Jeff Carter: Mr. Opportunity
Tyler J. Altemose
Few players on the Flyers roster have drawn as much attention, controversy, and discussion as forward Jeff Carter.
The London, Ontario native―known for his off-ice shenanigans as much as he is for his performance on the ice―is either a fan favorite or is absolutely loathed. Needless to say, Carter’s polarizing effect on the fan base makes is difficult to analyze his impact on the team from an objective standpoint.
So I was thinking the other day and I asked myself, “What is it about Jeff Carter that fans don’t like?” I’ve compiled some of the popular responses.
“Jeff Carter is lazy and never plays two-way hockey.”
“All Jeff Carter does is party―he doesn’t care how he or the Flyers perform when it matters.”
“The only people that like Jeff Carter are puck bunnies.”
“Jeff Carter couldn’t hit the broad side of the barn with his shot. That’s why he’s known as Jeff ‘High and Wide’ Carter.”
What follows is a rebuttal to those remarks. I present to you Jeff Carter: Mr. Opportunity.
Two of the responses toward Carter’s alleged lack of contribution to the team are easy to dismiss. First, it matters not what Carter does in his free time (because, as I’ll show you, it certainly doesn’t affect his performance on the ice). Also, who does or doesn’t like Jeff Carter the hockey player is about as insignificant as Ryan Miller’s two shutouts against the Flyers in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
As far as the “lazy argument” is concerned, I checked the stats. When I think of defensive-minded players the first place I’ll look is blocked shots. During the regular season, only forwards Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Darroll Powe, and Blair Betts recorded more blocked shots than Carter.
What do all of those players have in common? They’re absolutely phenomenal on the penalty kill, where blocking shots is the name of the game. Carter is in pretty solid company there if you ask me.
Next, I looked at takeaway (TkA) and giveaway (GvA) stats. How well a player handles the puck is the second most important indicator of a defensive-minded player to me (followed closely by a player’s ability to work on the transition―something much harder to measure). Carter ended the regular season with a TkA/GvA ratio of 11, enough for third-best on the team. This means that only Danny Briere and Mike Richards were able to steal the puck more often than they had it stolen from them than Carter.
Carter also led all centermen in FO%.
Oh, and as for that meaningless +/- stat (something which is mentioned or not mentioned depending on whether it favors one’s point of view), Carter led all Flyers forwards and was third overall on the team. Call him talented, call him lucky―it’s your call. Jeff Carter is by no means a Selke nominee, but he deserves better than his reputation.
Despite all of this however, the crux of the Jeff Carter debate seems to lie on his shooting. For those who dismiss Carter’s impact on the team, he is nothing more than a lazy player who takes unnecessary high and wide shots.
To the keen eye however, Carter’s impact on the Flyers’ chances all season long and into the postseason go unmatched.
Jeff Carter registered 335 shots on goal (SoG) this season―third most in the NHL behind Washington’s Alex Ovechkin and Atlanta’s Dustin Byfuglien. Carter, however, had the higher shooting percentage and more goals than both Ovechkin and Byfuglien.
The Flyers as a team ranked tied for seventh in the NHL with 31.8 shots per game (S/G). Without Carter, the team would have only registered 27.6 S/G, enough for 29th in the league.
And what about Carter’s impact compared to his teammates?
Well, let me put it this way. In order to match Carter’s contributions in terms of SoG, you would have to combine the shot totals of Darroll Powe, Dan Carcillo, Kris Versteeg, Blair Betts, Sean O’Donnell, Jody Shelley, Eric Wellwood, Oskars Bartulis, Danny Syvret, Matt Walker, Erik Gustafsson, Nick Boynton, and Ben Holmstrom.
Looking at the leaderboard, Carter had 89 more shots than Briere’s 246 SoG and 151 more than Richards’ 184 SoG (insert obligatory “Bacardi 151” reference).
He did all of this, by the way, with less ice time than Claude Giroux, Mike Richards, Danny Briere, and half of the team’s defense.
But why is shooting important? Isn’t it goals and assists that really matter?
Well let’s say that it is just the goals and assists that matter. Carter’s 10.7 shooting percentage―a stat often touted by those who deny his contributions to the team―was good enough for a team-leading 36 goals in the regular season. He was third overall in points.
But there is also much importance behind getting shots on goal. Shots on goal lead to scoring chances. If there’s a man in front of the net to catch a rebound, there’s a good chance that he scores. If there are players behind the net, chances are they‘ll be able to cycle the puck around for another shot. Shooting leads to opportunity no matter how you slice it.
Of course, all of this information is fine and dandy as far as the regular season is concerned, but what about the playoffs? Is Carter’s impact on the team that relevant considering his prior track record of underperforming in the postseason?
Well, that remains to be said, but the signs are there that this team needs Jeff Carter back in the lineup. Carter suffered a knee injury during the first period of the ECQF when he collided with Buffalo’s Tyler Myers.
At this point, Carter ranks sixth on the roster in terms of SoG behind James van Riemsdyk, Danny Briere, Nikolay Zherdev, Mike Richards, and Claude Giroux. But there is evidence of Carter’s absence if one were to read between the lines.
There were times during the Flyers’ opening series with the Sabres that the team seemed reluctant to shoot the puck, whether on the power play or during 5/5 action. But some have explained that if a player doesn’t have a clear shooting lane their best bet is to pass the puck to someone who may have a better shot on net.
Look, I’m all about being patient with the puck, but when you’re facing one of the toughest goaltenders in the league, getting the puck to the net needs to be a top priority. No one on the Flyers roster understands that better than Jeff Carter.
There is a good chance that the Flyers may meet Boston’s Tim Thomas or Pittsburgh’s Marc-Andre Fleury in the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals (ECSF). The Flyers were lucky to have made it past Miller. Without someone there to create the opportunities that Jeff Carter does, the team may not be so lucky this time around. The Flyers cannot afford to be overly cautious with the puck.
So when is Carter expected to return? According to a report by Sam Carchidi, Carter is expected to play at some point in the ECSF, this according to Paul Holmgren. In a tweet earlier this afternoon, Carchidi surmised that Carter’s return may as early as Game 2 or 3.
While Carter’s return to action remains indefinite, it is clear that his impact on the team is felt, especially in his absence. It also goes to show that a speedy recovery is desired by his teammates.
Of course, there are still many out there that will continue to look at Carter with contempt and displeasure. But as the old saying goes, “haters gon’ hate.”