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Jeff Carter at center in Pens practice, and a last look at deadline options

Jeff Carter is going to start at center as the Pens said, and news comes out about which other trade option Pittsburgh was considering


The Pittsburgh Penguins had new look lines today at practice as they get Jeff Carter in with the team for the first time.

With Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust clearly going to be locked at the hip with Sidney Crosby, Carter couldn’t get two more talented offensive wingers on this team right now than Jared McCann and Jason Zucker.

But the alignment is quite curious. McCann has done well the last month playing center, out of necessity due to Evgeni Malkin’s injury. Zucker is typically a left winger. Coach Mike Sullivan could have kept more players in more normal spots with a Zucker-McCann-Carter line, and that includes Jeff Carter, who has worked mostly as a winger this year but has spent the bulk of his career as a center.

Clearly, there is some method behind this “madness”, and I wouldn’t even call it madness, really.

“There’s a number of reasons why we’ve chosen to start the way we have,” Sullivan said after practice today. “But having said that, this is going to be a little bit of an exploration process to figure out what we think are the best combinations and where people fit to make us the most competitive.”

Though Sullivan didn’t elaborate on what his reasons are, from the moment the coach was talking about Jeff Carter joining the team, he’s been talking about him as a center. Do they want to get him at center right away, to see if Crosby-Malkin-Carter-Blueger will be the four players down the middle for the four playoff lines? That seems like it could be a consideration or hope to see if that will work.

The switch of wings for Zucker should be a much lesser deal, but Sullivan had an interesting point there as well.

“We think Zuck has the ability to play both sides. In a lot of ways, there’s an advantage in today’s game to playing on the offside on the wing, especially with how hard teams pinch the walls coming out of your end.”

Zucker does have six 5v5 goals this season in just 323 minutes, to make for an impressive rate. He does, however, only have two 5v5 assists. It will be interesting to see if this move to the off-wing continues to make him a shooting focus or if he will be creating more plays for a known volume shooter in Carter and a really hot shooter as of late in McCann.

Either way, with 15 games to go there is enough time to see how this idea works out, and if it doesn’t surely Sullivan will shuffle it around as needed.

These lines also place Evan Rodrigues with the remaining healthy Buzzsaw elements and that could be a possible playoff preview fourth line as well, if it works well. If that comes to pass, when Brandon Tanev comes back he could be working on a line with one of Zucker/McCann with Carter. The beauty there is it could be Tanev-McCann-Carter or Zucker/McCann-Carter-Tanev and work either way, depending on how the new addition in Carter fares in the middle of the ice.

Switching gears, there were a couple of Penguins items in the post-trade deadline 31 Thoughts, which is always worth a gander in general for knowledge around the league.

19. Pittsburgh considered Zajac before he went to the Islanders.

20. Jeff Carter was an interesting get for the Penguins, because he’d declined at least two previous opportunities over the past couple of seasons. Both Arizona and Philadelphia expressed interest, but he preferred to stay in Los Angeles. So there was some surprise he accepted this one; credit to the Penguins for appealing to him.

The two-time Stanley Cup champion has another season remaining on his contract, and it will be interesting to see where this goes. If he retires, Columbus (where he previously played), Los Angeles and Pittsburgh would have to deal with a “cap recapture” issue from the backdiving nature of his 12-year deal. The Blue Jackets would lose $551,000 from their cap and Los Angeles $3.1 million (although they have plenty of space), while the Penguins would actually get a benefit of almost $400,000. Allow me to use this space to state that retroactively punishing teams for already-signed deals is ridiculous.

It makes sense the Penguins were looking into Zajac. There were a very few number of centers dealt in the week before the deadline, but then again there were fewer than normal number of trades period at the deadline. Other than Carter and Zajac the only two other real centers traded were Sam Bennett and Carl Soderberg. Reasonable that Pittsburgh would have interest in Zajac.

But that also leads into the next thought about the established rapport between Carter and Ron Hextall.

On the last item, Carter firmly stated his intention is to play next season, so those recapture penalties wouldn’t be in play for any team if he does not retire this summer.