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So, uhh, what’s the Penguins’ end game with Jeff Carter?

This can’t keep going on forever...right?

NHL: JAN 26 Penguins at Capitals Photo by Randy Litzinger/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s getting ugly for Jeff Carter. After starting out the season fairly decently with 14 points in 24 games, Carter only has six points (4G+2A) in his last 26 games played. That includes just one point (a goal, a gift from a goalie turnover) in his last 14 games.

Carter’s assists have evaporated because he can’t control the puck. Assuming he even gets to the offensive zone with it, considering Carter’s advanced stat tells the tale that he’s in his own end playing defense most of the time anyways.

Here’s a look at ‘s game score. This is a pretty fair list, in order, of the best to worst Penguins forwards this season.

Without getting to the issue that Teddy Blueger can’t even score on an empty net this season, the Penguins’ issues are captured well in the above metric. The Brock McGinn, Carter, Kasperi Kapanen preferred third line, that of a combined $9.075 million cap hit has all fallen flat. That’s not breaking news, but only illustrates further just how much needs to be changed in order to gain improvement.

As the bottom right chart shows for average season Gamescore, Carter is plummeting towards rock bottom.

The Penguins gave Carter a full no movement and no trade clause, so they can not trade or waive him without his approval. That limits what they can do in a major way, which brings the options to:

Option 1: Keep playing Carter in the spot he is and hope for the best. Hope is not a strategy for a 38-year old that has lost the ability to perform at a high level. This may be the current choice, and it’s just about the only choice. Right now there is nothing else to do about it at the coaching level. Blueger has been even worse than Carter in almost every regard this year, he’s clearly not the answer in his current form. Someone has to center the third line, and for now that someone is Carter. This option is not truly a long-term plan.

Option 2: Trade for a better third line center. Blueger is seen as a potential trade chip by many, since someone will have to go out in order to open salary cap space to fit back. Kapanen, with an extra year on his contract, isn’t going to be an appealing option. Carter, as mentioned above, isn’t an option at all. This is probably the Pens’ best play, to somehow acquire a third line center and then improve when he performs better than the Carter/Blueger duo has been. How will they fit a trade? Who will they get? That’s up to the general manager, and those questions are less important as answering the one about getting to that point to identify the problem area, and then decide to change it.

Option 3: Move Carter to wing. This could help, but still presents an imperfect solution since Carter’s play isn’t good enough to be on a third line, but he also doesn’t fit the mold of the energy/checking that their fourth liners bring to the table. He would only be taking the spot of someone who would fit in better, and contribute more. Playing Carter on the wing is better than heaping the responsibilities of the tougher job of playing center, but it’s still not the ideal solution to the bigger problem.

Option 4: Pull the plug. It’s painful when Carter is on the ice. At ever-increasing times due the speed of the game out-pacing his abilities, he can barely execute the basics like stickhandle the puck, receive or give a pass and his skating isn’t good/quick enough to get him out of trouble. If not for a contract and sentimental reasons, there’s not much validity in keeping Carter in the lineup. So why do it at all? Take him out of the lineup. He can’t be waived or traded, but that doesn’t mean he has to play in the games. Use Drew O’Connor, Ryan Poehling, Josh Archibald or others on the fourth line. Salvage the third line with McGinn and trade additions.

The Penguins are currently at option one, which if you re-read the options can also serve as a step-by-step guide to gradually wind down Carter’s stint as a player. They shouldn’t remain at step one forever. While the coach has no better choice, and really no other choice but to play Carter, he shouldn’t have that choice for much longer and needs to be given better options.

Will Pittsburgh be so drastic as get to step four and in a quick manner in-season? It remains unseen what appetite they would have to close the book on Carter. Perhaps they won’t this year, but him finishing out his contract through 2023-24 in the NHL is absolutely unpalatable at the rate of decline the player is showing. Surely deep down from management to coaching to even the player, all parties must realize this isn’t working out and in the cut-throat world of the NHL, what doesn’t work out ends up moving on quickly.

In a way, the process has already started. It’s always slower and less reactionary than the warp speed that the internet reacts, but these things like pushing out a respected vet and ending what has been a terrific career does end up taking some time. Carter averaged 17:40 per game last season. That’s already been slashed a significant amount to 14:42 this year. It’s not lost on the coach that they don’t have a capable or viable group of lower line centers.

But that means, as usual, everyone is left waiting to see how and when the manager will address the problem. Ignoring the problem won’t make it go away, and by this point the data — including the good, old fashioned eye test — is all saying the same thing. The Pens need to make major steps to limit and eventually outright replace Jeff Carter from their lineup. It’s a tough and vicious business, but there is no other choice. The sooner they do it, the better off they will be.