Archivist's Corner: Bobby Carpenter Goes Home

One in an occasional series in which we learn that seniority sucks when you ain't senior

Now that the media tide of John Scott news seems to be receding, the next big wave appears to be Jonathan Drouin, who is 20 years old and on his very first contract, deciding he'd rather not play in Tampa any longer and no-showing his AHL assignment in Syracuse, leading to his "indefinite suspension." I figured it might be interesting to look back at when the Caps went through a similar situation with 23 year old Bobby Carpenter in late 1986.

Carpenter's story is pretty well-known in most hockey circles. Dubbed "The Can't Miss Kid" and given a giant Sports Illustrated cover at 18, Carpenter was supposed to revolutionize American Hockey in a post-1980 Olympic Team world, and jumped directly from high school to the NHL in 1981. He was such a phenomenon that the Hartford Whalers, desperate to gain his services, were even talking of naming his father as a scout. And then the Capitals pulled one of the all-time great draft troll jobs, jumping one spot ahead of the Whalers to pick Carpenter at Number 3 overall. In retrospect, perhaps this relationship was doomed from the start?

From the New York Times

The Whalers, picking fourth, were going to pick Carpenter. Bob Carpenter Sr. went to Montreal for the draft. He wasn't going to miss this. Meanwhile, Bobby Orr was back home with young Bob, preparing for a news conference once the Whalers made their expected choice.

That morning Sergeant Carpenter passed the time with an official of the Washington Capitals, who were going to choose fifth, after the Whalers.

Sergeant Carpenter claims he did not know what the Capitals were planning; did not know that they were desperately attempting to trade places with the Colorado Rockies - who had the third pick, ahead of the Whalers.

And when it came time for the Rockies to choose, one of the Colorado officials went to the Washington table, and a deal was made hurriedly. They did, indeed, switch places. The Capitals picked third - and they picked Carpenter.

Sergeant Carpenter was shaken. He stormed out of the Forum. He says now he felt betrayed. ''You've got to understand,'' explains Yannetti. ''He envisioned seeing all his son's games in the N.H.L.. It's only a two-hour drive to Hartford. The games he didn't go to, he'd be able to see because they're going to put in cable-TV. He would have his son near home.''

Even young Bob says this is what he would have preferred. ''I had never been away from home before,'' he explains of his family's reaction. ''They could keep an eye on me.''

For a while, Carpenter lived up to his massive potential, scoring 32 goals in each of his first two seasons and famously dropping 53/42/95 in his age 21 season in 1984-85. The future appeared to be bright.

Here's the Washington Post's William Gildea attempting to capture the spirit of the thing in December 1984

First thing about the Washington Capitals' Bobby Carpenter is his practice jersey: It's distinctive, black with a big white No. 1 on the back, a shirt both empty and abundant of meaning.

Second thing: the way he skates, and the way he shoots a puck. He positively glides. Quicker than an eye, he flicks his wrists -- it's all in the wrists -- and with a left-handed slap lifts a puck into the air. It rises surprisingly slowly, almost hangs suspended like the wash. A goalie's temptress, daring but untouchable. The puck floats over the goalie's shoulder and sails softy into the upper left corner, bulging the net.

But by training camp 1986, the relationship between Carpenter and the Caps had soured. The 1985-86 Caps had famously eaten it against a vastly inferior Rangers team, and the 1986-87 version (who would go on to lose in the Stanley Cup Playoffs to the New York Islanders in a series where nothing of consequence happened at all) was sitting at 7-10-3 by the middle of November, having lost three straight. Combined with Carpenter's contentious contract negotiations from the previous year, this was most likely not the best environment for anything positive:

Despite frequent and lengthy telephone conversations between Washington Capitals General Manager David Poile and Bob Carpenter's Boston-based agent Bob Murray, there remains a wide gap -- perhaps as much as $150,000 a year -- between the two sides in the free-agent center's contract negotiations.

Murray did say yesterday, however, that progress was made during conversations in Washington last Friday involving him, Poile and Dick Patrick, the Capitals' president.

"We discussed different numbers and different proposals, and some progress was made," Murray said. "It's primarily money, although length of contract has become a bit of an issue. We're looking for a little bit shorter term, but I think we can settle that if we can get the money issue resolved."

And then, as the kids say, we got bedlam.

Carpenter was sent home (referred to in the Post as "fired"), on November 26, 1986 by the Caps, who were tired of, among other things, his "indifferent play" and "complaints about the manner in which he was used."

There are some real money quotes here. You'd almost never see this level of vitriol nowadays, or rather, it'd be couched in much better terms:

"It was my decision that he not practice with the team or play with the team until the situation has been resolved, whether that hurts our bargaining power or not," Poile said.

The sudden dismissal of Carpenter, 23, gave rise to all manner of speculation about its cause. It appears that Carpenter's indifferent play this season and complaints about the manner in which he was used had worn out Poile's patience.

Carpenter and Coach Bryan Murray said they had not initiated any trade talk, and the club released a statement saying Carpenter and the team had parted by "mutual agreement."

Carpenter responded, "That's not true. I wanted to stay with the team. I never asked to be traded.

"I had some meetings with David, and a number of times he kept asking me if I thought a change of scenery would be good. It seemed like he wanted me to ask to be traded, but I never really wanted to do that. I just bought a new house. I'd be crazy to buy a new house if I wanted to go."

You should read the whole thing, but here's Carpenter simultaneously ripping his coach *and* the immortal Lou Franceschetti

"There's been a lot of jokes about trades, and last week Howie [Alan Haworth] and I were rumored going to Quebec. Howie was kidding me about taking French lessons. But we didn't take it seriously. Maybe I should have, when Bryan told me yesterday I was going to be on a line with Lou Franceschetti and Jim Thomson.

"I'd been with Mike [Gartner] for a bit, and it seemed like we were getting something going, like when we had that great season two years ago. But we were never together enough to get it rolling."

But seriously, read that whole thing, as Carpenter gets ethered by Dave Poile *and* Bryan Murray.

It gets even better. Here's a New York Times article from early December 86 where Bobby's agent gets involved

Carpenter, still collecting his salary, said he was coerced into acquiescing to a trade, that the Capitals made persistent suggestions that a change of venue might help his game. He claimed that his coach, Bryan Murray, never liked him and felt he'd been afforded superstar status without the requisite dues-paying. And now Carpenter has been advised by his agent, Bob Murray, to say no more about his plight until he lands on his skates with another club.

''Bobby is very upset by the way this was done,'' his agent said from his Boston office. ''Bobby never asked to be traded, never asked the club to get rid of Bryan Murray, and we still have no idea of the rationale behind their telling him not to even bother coming to practice anymore. At this point he'd be happy to go to any team in the States, but from what David Poile has told me, he isn't even close to a deal.''

Immediately following his dismissal, Carpenter, who had only 5 goals and 7 assists in 22 games this season, said he had been made the scapegoat for the team's dismal start. Bryan Murray, however, said Friday that Carpenter was trying to make him the scapegoat for the center's poor 1985-86 season and poor start this fall. In the Capital Centre, a divorce-court atmosphere prevails.

But in September 1985, when he arrived at training camp overweight, the star center began to show signs that the bond between the Capitals and himself was strained. By the end of last season, when his goal output fell to 27, there was talk that Carpenter blamed the organization rather than himself for his failure to perform at peak potential.

''When he played well here, he was a happy young man,'' his coach said. ''Now he's telling people he never wanted to be traded, but I know he told one of our assistant coaches that he did. I think Bobby is a frustrated young man, a young man who was a star and who lately has been disappointed and disappointing with his play. When he had 53 goals, I never heard any complaints; now that he's had a down year, it's all my fault.''

Murray has already filled the spot vacated by Carpenter. ''No matter what Bobby says now, he's shown us he doesn't want to be here, so we're making do without him,'' the coach said.

So Carp showed up to camp overweight? Oh man they are throwing HAYMAKERS. Also, please remind me to never, ever make Bryan Murray angry.

The "firing" appears to have not gone over well locally, especially in regards to one Tom Boswell, which you need to read because it's basically just a Vine of Bryan Murray putting Bobby Carpenter through a table

Murray claims that, at Monday's practice, an assistant coach overheard Carpenter saying, over and over, "I've got to get out of this organization."

"If I'd heard him say it, I'd have kicked him off the ice," said Murray. "The next morning, his agent told David (Poile) that he'd be happy to move on, that 'Bobby wants out.' So, we made the decision that morning. You don't want somebody who feels that way in your (locker) room. Several players already knew.

"Now, I can't believe they're denying it," said Murray. "It's making everything worse for everybody. If Bobby'd just said, 'Yes, I want to be traded,' or even if he'd said, 'They've been terrible to me here,' at least people would understand the situation."

Carpenter seemed lost in a Washington uniform; slowly, he may have been undermining Murray, an old-school coach who needs lots of authority to be effective. Murray already had bent over backward for Carpenter. "I had 56 meetings with him last year and 15 more this season," said Murray. "We did for him things we didn't do for others. That disturbed some players. ...

"This shows we are willing to do almost anything to get a commitment from our players that they want to be here and make a complete effort," the coach said. "Actually, this has brought some of the guys together."

Now that the divorce was pretty much in motion, where would Carpenter end up? Perhaps in Philadelphia for Bob Froese, as described in a column with some really, really strained late-era Reagan foreign policy metaphors?

Because the Flyers and Capitals are divisional rivals not anxious to leave any impression of helping each other, a Bob Froese-for-Bobby Carpenter trade would have to be carried out in a clandestine manner.

Froese would have to be released to the Capitals, who need a goalie, after the Flyers send arms (Daryl Stanley and Dave Brown) to Iran via Israel. The Flyers, who could use another scorer, would get Carpenter out of Nicaragua while the Capitals denied all knowledge of how he got there.

Froese is long on the record as wanting out of Philadelphia and the Caps have announced they will trade their one-time 53-goal scorer. So, might the Flyers and Caps do more negotiating than just that between the two teams on the ice tonight at the Capital Centre?

Forget it. "I would not take a player off my hockey team to get Carpenter," Flyer general manager Bobby Clarke said. "As for Froese, David (Caps GM Poile) says he's trying to move a goalie, not trade for one."

Interestingly enough, the Flyers ended up moving Froese in late December to....the New York Rangers (who will become important in a second here), which is interesting mainly for this Phil Esposito quote

So why did the Rangers trade away a top defenseman, a rare thing this season, to get another goaltender they really didn't need?

For one thing, because he was offered. Esposito couldn't pass up a deal that good, and a chance to rid his team of European players.

The "European player" who went back in the deal, Kjell Samuelsson, ended up playing over 500 games for the Flyers and won two Cups in Pittsburgh. I'd say that was a pretty good career.

So the deal ends up being that Carpenter goes to the New York Rangers for Kelly Miller and Mike Ridley on January 1, 1987, in a trade that might have been mentioned a time or two around here. Ridley became a solid offensive contributor for many years, and Miller ascended directly into the heavens following his last game in DC and became a giant, bright shooting star whose light will be seen for all eternity.

Here's the article on the trade proper from the New York Times, which makes me wish Phil Esposito was still a GM in this league so very badly

'"I look at him as a 50 goal-scorer, the other G.M.'s see him as a qualified 30 goal-scorer, so I guess the truth may lie someplace in the middle,'' Poile said. According to Esposito, there's no reason to worry about Carpenter's reputation for being hard to manage.

''I know enough of the story there to know it won't be a problem for us,'' he said. ''Right from the start, Bobby and Mr. Murray didn't get along. They were playing him at left wing, and that's not where he belongs. He'll play center for us. Anyway, I was the worst temperamental player there ever was, so I'm not worried about him.''

Poor Tom Webster was more right than he knew

Tom Webster, the Ranger coach, called Carpenter a quality player, and said: ''At first, I thought it was an awful lot to give up, but when you're getting a player like Carpenter, that's the price.''

Carpenter's Ranger tenure would last all of 28 games, wherein he dropped 2/8/10 and was then shipped out to Los Angeles

There's a ton of good stuff in here too, and I highly recommend it

There was mutual bad-mouthing between Carpenter and the Washington Capitals when they became disillusioned with each other last November. And there was the mutual farewell earlier this month between the displaced center and the Rangers' general manager, Phil Esposito, who maintains he exchanged Carpenter for Marcel Dionne of the Los Angeles Kings just in time to save him from becoming the target of boos at Madison Square Garden.

But along the way, Carpenter has learned that in the N.H.L., entitlement is the province of team owners, not the players.

''You don't really start to think of yourself as just a piece of property until you've been traded,'' Carpenter said. ''I probably would have played for free my first two years just for the sake of being in the N.H.L..

''But now I can't agree with people who say athletes' salaries are too high for a bunch of people going out and doing something they love to do anyway. They're high because of what can be done to you. Like what happened to me.''

''He was always the guy,'' said his best friend from the Capitals', Scott Stevens. ''He probably always carried the puck, always scored, and always won the awards.

''He'd never had to worry about playing much defense. He'd probably never been in slump, never had to take the blame for one.''

He didn't like Green's successor, Bryan Murray, who took over when Green was dismissed early in Carpenter's rookie season, but that didn't stop Carpenter from scoring 53 goals in 1984-85. Eventually, though, what Murray perceived as Carpenter's tendency toward self-aggrandizement, a tendency honed in his youth, began to grate on the coach's nerves.

''Bryan wanted Bobby to be more of an all-around player,'' said Stevens, ''and maybe Green had given him too much freedom. Anyway, I think Bobby over-reacted to Bryan's attempts to change him; it was all a bad misunderstanding.''

In a fun postscript, the Capitals actually ended up bringing Carpenter back as a Free Agent in 1992, in a brief mention here that almost seems kind of sad

Nearly six years after he bade the Washington Capitals a most unfond farewell, Bobby Carpenter, an unrestricted free agent, signed with that team for one year and an option year at $500,000 a season. He was traded by the Capitals after a series of verbal attacks against the front office in 1986.

From the Baltimore Sun

Carpenter left the Capitals in midseason in 1987 after his relationship with then-coach Bryan Murray disintegrated. General manager David Poile told Carpenter not to bother coming to practice while he worked on trading him. Carpenter was traded Jan. 1, 1987, to the New York Rangers for Kelly Miller, Mike Ridley and Bob Crawford.

But that was six years ago, and although Miller and Ridley remain, Murray has been replaced by his brother, Terry.

"A lot changes in six years," said Carpenter, who had 25 goals and 23 assists last season as a left wing for the Boston Bruins. "It was just a mistake, what happened. . . . It's a lot different when you play six years -- it's six more years in different places -- you realize different things. It was just a misunderstanding that got blown way out of proportion. I don't think it was as serious as everyone made it out to be.

"I had some talks with Bryan, and we patched things up pretty good. We don't have any problems at all anymore. I hope they can get over it; I sure have. It was a bad situation, a misunderstanding, and it's over with."

Carpenter, who will turn 29 in 13 days, is joining a team that had the second-best record in the NHL last season. The Capitals decided not to re-sign high-scoring right wing Dino Ciccarelli but have given a four-year, $4.6 million offer sheet to Edmonton Oilers defenseman Dave Manson. The Oilers have until 11:04 a.m. Friday to match the offer.

I have bolded the portion of that article that literally just made my eyes bug out.

Bobby Carpenter's career would never match the heights it seemed destined to go to. He struggled with injuries and hard times and ended his career as a key bottom six contributor on a Devils team that won a Stanley Cup in 1995, and served as an assistant coach for two other Devils Cup victories.

I sure hope, for his own sake, Jonathan Drouin knows what the heck he's doing.

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