Tampa Bay Lightning sign free agent defenseman Matt Carle to 6 year contract

Breaking news on this Fourth of July night... While you may be in the middle of launching skyrockets and having other pyrotechnic fun, it would appear the Tampa Bay Lightning have won the consolation prize in the 2012 Free Agent sweepstakes.

Ryan Suter's future had been explicitly the focus of the NHL (along with Zach Parise), and that situation was resolved earlier today... Who was left near or at the top of the heap of free agents but the former Lightning defenseman Carle.

Details are still coming to light but TSN's Darren Dreger reports that Carle and the Lightning are close to a deal for Matt to rejoin the Bolts (and fit into the top-4 defensive rotation).

[Note by John Fontana, 07/04/12 9:55 PM EDT ] Dreger now reporting a deal has been reached: Carle's contract length is 6 years with an average cap hit of $5.5 million per year.

You may recall Carle's brief stint with the Lightning in the 2008-09 season: He was acquired from the San Jose Sharks in the ill-fated Dan Boyle trade (along with Ty Wishart and a 1st round draft choice). Yet, the volatile nature of the OK Hockey era in Tampa led to Carle's becoming expendable after all of 12 games played in a Tampa Bay Lightning uniform. Perhaps, it was a salary dump, or perhaps the organizations patience had worn thin? Whatever the case, Carle was sent to the Philadelphia Flyers for Steve Downie and Steve Eminger...

While it's obvious Carle will be in a top-4 rotation with the likes of Eric Brewer, Victor Hedman and newly signed defenseman Sami Salo, it remains to be seen how exactly the Lightning defense will be made up this year. The Bolts had gone out of their way to acquire defenseman Brian Lee and Keith Aulie at the 2012 NHL trade deadline, but now it would look like one of the two may be bound for Syracuse to begin the 2012-13 season.

At the same time, Tampa Bay has just added a defenseman that was +4, +30, and +19 in the past three seasons (respectively) with the Flyers. And seeing he will be all of 28 when the NHL season starts (if it starts on time.... No pressure, Gary Bettman and Donald Fehr), the long-term investment is a sound one. Especially in light of the types of contracts being signed by free agents so far in the 2012 off-season.