Anson Carter played 674 regular-season games in his 10-year NHL career, surpassing the 20-goal plateau on five different occasions, but the retired forward feels his career would have unfolded differently if his skin was a different colour.
Carter was selected in the 10th round (220th overall) of the 1992 NHL Draft by the Quebec Nordiques after an impressive season with the Wexford Raiders in Ontario’s Metro Junior A Hockey League. However, Carter didn’t make his NHL debut until the 1996-97 campaign.
“It wasn’t the same (back then). I truly believe that black hockey players weren’t seen the same,” Carter said Tuesday during an appearance on Hockey Central.
The self-described “late-bloomer” played four seasons at Michigan State University, where he put up 106 goals and 178 points in 156 games. He won a gold medal with Canada at the 1994 world juniors, was a CCHA First Team All-Star in 1994 and 1995, and was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 1995.
Despite his success during his college years, Carter said he never spoke to the Avalanche (who held his rights after Quebec relocated to Colorado in 1995) about an NHL contract once.
Colorado eventually traded his rights to the Washington Capitals in 1996 for a fourth-round draft pick.
Carter was asked directly if he thought race played a role.
“Oh for sure, 100 per cent,” he said. “You could ask my agent Pat Brisson. We discussed it. We never made a public stink out of it. I always thought that I had to be better than everybody else. I couldn’t be average and that’s what drove me a lot of the time.”
Carter added that he felt his skin colour played a role during contract negotiations throughout his career.
He split much of the 1996-97 season with the Capitals and their AHL affiliate in Portland before being dealt to the Boston Bruins as part of a blockbuster trade involving Jason Allison, Jim Carey, Adam Oates, Bill Ranford and Rick Tocchet.
Carter spent the next three seasons in Boston, scoring 130 points in 192 games, and held out a couple times during what he felt were unfair contract negotiations. He was traded along with a couple high draft picks to the Edmonton Oilers in 2000 in exchange for Bill Guerin.
Although the Toronto native felt like he was held back early in his pro career, he said, “I did the best I could in the environment that I played in.”
Carter was a top producer in his two-plus seasons with the Oilers, leading the team in scoring in 2001-02, but his tenure once again ended with him being traded – this time to the New York Rangers.
“I look at a guy like Iggy, Jarome Iginla, and he was given every opportunity to thrive there in Calgary,” Carter said. “Slow starts every year. Iggy was a notorious slow starter but no one ever talked about trading him and he was given the opportunity to grow as a hockey player to become a fabulous hockey player and I was never given that chance. Every time I’d put numbers on the board it was ‘OK this is a good guy to get out of here to trade for somebody else,’ and it blew my mind.”
Carter played 54 games with the Rangers before being traded to the Capitals straight up for Jaromír Jagr and was flipped to the Los Angeles Kings six weeks later.
The two-time IIHF World Championship gold medallist finished the 2003-04 season making $2.8 million, but following the 2004 lockout took a pay cut and signed a one-year deal with the Vancouver Canucks for an even $1 million at age 31.
Carter went on to score a career-high 33 goals, which led the team, and said he loved playing alongside the Sedins in Vancouver but yet again he couldn’t come to terms on a new contract he felt was fair and he eventually signed as a free agent with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
“It was funny because all the people in Vancouver were ripping me for being greedy and they don’t know, like, they never really offered me a raise there,” Carter said. “They said, ‘we’ll give you a slight bump, maybe a hundred grand and that’s it,’ and I was like nope I’ve got way too much pride for that.”
Carter signed a one-year, $2.5-million deal with Columbus and scored 10 goals, 27 points in 54 games before being traded to the Carolina Hurricanes ahead of the trade deadline.
He signed a tryout contract with the Oilers in 2007 but couldn’t crack the roster, and after a brief stint with Lugano in the Swiss league, Carter’s playing days were over.
He finished his NHL career with 202 goals, 421 points and 229 penalty minutes, adding an additional 13 points in 24 total playoff appearances.
Since retiring, Carter has gone on to become an analyst with NBC Sports.
“I really believe if I was a different colour hockey player, and I’m going to say it, I really believe I would’ve been looked at a lot differently,” Carter added. “I really do.”
In the wake of the death of George Floyd there have been many subsequent protests for change. Carter, who currently resides in Atlanta, believes change starts with listening.
“A lot of times people are quick to say something either in person or on social media without listening to what people are saying,” he said. “I really think that’s why we’re seeing all this civil unrest here in the U.S., and around the world for that matter, because people were crying out for help. People were crying out for attention and nobody was listening.
“And I always say it takes a certain level of frustration and anger to want to burn down your own house, your own workplace, where you live. Like, that just never happens. Nobody would do that intentionally. You have to be that frustrated and upset and angry with what’s going on, of being totally not listened to that you would take that position. So, listening is the key. That really is the key. It starts there and then the conversations will continue after that.”
Carter, 46, said he thinks the response from the NHL community “has been great” after he helped put together a video on social media with a unifying message that featured voices from the hockey world.
The Hockey Diversity Alliance was officially formed on Monday and Carter thinks it’s a good start.
“Now, I want to see actions taking place. The lip service is over and done with,” he said. “I want to see policies in place and I want to see these guys tackle tough issues and have tough conversations so that the league’s a better place.
“I mean, I can’t say enough about my time playing in the National Hockey League. I loved it. I wouldn’t trade it for aything in the world. It’s the minor hockey system that needs to be reformed. So, I hope these guys have a say with things that happen in the NHL but also they should have a voice in what happens with USA Hockey and Hockey Canada.
“If you look at hockey as being a pyramid or an iceberg, that’s where the greatest number of minority players are playing the game and if you want to increase participation at the highest level, well the bottom of that pyramid has to be increased and there has to be people in place that have had those experiences, that have dealt with some of the crap that we’re trying to eradicate from the game, that can have some of those difficult conversations.”