fall off the cliff from one year to the other.

So, was it bad luck? Maybe. By measuring PDO, it’s possible to look at a player’s, well, luck, for lack of a better word. Natural Stat Trick measured Carter’s PDO at 0.985 for last season. Remember, 1.00 is considered “average” and thus players and teams are expected to progress to the mean or regress if they’re overachieving. Better players and teams can sustain higher PDO rates. Over the course of his career with Los Angeles, Carter has maintained an average PDO of 1.03. Basically: he’s been a shade above average since being traded from the Columbus Blue Jackets. Last year was his worst year yet. So it’s entirely possible that it’s bad luck.

But maybe it was more than that. Maybe having too many linemates played a role. Carter has been with the organization for about five and a half seasons, three of which were with Darryl Sutter as head coach. Sutter famously loved to shake up his lines throughout games, so having many linemates kind of seems like a poor excuse. He most commonly played with Ilya Kovalchuk, Tyler Toffoli, Kyle Clifford, and Trevor Lewis. Toffoli is the best of those players, but the rest don’t really inspire much. And Toffoli had his own struggles anyway.

It wasn’t a lack of minutes, either. Willie Desjardins was more than happy to let Carter try and work through his issues. At 18:09, he was seventh on the team, and third among forwards, in time on ice.

Perhaps one area that could explain his drop in scoring is his lack of shots. He’s averaged more than 10 shots per 60 (that is shots on goal) throughout most of his career but last year, it dropped to a measly 7.57. Simple math, right? The fewer chances you take, the fewer goals you’re likely to score, and your shooting percentage will likely suffer as a result. Why did he take fewer shots? Who knows? The whole team looked like they completely forgot how to score at all under Desjardins’ tutelage, so perhaps their systems were just so bad, Carter, typically one of their best players, suffered under it.

Overall, there is no easy explanation, no smoking gun as it were, to point to and say, “Ah yes, that’s why he struggled so badly!” Blame the coach, blame the lineup, or maybe blame things like attitude. There were rumors that the team’s locker room culture was bad, like rotten apple bad, all season long. The eye test alone felt like several of the team’s veterans had thrown in the towel by February.

Who knows what the real culprit was behind Carter’s struggles. A combination of all the above? Sure, why not. Whatever the case may be, hopefully he has a bounce back season because the Kings are counting on him, especially given their very limited center depth.