Matt Carle, speaking to members of the media Friday, said that a lot has changed since he last suited up for the Tampa Bay Lightning nearly four years ago at the start of the 2008-09 season.
Well, except for this, that is:
“It’s still pretty hot outside,” Carle said.
It was a minor assessment and one that was said light-heartedly with a smile, as Carle, in actuality, is well aware of just how much both the organization, as well as his own game, has evolved. In fact, he added, each factored in to his decision to return to the Lightning as a free agent earlier this month.
“I had a lot of conversations with Steve Yzerman and I could hear the passion in his voice about what he was trying to do here,” Carle said. “I’ve seen the intensity level from the coaching staff and that the team here is not too far removed from being one game away from the Stanley Cup Finals, so now with a few new pieces added here and there, that will hopefully get the team over the top.”
That is the goal, after all, as Yzerman has also brought in goaltender Anders Lindback, defenseman Sami Salo, and forwards Benoit Pouliot and BJ Crombeen in a series of moves that Carle perceives to have the organization heading in the right direction.
“I remember playing against Nashville and I couldn’t even tell Lindback and Pekka Rinne apart,” Carle said. “So when you have that problem it’s probably a pretty good thing.”
Perhaps it’s that belief that has the 6-foot, 205-pound defenseman so optimistic about his second stint with the Bolts after spending the better part of the past four seasons with the Philadelphia Flyers.
“It’s everything that [Yzerman] is trying to build here,” he added. “There is a core group of guys, some good character people on this team, leadership and a good mix of veterans and young guys on this team, so it’s exciting to be a part of it.”
And that excitement is mutual, too.
After producing just one goal and two points in 12 games with the Lightning, Carle was traded to the Flyers in exchange for Steve Downie and Steve Eminger, but had not even played 200 career NHL games at the time.
Now, the native of Anchorage, Alaska returns as a more experienced player – he is approaching the 500-game milestone – whose most notable asset perhaps is that he is capable of moving the puck out of his own zone and sparking the transition game from defense to offense that the Lightning have been lacking.
And, in addition to logging top-four minutes, he has proven he can also chip in on the offensive end, as he registered four goals and 38 points last season in 82 games with the Flyers. Three of those goals and 12 of those points, nonetheless, came on the power play.
“I feel like I’m older, more experienced and more mature as a player and a person,” Carle said. “When I was here last time, I was maybe averaging 15 to 18 minutes per game, and that’s gone up here the last few seasons, so I feel like now I’m more able to manage the game and now I know what it takes to play a full season.”
Speaking of which, “I can’t wait until it starts,” he said.