As we look back at trades made during the tenure of Garth Snow as GM of the NY Islanders, one of the most haunting could be the departure of Carter Verhaeghe to the Tampa Bay Lightning. At the time, it seemed like the most minuscule of trades. The team needed a backup goalie for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers and trading Verhaeghe brought in Kristers Gudlevskis.
The Latvian netminder made two starts in the NHL with Tampa, allowing only three goals across both games. Brought in to become a tandem alongside Chris Gibson, Snow deemed it necessary to part with a 21-year-old prospect in Verhaeghe to help solidify the net within its AHL affiliate.
Verhaeghe was originally brought to the Islanders organization from the Toronto Maple Leafs along with four other prospects in exchange for Michael Grabner, whose contract was set to expire at the season's end.
Before being drafted by the Maple Leafs in the third round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, Verhaeghe honed his craft in the OHL with the Niagara IceDogs. During his final year in Niagara, Verhaeghe spent time on a line with fellow former Islander Josh Ho-Sang. He put up impressive numbers in his last season playing juniors finishing with 33 goals and 49 assists (82 points) in 68 games.
Once acquired by the Islanders, Verhaeghe spent time between Bridgeport and the Missouri Mavericks of the ECHL. In the two seasons he spent with both organizations, Verhaeghe put up good, but not eye-popping numbers. In 75 games at the AHL level, he scored 22 goals and 22 assists (44 points) in 75 games. Playing against lesser talent in Missouri, he finished with 20 goals and 37 assists (57 points) in only 38 games.
Verhaeghe showed he had some talent, but not enough for Snow to see him as a part of the Islanders' future. Former Lightning GM Steve Yzerman must have seen something that Snow didn't when he decided to send Gudlevskis in return for Verhaeghe during the off-season before the 2017-18 season.
A change of scenery may have been what Verhaeghe needed to take his game to the next level. He was assigned to the Syracuse Crunch, the AHL affiliate of the Lightning. He had two phenomenal seasons in central New York. In 2017-18, he totaled 48 points (17 goals, 31 assists) in 58 games and lead the league in scoring. The Toronto native followed that performance in his second season with 82 points (34 goals, 48 assists) in 76 games - a few points shy of a point-per-game player over two seasons.
Following training camp before the start of the 2019-20 season, Verhaeghe would get the news that he made the Lightning opening night roster.
"His speed has picked up, his possession of the puck, his hockey sense. He seems to have an ability that the puck sort of follows him around a little bit. He makes really good decisions for the most part in where to put the puck."- Jon Cooper, Lightning Head Coach
Verhaeghe had a pedestrian first full season in the NHL serving as a role player. He appeared in 52 games scoring nine times and adding four helpers. His most impressive performance came on January 7, 2020, when he scored his first NHL hat-trick against the Vancouver Canucks.
His time spent along Florida's Gulf Coast was short but sweet. Verhaeghe made eight appearances for the Bolts in the playoffs, making his final memory with the organization lifting the Stanley Cup.
During the subsequent off-season, Verhaeghe made the short trip south to Sunrise, Florida, signing a two-year $2 million contract with the Florida Panthers. Here, Verhaeghe found his stride skating in Florida's top-six. Notching 18 goals and 18 assists in a shortened season where he appeared in 43 games, the then 25-year-old began to look like a diamond in the rough for the Panthers. This past season, Verhaeghe found himself often on the team's first line alongside Aleksander Barkov and was a mainstay on the power play, finishing the season with 24 goals and 31 assists (54 points). He fit right into the Panthers locker room even getting a nickname as teammates often refer to him as 'Swaggy,'
"He is relentless for our team, comes back for pucks, and is just relentless. He was on it tonight and he was so important to why we won. He always creates. He is finishing right now and the guys he is getting the puck to are finishing. He is the same Carter, the 'Swaggy' we always get but he is getting rewarded for it."- Panthers Head Coach Andrew Brunette
This summer, Panthers GM Bill Zito rewarded Verhaeghe with a new three-year $12.5 million contract. He will likely slot in on the wing next to Barkov and the newly acquired Matthew Tkachuk.
While Verhaeghe has become a top-six everyday NHL player, Gudlevskis' time with the Islanders organization was short-lived. He spent one season playing in Bridgeport, where he posted sub-par numbers, finishing with a 2.83 GAA along with a .897 SV% and three shutouts.
The following season Gudlevskis headed back to Latvia to play in the KHL with Dinamo Riga. Following two seasons in the Latvian capital, Gudleskis bounced around the European leagues. He currently plays for MoDoHockey of the HockeyAllsvenskan (Sweden's second division).
As Verhaeghe's stock has been raised over the past few years, the Isles had a winger with upside at a reasonable cost in the palm of their hand but instead dealt him away for one season of a minor league backup.