ST. PAUL, Minn. — Matt Carle makes one thing clear.
"I'm not bitter about anything," he said.
The veteran Lightning defenseman has plenty of reasons to pout, having been a healthy scratch in two of the past four games. It's something Carle, 31, hasn't experienced in a decade, since his second NHL season.
Is Carle happy about it? Of course not. Is he frustrated? For sure. Is he worried about speculation he is being shopped? Carle says he doesn't pay attention.
But he is not letting the situation affect his attitude and work ethic, as shown by him joking with the six teammates who joined him Friday for an optional practice at Xcel Energy Center ahead of Saturday's game with the Wild. Carle was one of the last off the ice.
"I'm a big believer in controlling what you can control," Carle said.
Carle can't control the widespread trade rumors. They make sense with Carle, the team's highest-paid defenseman — a $5.5 million annual salary cap hit through 2017-18 — watching from the press box. The Lightning could certainly use the cap room if it wants to sign captain Steven Stamkos to a huge extension, not to mention other stars who are due new deals in coming years.
Carle watched fellow veteran defenseman Eric Brewer, 36, get scratched several times early last season before getting traded to the Ducks in late November. Brewer wanted to play, so he waived his no-move clause and Tampa Bay got a third-round draft pick.
But Carle, who has a modified no-move clause, believes his situation is different and won't turn out the same way. For one, Carle wants to stay.
" 'Brew' had been around the league a lot longer than I have," Carle said. "To me, I feel like I have a lot of good years left in this league. That's where it's kind of frustrating. But it's one of those things is out of my control. Obviously, I love being here, and I love playing with these guys and playing the type of hockey we play and being as competitive as we are. You want to be here and be part of the success that this team can have.
"I don't really look at my situation compared to Brew and hope it works out the same way. That's not my mind frame at all. I want to be here, and I want to be playing."
If he decides to move Carle, general manager Steve Yzerman could have a tough time, considering his contract and that GMs around the league likely know Tampa Bay needs the cap room. Yzerman doesn't address trade speculation, but he said he has spoken with Carle because he wants "all players to know where they stand."
Yzerman said Carle sitting has been the result of having seven healthy defensemen and players needing to take turns playing to remain sharp.
"I don't expect them to like it. They're all competitive. They all want to play every single night," Yzerman said. "We understand. We have sympathy for guys."
Yzerman reassigned defenseman Nikita Nesterov to AHL Syracuse on Friday, along with forward Tye McGinn, which allows Nesterov the opportunity to play two games for the Crunch this weekend and puts Carle back in the lineup against the Wild.
Carle, who is minus-1 with zero points in 13 games, believes he has played "pretty well." His Corsi percentage — an advanced stat representing the percentage of a shift's shot attempts (on goal, missed and blocked) taken by Tampa Bay while he is on the ice — is lowest on the team at 45.97.
Nesterov, or another Crunch defenseman, will get called up next week. Yzerman said the Lightning will reassess after the weekend. When that happens, Carle could resume taking turns sitting out.
"I was a young guy at one point in my career, and in order for the young kids to get better, they have to play, and some things have to give sometimes," Carle said. "It's not something I'm happy about, but Father Time rules all, I guess."
Carle prefers to keep the conversation he had with Yzerman private but said the organization has treated him like a professional, "from the top all the way down." That's a reason Carle signed a six-year, $33 million deal in 2012 for a second stint with the Lightning.
"You can only count on one hand how many times you can actually pick the team you want to play for," Carle said. "I've only had the opportunity to do it once, and so from that position on, from when you're 18 years old until the day you leave this league, people are going to be controlling what team you play for, how much you're playing. … You've just got to take advantage of the opportunity you get and try to not let it get to you too much."