Even in the worst of times, Ryan Carter finds a way to keep his sense of humor.
The White Bear Lake native joked that he planned to eat Lean Cuisine’s Chicken With Almonds Sunday night now that he was no longer invited to the Wild’s team dinner.
Carter, who spent the past two seasons with his hometown Wild but attended training camp on a tryout, tells the Star Tribune that he was delivered the difficult news Sunday that he had been anticipating.
The Wild won’t be offering him a contract, thus making him unemployed for the first time in his professional career.
What’s worse? Carter, a 10-year NHL veteran, tells me he now plans to undergo surgery on a torn labrum in his right shoulder that threatens to effectively end his career.
“The timing of it isn’t great for myself or my career, but you’ve got to be healthy to play, at least I do at my age and the way I’ve got to play,” Carter said during a phone interview. “There’s legitimate concern that this could be the end. Being a realist, I’m 33 years old and went into camp on a PTO. It’s a five-month rehab. It’ll be difficult to play my way back to the NHL on short notice after really eight or nine months off.”
Carter says GM Chuck Fletcher didn’t close that door. Technically, unrestricted free agents can be signed by the March 1 trade deadline in order to be playoff eligible.
“He was really good and fair,” Carter said of Fletcher. “He just told me to get surgery, get healthy and depending where we both stand when I get healthy enough to play, we can go from there. He just said it’s not fair to me to play hurt and it’s not fair to the coach and team to not know if I can play through it.
“He said they’d help me with surgery, and I don’t think they have any responsibility to take care of me, so I appreciate that.”
Carter said the torn labrum didn’t show up on an MRI at the end of last season, but once he began training, he knew it was a lot worse than the rotator cuff injury he sustained last season. He decided not to have an MRI though because he knew if he needed surgery, there wasn’t a chance he’d land a job.
“I’d still be laid up,” Carter said.
He thought he could play through it after agreeing to a tryout with the Wild.
“The pain wasn’t the bad part,” he said. “I started to lose my strength and my ability to win battles. What ended up happening, I popped out a rib because I kept trying to protect my shoulder all the time. I couldn’t breathe anymore.
“The last couple practices, I couldn’t even move. I was terrible, but I didn’t say something because I knew it would be over.”
He added in a self-deprecating manner and with a big laugh, "And Bruce [Boudreau] gave me the best chance of anybody in camp. I mean, I was on the power play for two or three games!"
Finally, Carter had no choice and went for an MRI early last week.
“That was a crummy day because when I got the results, I knew what it meant,” Carter said. “I could try shots, but you don’t know how it responds or for how long.”
Carter, who has played 473 career games, won a Stanley Cup with Anaheim in 2007 before even playing a regular-season game. He went to the Stanley Cup Final with New Jersey in 2012.
Carter doesn’t want to think that this could be it.
“I’m just trying to block those thoughts out because they are actually realistic thoughts now. Is this the end?” Carter said. “At the same time, if it’s not the end, coming back would kind of be what my career was about, kind of fighting and clawing and finding a way to stay in the league. It’s not been glamourous by any stretch of the imagination.”
Standing on the sidelines this season will be torturous, regardless.
“I was telling my wife, the sad part is this is the first time I won’t be on a team of some sort in pretty much my whole life that I can remember,” Carter said. “I won’t be in a locker room for the first time, so it’s a little challenging. I think I’ll miss that.”