With all the talk on the boards here at BSH about the (seemingly) imminent trade of Simon Gagne and/or Jeff Carter, I have decided to do a little write up comparing Gagne to Carter. Both of these players will be some sort of Free Agent after the 2010-2011 season, so many people feel that both players are movable assets. There are camps supporting (and opposing) the trade of both of these players, but many of the supporters/opposers have no just cause, reasoning, or facts to back up their side of the story. They tend to say "Carter sucks" or "Gagne is old", and the final part of their argument?? "Trade him." I am here to try and break down the actual value of each player in respects to this team, the Philadelphia Flyers, as well as offer reasoning for why each player should or should not be with the team next year. Please note that I am focusing solely on the 2009-2010 campaign, as going into career stats would bring up a bunch of intangibles between the two players, such as the length of Gagne's career versus that of Carter's, and the varying talent on the teams that Gagne has played for in comparison to the team that has had the same core of players in place since Carter (and Richards) were drafted.
Let me throw this disclaimer out, before I jump into the meat... I would prefer if both Carter and Gagne could return for Philadelphia next year. Unfortunately, Mr. Holmgren decided it was far more important to have Jody Shelley and Dan Carcillo, as well as an overpaid 5th Dman on the roster. That whole discussion is for another post, or another thread (and yes, I know we've all beaten it to death here on the boards)
Jeff Carter, Center (Current Age: 25) 6'3" 200 lbs
2009-2010 Season Stats: | GP - 74 | G - 33 | A - 28 | PTS- 61 (0.82 PPG) | 19:18 TOI
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: | GP - 12 | G - 5 | A - 2 | PTS - 7 (0.58 PPG) | 17:56 TOI
Jeff Carter is your prototypical power forward. He has big body size, and when he wants to, he can use it to his advantage. Although he doesn't muck it up along the boards much, he can get body position on a defender and use his size and speed to blaze past opposing defenses. Unfortunately for Carter, and Flyers faithful, when he does this, he normally ends up taking sharp angle shots that either sail high and wide, or are deflected by a defensemen.
Carter has proved that, when healthy, he can be an elite scorer at the highest level (see 2008-09, 46G), and even when not completely healthy all year, playing with a team in turmoil, he still managed to put on a very respectable 33 goals for the Orange and Black in last years regular season. As noted above, Carter does have a tendency to miss the net frequently, but is perrennially the Flyers' foremost shot taker. Some may argue that Carter misses the net because he is trying to pick a corner, which is normal for a sniper to do, but a truly elite sniper will find a way to pick the corner AND hit the shot. As a centermen, playing with talented wingers (Briere and Hartnell for most of the season), his puck distribution skills leave some to be desired, as his passes are often telegraphed or just poorly placed in general, resulting in a breakdown of offensive pressure, or a turnover in the neutral zone.
Carter has taken some heat for coming up small (choking) on the big stage. I can recall at least 2 specific examples where Carter had a wide open net, could have clinched a very important game, and shot it right at the goalie. The first was in last year's playoffs (2008-2009), during our only series, in Game 2 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Carter has a beautiful rebound land right on his stick in the blue paint in front of Fleury, and has a wide open net. Instead of lifting the puck a foot off the ground to get it over Fleury's pad, Carter taps the puck directly into the pad, and the Flyers end up losing the game. A very similar situation, in a much more important game transpired during this years Stanley Cup Finals. With about 3 minutes left in regulation of a tied-upGame 6 of the SCF, Carter has a wide open net, and fires the puck directly into Antti Niemi's glove. The Flyers would go on to be beaten by a bad goal scored by (should be Flyer) Patrick Kane. You can call it good goaltending, or you can call it poor shot selection, I tend to choose the latter.
A natural Center, Carter has been called to be let go because we are over-stocked with gifted centermen on the roster already, as Richards, Briere, and Giroux center the top 3 lines, which are the only places Carter has a chance to play, since he's not exactly 'checking line' material. Oh, and I forgot to mention Darrol Powe and Blair Betts are both centermen as well, who both play on the 4th line. Carter was moved out to the wing on numerous occasions, but especially during the playoffs with the re-emergence of Briere as an elite playmaker. While he didn't perform as well as you'd hope from a guy playing on Richards' wing, there is high potential for Carter to be converted to a wing, especially with an entire offseason to work on the position and chemistry with his linemates (Carter-Richards-Zherdev??)
Carter's wrist shot could be an asset coming from the outside, where quick shots tend to find their target more often than not. Since he really isn't great at moving the puck to others, Carter could really turn a new leaf playing the type of hockey that a normal power forward plays, which could include a bunch of board play and cycling, two aspects of the Flyers style of hockey that define how they made their magical run this past postseason. Developing a sense for where to be on the ice, and when to be there, as a winger will play a very important role in Carter's progression to playing on the outside, rather than up the middle.
Carter is not typically known for his defensive responsibility, which makes him a liability at the center ice position, as the centermen is normally responsible for a large region in the defensive zone, and defensive gaffes by a center oftentimes result in a goal against. Many a Carter-hater will tell you that Carter is a lazy player, rarely back-checks, and even displays lethargy while skating off for a line change. I cannot say with any passion that these critiques are unjustified, because I find myself yelling at Carter to show a little more hustle on the defensive side of the puck from time to time myself. This isn't necessarily something that can't be adjusted, and even fixed, though. Luckily for the Flyers, they have an amazing coaching staff, as well as a Capitan who leads by example. If Carter wants to learn how to play a better defensive game, he needs to look no further than #18, his trusty Capitan and long time teammate.
Another aspect to improving Carter's defensive game would be to take him out of the most defenisvely responsible forward position. As a winger, Carter would only be responsible for one side of the ice, rather than a large chunk of real estate right up the gut. Of course, this presents another part of the learning curve of the shift from C to xW, as Carter would need to re-learn some of the defensive scheme for his new position.
While Carter doesn't get much, if any, time on the PK (when he does, its out of necessity) he excels on the PP, as he scored 11 of his 33 goals on the PP this season (as well as 2/5 Goals in the playoffs). He normally takes the faceoffs, as he is typically stronger in the Circle than his PP linemate, Mike Richards. Since the Flyers PP was top 5 in the NHL all year, I would suggest to say that any player that contributes a good number of PPG is an asset to the team. I wish I could get some statistical comparison to Carter as a C vs xW on the PP and productivity based on positioning, because it seems that he finds the net while on the man advantage.
Overall, Carter is definitely a special talent in the NHL, and would most certainly garner the most return for any of our 'tradeable' (even if Homer says he is untouchable) players. He has already had a 46 goal season, is only 25 years old, and probably won't expect TOO much more than his current salary when he is due a new contract (Currently makes $5MM, probably get a $2-$2.5MM raise). He does get put behind the 8-ball on the Flyers' roster because there is so much depth at Center, but depth up the middle is not a bad thing in the NHL. If he can develop the flexibility to play wing (or at least be willing to give it the good ol' college try), we could be seeing Jeff Carter get a deal much like Mike Richards deal in terms of length and financial terms.
Simon Gagne, Left Wing(Current Age: 30) 6' 200 lbs
2009-2010 Season Stats: | GP - 58 | G - 17 | A - 23 | PTS- 40 (0.69 PPG) | 18:37 TOI
2009-2010 Playoff Stats: | GP - 19 | G - 9 | A - 3 | PTS - 12 (0.63 PPG) | 17:34 TOI
Simon Gagne is a finesse winger who has been with the Flyers his whole career, and has consistently produced over the entirety of his career. He has many memorable moments, including his Game 4 OT Winner after coming back from injury, which was the propulsion method that started the Flyers' historic comeback from down three games to none in the Eastern Semis. Gagne is labeled as a sniper, but has also been labeld as fragile, since he has had multiple concussions, and started to eerily resemble Eric Lindros with the amount of time he missed due to head trauma. Gagne has always had a knack for scoring clutch goals for the Flyers, and has been long endeared in the hearts of every Flyers fan I have ever met.
Although Gagne has been aging, and missing much time to injury, it is well known that he is still a prolific scorer, and is feared by opposing defensemen and goalies (especially Martin Brodeur...(: ). A slightly-undersized forward, Gagne still gets his hands dirty in the money area, namely the places in front of the cage. When a rebound comes out to Gags, its not very often that he misses an open cage, unlike Carter who has had multiple gaffes over his brief career. Gagne has great on-ice vision, and doesn't make many mistakes in the offensive or neutral zones. While Simon is a pure shooter, he has also demonstrated the ability to dish the puck. While he is not making Crosby-esque passes, he makes sound, fundamental decisions with the puck that often end up benefitting his linemates.
Gagne is blatantly the best winger on the Flyers' roster, even with the addition of Zherdev, and this is not a topic for debate. He works hard every second of every shift, and is a great role model for the rest of the wingers on the squad, most of whom are very young and inexperienced.
Gagne has been known for his great skating ability as well as his speed, even as an aging forward, Gagne has the skill and speed to shoot down the ice and undress defensemen. While he doesn't have the flashy moves of a Giroux, he knows where he's going, and thats normally toward the net. His wrist shot is lethal, and he can place it just about anywhere in the net, especially from his "office" which tends to be the top of the right circle (just ask Brodeur...).
The lack of depth at the wing screams out to me, and many others, that Gagne should be the one who stays. Many argue that even if Carter COULD successfully transition onto the wing, that he would still not be nearly as effective as Gagne. And lets be fair here, 30 is not THAT old when talking about hockey players, even players with a history of injury.
Essentially what it comes down to is offensive production, and yes, Carter has been more productive of late, but on the flip side of that coin, Carter's position is overloaded with talent, while Gagne's is thin as the sheet of notebook paper the lineups are written on before the game.
Simon Gagne is one of the most underrated defensive forwards in the NHL, in my opinion. He backchecks like no other, even at the end of a long shift. It is incredibly rare that Gagne is out of position in the defensive zone, and that includes his vast time on the penalty kill unit (more on that in the next section). Gagne is not afraid to get his body in front of a shot. Thats not to say he is going to sacrafice his face like Lappy to block the shot, but he will get his legs/skates/stick in the shooting lane any time possible. Gagne is a player who has an extremely active stick in the defensive zone. He is constantly using his high hockey IQ to anticipate passes and break them up with a stick or a skate. He is especially effective right around the defensive blue line, where he can poke a D-to-D pass out to center ice and chase it down all by himself.
Again, this is an area where a veteran is needed on the Flyers units. The Flyers have so much youth all over the roster, veterans who have been around and can show the youngsters the ropes of defensive responsibility (I'm looking at you, JVR) are some of the intangibles that build championship hockey clubs. Gagne can also speak up to some of the younger forwards in regards to pressure situations, and help to break guys out of scoring funks, as he has been through it all in his career.
Gagne is a force on both ends of the special teams spectrum. He plays big minutes with the top PP unit, and scored 5 o his 17 regular season goals on the PP. In the playoffs, his PP contributions skyrocketed, scoring 5 of his 9 total goals on the power play. In the same respect as Carter, Gagne is an integral part of the success of this units PP success, and since we all know how important the PP was to the Flyers... (broken record). Gagne demands respect from the opposition on the PP because he can launch a nasty wrister from just about anywhere in the offensive zone and pretty much be a threat to score every time. Unlike Carter, Gagne is a bit more selective with his shots, and typically has a higher shooting percentage. (Playoffs: Gagne had a 17.31 PCT vs Carter 9.80 PCT). The ability to score from anywhere opens up plenty of ice for whomever Gagne is on the PP unit with, and with all the skill players on the Flyers, both of the top PP units get plenty of good looks at the net.
Overall, Simon, not unlike Carter, is an elite caliber player in the NHL. He is definitely the best talent the Flyers have on the wing currently (I won't debate that until we see a full season of Leino playing, as he's the only one who has a shot of dethroning Gags). He obviously has the history of injury, but also has a strong rapport with all of the players, coaches, management, and most importantly, fans. Gagne's price will come significantly down after the upcoming season, when he will be 31 years old and looking for probably $3MM a year. Gagne will not yield as much of a return on the trade market as Carter would, since he is older, injury prone, and technically makes more money than Carter (albeit, only $0.25MM).
As much as I'd love to keep both of these guys around, it just doesn't seem likely, without cutting ties with somoene else (or multiple players) to make cap room (as we are about $2.5MM over now, and if we cut/waived Carcillo/Shelley, we'd still need to fill a roster spot...).
You could see Gagne signing for a hometown discount next year and allowing us to retain him AND Carter after next season, if somehow, magically, we could make it work... A boy can dream, can't he??
So there's the comparison. I apologize if it's a little jumpy and riddled with typos -- I have been typing it all day on-and-off at work, and didn't go back to proof read. Feel free to discuss/debate points below, as well as correct me on any errors that I made! Hope you enjoyed my first FanPost!