Four hundred is a lot of goals. Pittsburgh Penguins center Jeff Carter is now one of seven active players in the NHL and three active Penguins to reach the 400-goal club.
The Penguins lost 5-4 in OT to the Florida Panthers, but years from now, the game will be an afterthought to the lofty achievement. The milestone even left Carter a bit speechless.
For the moment, we’ll skip past the realization that nearly half of the NHL’s active 400-goal members are in Pittsburgh and focus on Carter.
The 6-foot-4 center made an immediate impact on the Penguins after the 2021 NHL trade deadline. He scored nine goals in just 14 games, including four against the Buffalo Sabres. He was one of the best, if not the best, player in the Penguins Round One loss to the New York Islanders.
He’s continued his torrid pace this season.
“It’s hard for me to articulate what he means to our team, especially right now. He’s just a high-character person. He’s a great person. He fit into our dressing room from the first day he walked in,” said Penguins head coach Mike Sullivan. “The fact that he scored 400 goals is just an indication of how good of a hockey player he is and how good of a player he has been for so long. And I think he’s playing great hockey for us right now.”
Jeff Carter, The Beginning
His first NHL goals were in a Philadelphia Flyers sweater. Like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, Carter was a rookie in 2005-06. The 2003 11th overall pick also had an immediate impact on Philadelphia.
It was the dawn of a new era in hockey. The league missed the entire 2004-05 season due to a lockout enacted for the NHL to force the players to accept a salary cap. The league also began the crackdown on obstruction. After a dark decade or more of clutch-and-grab and the destruction of offense, the league was again “open” for business.
While Ovechkin and Crosby grabbed headlines at the beginning of their rivalry, Carter and Mike Richards lifted Philadelphia into Stanley Cup contention.
Jeff Carter’s first NHL goal was Oct. 27, 2006. Defenseman Joni Pitkanen put the puck on his stick with a yawning cage, and the rookie earned a big celly.
While the 2005-06 Pittsburgh Penguins had a disastrous season, they stunk like wrapped fish hidden in someone’s car (a classic hockey prank pulled by dozens), Philadelphia made the playoffs.
Carter scored 23 goals and 42 points as a rookie and finished 11th in Calder Trophy voting. Crosby finished second to Ovechkin if you recall.
At the height of the first Pittsburgh Penguins wave in 2008-09, Carter scored a career-high 46 goals. Philadelphia was good. The Penguins were better and bounced those Flyers in Round One.
In 2009-10, the Penguins crashed in Round Two to Montreal, but the Flyers crushed them in five games to reach the Stanley Cup Final (and lost to the Chicago Blackhawks. You didn’t think the story would have a Flyers Stanley Cup, did you?).
On Nov. 13, 2010, Carter signed an 11-year, $58 million extension with the Flyers, the same contract that will finally expire after this season.
Carter maintained his burgeoning reputation as one of the game’s elite goal scorers with another 30-goal season (33), but trouble was brewing in Philadelphia. The Broad Streeters traded him to Columbus after the 2010-11 season. Philadelphia did pretty well in the trade as they received Jakub Voracek, a first-round pick (Sean Couturier), and a third-rounder (Nick Cousins).
Carter scored his first 181 goals with the Flyers over just six seasons.
The big center was injured to begin the 2011-12 season, and things quickly did not work out in Columbus. By February, Columbus shipped him and his new 11-year contract to the LA Kings.
The LA Kings
The 2012 Stanley Cup Final goals do not count towards his 400 total, but he won Game 2 over the New Jersey Devils with an OT goal.
And “Big” Jeff Carter clutch in Game 6 of that series with two goals in the Cup-clinching game.
The LA Kings won the 2012 Stanley Cup, and Carter was the toast of the town.
From 2012 to 2016, Carter didn’t score less than 24 goals, including 26 goals in the 48-game 2012-13 lockout-shortened regular season. LA won the Stanley Cup again in 2014, and Carter had 25 points (10-15-25) in 26 games.
In 10 years and 580 games with LA, Carter popped 156 goals. He had four hat tricks, including this gem in his 900th career game.
The LA Kings named this Carter’s third-biggest Kings moment in their Top-5 tribute released after the Pittsburgh Penguins acquired him at the 2021 NHL trade deadline.
Finally, the Pittsburgh Penguins
Carter has undoubtedly worked out a bit better than the 2020 veteran addition at the deadline, Patrick Marleau.
The Penguins needed help at center and moved Carter back to the middle after spending most of the 2020-21 season at RW for the Kings. The results were immediate.
Carter fed off the excitement of a playoff chase and lit the lamp, again and again for the Penguins. In 14 games, Carter scored nine goals, including four against the Buffalo Sabres on May 6.
Lastly, here is his 400th goal and his 10th in a Penguins sweater in his 16 games. It wasn’t the prettiest goal, and it wasn’t even an intentional shot, but those count, too.
“Hopefully, I can hang around to score a lot more,” Carter quipped after the game.
Carter was honest after the game. He didn’t yet reflect on it but planned to absorb the achievement.
“I’ll sit down and, you know, think about it. We got a long flight home, so maybe at some point, but it means a lot. I’ve been lucky to play with a lot of good players and a lot of good teams and been put in some really good situations to be able to produce,” said Carter. “So it means a lot to me personally. Yeah…it’s yeah…maybe down the road, I’ll think about it a little more, but I’m hoping to keep going and putting some more in.”