It has been an excruciatingly difficult season for Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman, Matt Carle. For the first time in his ten year NHL career, Carle has been a healthy scratch in 18 of the team’s 75 games this season. This is new territory for the veteran blue liner.
The irony for Carle is that at $5.5 million in average salary, he is the highest paid defenseman on the roster. So when you couple his pay with the fact that his coach chose to sit him in close to 25% of the scheduled games and the boo-birds began to line up.
This isn’t to say that the ire of the fans isn’t without warrant. Carle’s play was not where it once was and he’d probably be the first to admit that fact. The flip side of this is the argument that how can a player be expected to sit one out of every four games and keep his standard of play up to snuff? As injuries hit the Lightning defensive corps over the last couple months, Carle has had more of an opportunity to play. While his struggles haven’t been eliminated, his play has continued to improve with more regular ice time.
Insults and Injuries
Then last Friday night happened and one of the best defensemen on the team, Anton Stralman, fractured his left leg. How long Stralman will be gone is anybody’s guess as coach Jon Cooper has cryptically said “Anton’s season is not over” but anyone who saw the gruesome way his left leg buckled has to believe only a long playoff run would allow Lightning fans to see Stralman again this season.
This unfortunate injury to Stralman means that his 22 minutes of ice time have to be made up somewhere by someone. This is the chance for Carle. Don’t get me wrong, Carle is not going to side up to Victor Hedman on the number one defensive pairing. But as a 10 year veteran, Carle has the experience to minimize the Stalman loss as much as anyone possibly can.
From 2009 through 2015 playing for the Philadelphia Flyers as well as the Lightning, Carle suited up and played in 421 out of 423 games his teams had on their schedules. That is through five and one half NHL seasons, playing in 99.5% of the games on the calendar.
In a season that hasn’t gone his way for a number of reasons, Carle could wind up being a key factor in the duration of his team’s chances in the playoffs. Again, it will be a team effort to make up for the loss of Stralman but Carle is front and center among those who will be put in the position to make up for Stralman’s minutes. Nikita Nesterov and Slater Koekkoek will also be needed to make up for the loss of Stralman but Carle will carry that particular spotlight.
Redemption Comes to Those Who Wait
This is one hell of an opportunity for Carle. For the better part of this season, he has been the target of the fan’s catcalls when he has played. Mostly because he is paid more than anyone on the team except for Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan and Ben Bishop. He has been blamed for a lot of the things that are simply not his fault but it comes with the territory of that high salary. Yet he stands here today with the chance to redeem himself.
He has experience on both the power play and penalty kill that will come in handy. He has played alongside most of the team’s defensemen and if he can fill even a portion of the shoes Stralman’s injury leaves, then he will turn those boos into cheers as the Tampa Bay area waits for Stralman’s leg to heal.
To his credit, Carle has handled this toughest of times with professional aplomb. He has not once demanded a trade. He has not sought out the media to point his finger at his coach or upper management. He has not uttered one public word of disdain of any kind. He has continued to be one of the twenty odd players pulling on the Lightning rope.
Now, circumstances have him with a more integral part of that rope. He is not going to make anyone forget Stralman. At best, Carle will hold his own, block shots in front of Bishop, help the offense going with sharp breakout passes and give his team and his coach a good 15 to 17 minutes every game. Let’s not forget that Carle has 10 plus years playing defense at the NHL level.
If he plays well, he will help his team lock up a good playoff spot, perhaps even win the Atlantic Division. And if he does go full redemption, he also helps himself. You see, at his high salary, he has been the target of trade rumors because losing his high cap hit would allow the team to safely re-sign Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Alex Killorn and several other free agents this year. Also Hedman, Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat next year.
Should Carle fill most of the Stralman void, he makes himself more valuable to not only the Lightning organization but to other NHL GM’s. This is a classic win-win opportunity for Carle. Often times one person’s misery is another person’s fortune. This could very well be the case for Matt Carle. A chance to redeem his career for the rest of this season and perhaps beyond.