Free agent Carter still unsure of where he'll land
He is one of the most identifiable, well-traveled and unique players in the NHL.
In this edition of Facing Off, free agent Anson Carter opens up about where he might be playing next season, who is poised to win the Stanley Cup and why NHL scouts should be on the next plane to Barbados.
Question from David Amber: When it comes to hockey hair, we've seen the mullets, Mohawks, and everything in between. How did you get your unique dreadlock look?
Answer from Anson Carter: When I was in Boston, Joe Thornton and Jason Allison bet me $1,000 that I wouldn't grow an afro. They didn't think I would do it because I always shaved my head bald in honor of Michael Jordan. So I did it. In fact, those guys still haven't paid me [laughs].
I had a pretty good sized 'fro, I was about to shave it off when my sister told me to start twisting my hair and see what happens. So I took her advice. The next game we played was against Buffalo, and when I walked into the rink with dreadlocks, our coach Pat Burns looked at me like, "What the hell are you doing?" So Burnsie thought it would be funny to start the game with my line, so I had to be out on the blue line with my helmet off during the national anthem.
I look over during the anthem and Burns is laughing at me, because he knows everyone in the arena is looking at me. There was no way I was going to start that game if it wasn't for the dreadlocks. Then, right after the opening faceoff, Mike Peca skates over to me and says "What are you doing with your hair?" Guys didn't understand it at first, but it has become its own thing now.
• He was drafted in the 10th round (220th overall) by the Quebec Nordiques in 1992.
• He has played for six NHL teams in nine seasons.
• He started the music label called Big Up Entertainment (www.bigupentertainment.com)
• Has recorded five career 20-goal seasons.
• He scored a career-high 33 goals this season in Vancouver.
Q: Coming off a career season, this summer you are an unrestricted free agent. Where is the best fit for you?
A: It's hard to tell, it's still May, so I'm not sure where the best fit is. I really enjoyed my time in Vancouver, and I'd love to continue my career there, but with no coach being in place as of today, I don't know if that's the best fit. As a free agent, you factor in lifestyle, the talent of the team and what kind of city it is. Vancouver passes all of that with flying colors, but as a player, you need to know who your coach is. And to be honest with you, an offer hasn't been made, so I need to look over every NHL city with a fine-tooth comb and make the right decision I can live with.
Q: Did it bother you that Marc Crawford got fired?
A: Yeah, it was a little tough. I enjoyed playing for him. He was very demanding and got the best out of me. You never like to see anyone lose their job. Even though we're in the business of winning, people forget that guys have families, and when you don't win, there is a trickle-down effect that impacts everyone's day-to-day life. From that standpoint, it is always hard to see coaches get fired and players get traded.
Q: And you know a thing or two about getting traded. You have been dealt six times. Are there any funny stories from all those trades?
A: [Laughs] I have been traded for money a lot of times. The time I was traded from Boston, the time I went to L.A. from Washington, the deal from Edmonton to New York [Rangers] and the deal from New York to Washington all involved cash. The one time I was traded from New York, it was all over the ticker, my agent told me the deal was done, but the team didn't say anything. I went to the rink that morning, and I was kind of like "Dead Man Walking."
I asked the trainers if I had been traded and they wouldn't tell me anything. We were in Ottawa, and when I found out there was a team dinner scheduled that night, I knew I was gone, because we always had team dinners when new players arrived to welcome them to the team. I thought it was kind of funny that nobody said anything to me, Glen Sather was the GM, but that's business, no one is going to deliver the message to you with a dozen roses and a box of chocolates.
Q: You have played in some great hockey cities, including New York, Boston and Edmonton. As a free agent, do you think about playing in your hometown of Toronto?
A: I thought about it a lot last summer. I really wanted to play for the Leafs last summer, but it seemed like we were chasing them more than they were chasing us. I think they had the Big E [Eric Lindros] and Alli [Jason Allison] in their sights, more so than having me there. I'm cool with that. I enjoyed my decision going to Vancouver. This summer we'll see what happens.
Q: You are the one guy in the league who can say he plays on a line with twins. How can you tell the Sedin twins apart?
A: At first, it was tough cause they are basically identical twins. There are times on the ice when I can't even tell them apart. But I do know their hockey mannerisms are different. Hank [Henrik] is thinking "pass first" all the time, shoot later, while I know Danny is looking to score. So if I'm going down the ice, I know when to go hard to the net and look for the garbage or look for a tip-in, depending on which Sedin brother has the puck.
Q: You can be distinguished as the only NHL player with his own rap label. You're the chairman and CEO of Big Up Entertainment. How did you get the label started?
A: I've been out here in sunny California for about 10 years now, so just being exposed to the entertainment industry gave me the idea to do something like this. During my first contract negotiation with the Boston Bruins back in 1998, I started to think about life after hockey and I always thought there was a possibility that I could wake up someday and my ability to play hockey could be taken away, so I wanted to make sure I was prepared for when that day finally comes.
Q: So what exactly is Big Up Entertainment?
A: We started with a couple of artists, Main and Merc, their first single "Passion N Pain" climbed to No. 6 last summer on the college charts. We have been using college DJs and the Internet to cultivate their fan base. We are also producing their first feature movie called "Bald." We are in post production, finishing the editing and sound right now. We want to expand our horizons and dabble in the music, movie and digital information world that's out there, and not limit ourselves to one form of entertainment.
Q: Your label focuses on rap and hip-hop culture, so have you got the Sedin twins off of Abba and into hip hop?
A: [Laughs]. No, there's no chance. Danny and Hank are still listening to Abba on a regular basis. I did my best to get those guys to cross over, but it's been tough.
Q: If you could become the next Wayne Gretzky or P. Diddy, who would you choose?
A: That's a good question. I think maybe I'd like to be the next Mark Messier, because I'm greedy and he's won so many Cups. Gretz has him beat on the points, but when it comes to championships, Mess has the edge.
Q: Between 1958 and 1991, according to the league's official stats, there were a total of only 17 black players to have played in the NHL. In 2004, there were 18 players of African or Caribbean descent in the league. How important is it for you to help continue the proliferation of young black athletes coming into the game?
A: It's really important. When I was growing up, there weren't many black players you could relate to, maybe just Tony McKegney and Grant Fuhr, and Fuhr was behind a mask. The friends I grew up with, playing street hockey in Toronto, loved the game, but once we got to high school hockey, there wasn't a black enough sport anymore, so they quit. Now, when I go home, I get called on to talk to their kids and tell them to stay in hockey. I try to stay involved in the community because I know people are always watching.
Q: Is there a special camaraderie among the black players in the NHL?
A: I think there is, especially among the black players from Barbados. From an island of just 200,000 people, it's pretty funny there are a handful of NHL players from Barbados. Peter Worrell, Kevin Weekes, Freddie Brathwaite and Jamal Mayers all have Bajan backgrounds.
Q: You guys need to start an Olympic team.
A: [Laughs] We should. It's a hockey factory there. For years, they made the Cooper goalie pads in Barbados, no one knew that. Considering the climate, hockey is a popular sport there.
Q: You live in Santa Monica, Calif., during the offseason. How do you fit in with all those Hollywood types?
A: That's why I do live out here, because I blend in, you don't really stick out. People do their own thing out here, whereas if you live in Canada, people are all over you all the time. Every now and then, it's important to just be an everyday guy. Sometimes when you play sports and are involved in entertainment, you see the world through different glasses, but it's important to stay grounded.
Q: Actors and athletes always seem to gravitate to one another. Who are your closest celebrity friends?
A: I've rubbed shoulders with a bunch of famous guys, but I wouldn't say we're super close. The one guy who skates with us all the time is Cuba Gooding Jr. I met him when I played at Michigan State. We had a tournament here in California in my senior year. When I met him, he had just finished "Boyz in the Hood" and I was the only guy on my team that had seen the movie, maybe Mike York had seen it. I remember seeing him in the tunnel and saying, "Wow, that's Cuba Gooding Jr." But the other guys had no clue who he was. That is still one of my favorite movies of all time.
Q: You played at Michigan State. A lot of other NHL players came up through the college ranks. Is there an NCAA rivalry among NHL players about which school is best?
A: [Laughs] No, not really. But every time State does something well, you let guys know, that's for sure. This year, me and Brendan Morrison always had dinner on the line if State and Michigan were playing football, basketball, baseball or tiddly-winks for that matter. That rivalry never gets lost, it's always there.
Q: Who wins the Stanley Cup and why?
A: I have to stay in the West, because I play in the West. I know how easy it is playing in the East. I sometimes wish we had played in the East this year, we would have won a division [laughs]. I have to say Anaheim. I like San Jose, too, but Anaheim is getting all the breaks, they get every single bounce you can think of, and it looks like it is their year.
David Amber is a frequent contributor to ESPN.com.