Penguins’ Jeff Carter retires after 19 seasons: ‘It was time’

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Penguins’ Jeff Carter retires after 19 seasons: ‘It was time’

ELMONT, N.Y. — Jeff Carter retired from the NHL in a memorable way, scoring a goal in his final game Wednesday night.

“I kind of knew coming in at the start of the year that this was it,” Carter said after scoring on the power play in the third period of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders at UBS Arena.

“It was time.”

Carter, 39, was joined in New York by his wife, children and other family members. To his surprise, the Islanders requested he take a victory lap that is normally reserved for home team players.

“That was nice,” Carter said. “Bo (Horvat) actually came up to me and said a couple of the guys wanted to talk after. That was really nice of them. There’s guys on that other side that have been around for a while, too — and I’ve played against quite a bit.

“A lot of respect for those guys.”

Carter played for four franchises during his 19 seasons, including a couple of Stanley Cup champions while with the Los Angeles Kings from 2011-12 through 2020-21, when he was acquired by the Penguins at the trade deadline.

Once a fierce rival of the Penguins’ long-serving core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Carter was warmly embraced from his first days in Pittsburgh. He knew Crosby from their time together with Team Canada at the 2006 IIHF World Championships and 2014 Winter Olympics, and quickly won over all members of the Penguins organization upon his arrival.

A consistent goal-scorer in his prime, Carter scored at least 25 goals eight times. He finished with 851 regular-season points.

The postseason is where Carter raised his profile.

He produced 47 goals and 84 points in 133 playoff games, including 18 goals over the Kings’ Cup runs in 2012 and 2014. He recorded eight goals in 13 playoff games with the Penguins, who missed the playoffs the past two seasons.

Carter took the opening faceoff against the Islanders on Wednesday night. Crosby, the Penguins captain, usually does that, but he moved to the wing for that draw — an early signal that Carter was near the end of his playing days.

The Penguins, especially Crosby and Malkin when on the power play, tried to set up Carter for scoring chances throughout. His goal pulled the Penguins even with the Islanders in the third period, and Carter scored it from one of his favorite spots — camped out near the crease.

“When (coach Mike Sullivan) put me out there, I knew I wasn’t leaving the net,” Carter said of his chance to play on the top power-play unit.
“You could tell they were trying to get it there every chance they could.”

Carter had not told many people about his retirement plans, though he admitted Wednesday night that his children’s constant presence in the Penguins’ dressing room after practices and games was a tell. His family moved from Los Angeles to Pittsburgh last August, and Carter did not rule out possibly joining the Penguins in some capacity.

But he has plans before taking on any front-office role.

“I’m gonna be a dad,” he said, grinning with a missing tooth. “You miss a lot being a hockey player. You’re in and out in a way. You’re not really there, you know?

“My family — all hockey families — they sacrifice a lot for us to live out our dreams. I’m going to be home and be a dad for a while, and we’ll figure it out from there.”

Crosby, who failed to score on a late penalty shot against the Islanders, not affording Carter a “chance to play a little longer.”

“We played together for a long time in different points from a younger age,” Crosby said of Carter. “I have total respect for him. Incredible teammate.”

Crosby and Malkin, specifically, waged memorable battles against Carter when the latter played for the Philadelphia Flyers at the start of his career. For a time, Carter and Mike Richards were viewed in Philadelphia as the Flyers’ answer to Crosby and Malkin in Pittsburgh.

“I 100 percent have respect for him, ever since the Philly series in 2008 and 2009,” Malkin said of those memorable playoff battles between the Penguins and Flyers. “He was so strong, so fast. He was hard to play against. Same with when he was with Team Canada. I’m just glad that I got to be his teammate.”

There was no ill will when Carter became a Penguin, after waving a contractual clause so the Kings could trade him to Pittsburgh four years ago. In fact, head equipment manager Jon Taglianetti called former Penguins great Paul Coffey seeking his blessing so that Carter could wear his longtime No. 77 with the Penguins.

“You get traded, you don’t know to expect, right?” Carter said Wednesday night, recalling that trade.

“I still remember walking in that first day and it was like I was there for five years. It’s an unbelievable group here — high-character guys that accepted me and my family right away. It really is a family here.” 

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(Photo: Jason Mowry / Getty Images)