Say what you like about Matt Carle -- oft a punching bag or scapegoat for frustrated Tampa Bay Lightning fans -- but the Bolts will sorely miss his presence in the lineup over the next 6-8 weeks as they make a playoff, and perhaps Stanley Cup, push.
After being evaluated and re-evaluated, the team announced on Monday that Carle will undergo surgery Tuesday. Here's the full release:
The Tampa Bay Lightning today announced that defenseman Matt Carle will undergo surgery to repair torn adductor muscles in his lower abdomen on Tuesday. The procedure will be performed in Philadelphia by Dr. William Meyers. Carle is expected to miss 6-8 weeks.
What does that mean?
The language there is a touch evasive, so let's clarify one thing: Matt Carle probably tore his groin.
I know it doesn't seem like it, because we're talking about "adductor muscles" in the "lower abdomen", but that's purposefully arcane language likely used to obscure something much worse. Matt Carle probably tore his groin.
You could call it a strain, but that, too might be sugarcoating things. When it comes to muscles, strains and tears are essentially the same thing, and Matt Carle's is obviously bad enough to require surgery and a long period of rehabilitation. And the adductor muscle performs a critical function for any athlete:
The main function of the adductors is to pull the legs back towards the midline, a movement called adduction. In the real world they are used to stabilize and control the movement of the legs when running, walking, sprinting, playing football, horse riding, hurdling and any sport which requires fast changes in direction.
A rupture or tear in the muscle usually occurs when sprinting, changing direction or in rapid movements of the leg against resistance such as kicking a ball. This is especially likely if a thorough warm-up has not been undertaken first!
What does the team do now?
The simple answer is nothing. That's the company line right now. The top-4 would, as it is constituted right now, be Victor Hedman, Anton Stralman, Jason Garrison, and Andrej Sustr, with Mark Barberio and Nikita Nesterov filling out the group and Luke Witkowski in Tampa as the extra defender. That's not as strong a lineup as the Lightning trotted out on opening night but these things happen in the NHL; this is why you painstakingly scout, draft, and develop in the NHL. Players in the system need to be ready to step into even replacement-level roles to help the team move forward through rough patches.
Unfortunately, as gritty and defensively sound as Witkowski might be filling in as the 7th defenseman, a team with true aspirations of contention can't go into the playoffs with the blue line as it is currently constructed. The organization will leave the door open for someone like Nesterov to continue to impress, but the group is thin as is and counting on one of Carle or also-injured Radko Gudas to step into the lineup at or near the playoffs and contribute at 100% is foolhardy.
That basically leaves one option for GM Steve Yzerman to explore: trades. If you're going to go through a rash of injuries on your blue line, it's best that it happen A) before the trade deadline (check) and B) at a time when you're a legitimate contender and have assets stockpiled to make a move (check again). The names potentially available on the market aren't the sexiest, but there are a few guys that might help at least as a rental and perhaps for longer.
Having pro scouts in attendance at games around the league is fairly standard in the NHL, but keeping an eye on where Tampa is looking might help give some clues about who Yzerman might be inquiring on:
15 scouts/team reps from 13 clubs listed for CAR/TOR tonight: BOS, STL, NYR (3), OTT, WPG, TB, AZ, PHI, VAN, LA, CBJ, MIN, NAS— David Pagnotta (@TheFourthPeriod) January 20, 2015
With Carle's injury, potential adds on defense are no longer limited to right shot/right side. From the Carolina-Toronto game, Andrej Sekera and Cody Franson are interesting names, as are players previously linked to trade rumors such as Jeff Petry, Adam Larsson, and Tyler Myers.
Of course, the Lightning will face a few obstacles; most of those names are guys rumored to be on the block because they play for terrible teams, because their contracts are expiring, or both. Most teams outside of the playoff picture will see no need to deal with Tampa Bay simply because the Lightning's need has suddenly grown. Waiting for the irrational bidding war that is the trade deadline might benefit them and hurt the Lightning, and Steve Yzerman's quotes following the news of Carle's injury seemed to indicate that no panic move is coming.
The Lightning will be patient, no doubt, but if a deal that helps the team in the short-term can be made without leveraging too many assets for the future, Yzerman has not been afraid in the past to pull the trigger. Recall his first season on the job, when Guy Boucher's plucky club addressed major needs in net (Dwayne Roloson on New Year's Day, for Ty Wishart, a defenseman with 26 NHL games played since 2008-09) and on the blue line (Eric Brewer, for two more players with zero NHL impact to this point in their careers) ahead of a run to the Eastern Conference Final.
No matter how this shakes out, Tampa Bay remains a team to watch, and one that's likely to be very active as the trade deadline approaches.