Life can be strange, Matt Carle admitted.
On July 4, 2008, the Sharks traded the defenseman to the Lightning in the Dan Boyle deal. On Wednesday night, exactly four years later, Carle signed a six-year, $33 million contract to return to Tampa Bay as a free agent.
"I got traded on July 4, and now I'm coming back on my own accord," Carle said. "It's weird the way things work out."
It really didn't work out in 2008. Carle, with one goal and two points in 12 games, was traded to the Flyers in November, partly because he was not producing but also because the financially stressed team realized his $2.95 million salary was too much to handle.
"There are a lot of different pieces now, starting with the ownership and the management and the coaching staff," said Carle, who was trade for Steve Downie and Steve Eminger. "The organization has done a complete 180 since I've been there last."
Carle, 27, said he also is a different player.
He had played just 151 NHL games when traded to Tampa Bay. Now he has played 471, and last season with Philadelphia he had four goals and 38 points, and was plus-4 in 82 games while averaging 23:01 of ice time.
He also had three goals and 12 points on the power play.
"We're pretty excited," Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman said. "He's a top-four defenseman that plays in all situations. He skates well. He moves the puck well. He's been very durable, so we think he's a much-needed player into our defensive group."
On paper, the summer has been successful for Tampa Bay.
In addition to adding Carle, Yzerman has traded for left wing Ben Pouliot and goaltender Anders Lindback, whom the general manager is confident will soon be signed. He also has signed free agent defenseman Sami Salo.
And though Yzerman said he is open to adding another forward, he sounded ready to give players within the organization — most likely Cory Conacher and Alex Killorn — a chance to move up.
"To sign a free agent, we have to believe they are significantly better than some of our young players," Yzerman said. "We'll see what comes available, but we feel like we're not under pressure to do anything because we like the guys who played in (AHL) Norfolk last year."
On defense, though, the Lightning has made a huge jump, adding Salo and Carle, both of whom will play top-four minutes.
The Carle deal happened quickly after defenseman Ryan Suter, the year's top free agent, and center Zach Parise signed with the Wild earlier in the day.
Yzerman said he was to attend Wednesday's Rays game with Tampa Bay's prospects, in town for a development camp, but stayed behind to pursue Carle, the best remaining free agent blue-liner.
"I've watched him closely for the last two years," Yzerman said. "We think his all-around play has really evolved. We think we really understand what he is."
"I think I'm a solid two-way defenseman that can play both ends of the ice," Carle said, "an effective shot blocker who can make some plays on the power play. But I'm only 27. I think I have room to grow and get better."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. View his blog at lightning.tampabay.com. Follow him on Twitter at @LightningTimes.