, the longest-tenured player on the Vancouver Canucks
' roster last season, is packing his bags and heading to the Sunshine State.
The Tampa Bay Lightning
signed the veteran defenseman Wednesday afternoon to a seven-year deal worth $26.25 million.
"I think this is a great opportunity for me and I was ecstatic when they called and it felt from the beginning that this was the place where I wanted to be," Ohlund said during a conference call with the media. "I'm also grateful for the 11 years I played in Vancouver. It's a great place to play, a great organization and I made a lot of friends for life. But I felt like it was time for me to move on and I'm very excited about the future."
Ohlund, 32, will provide fellow countryman Victor Hedman
, Tampa's 2009 first-round draft choice, a shoulder to lean on if the top prospect does indeed join the team for the 2009-10 season.
"I'm excited to be joining (Hedman) in Tampa," Ohlund said. "I've never met him but have heard nothing but good things. I was sitting with the Sedin twins (in Sweden) and they had a lot of good things to say and I know the other role I'll have with the team is helping him get started -- and that's something I take great pride in. Victor has great reputation in Sweden with a lot of lot of good hockey players, including the Sedins.
"I'm sure we'll be talking to one another over the next few days over the phone and we'll share stories throughout training camp. We'll share experiences we've gone through. I made mistakes when I was younger and learned from them and, hopefully, I can prevent him from making the same mistakes."
It shouldn't come as much of a surprise that Tampa Bay Lightning
General Manager Brian Lawton
opted to sign Ohlund. In addition to the relationship he could form with Hedman, Ohlund will offer a solid veteran presence for a relatively young defensive corps -- Tampa's average age along the blue line in 2008-09 was 26.6. That was something Lawton coveted entering the free agency period.
"We are thrilled Mattias elected to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning
today," said Lawton upon making the announcement. "With so many options in front of him, having him elect to play in Tampa demonstrates the faith he has in our team's strategy and vision for success, which should be exciting for our fans. This signing accomplished two primary goals for us. First, we have added the top-two defenseman we coveted to lead our blue line and second, we have found a leader and a mentor for Victor Hedman
as he prepares to play in the NHL this fall."
He might not be the offensive producer he once was, but Ohlund plays a solid two-way game and hasn't scored fewer than 20 points in any of his 11 seasons on the job in Vancouver. The Lightning allowed 3.28 goals a game last season -- finishing 27th in the League. Of the 207 goals scored by the Lightning in 2008-09, only 13 were credited to defensemen, including a team-high 5 by Cory Murphy
. Ohlund posted 6 goals, 25 points and a plus-14 rating through 82 games in Vancouver last season.
Ohlund, drafted by Vancouver in the first round (13th overall) in 1994 before beginning his NHL career in 1997, averaged 21:34 of ice time while playing a role on the power-play and penalty-killing units this past season. The 6-foot-2, 220-pound blueliner was also fourth on the team with 109 hits and ranked first with 152 blocked shots.
Ohlund, a native of Pitea, Sweden, has played in 52 career playoff games, recording nine goals and 28 points. He is tied for 11th overall on the Vancouver all-time playoff points list.
"In my situation, I did feel the term of the deal was important and, from the get-go, Tampa and Brian (Lawton) and ownership made me feel very comfortable," Ohlund said. "We all thought this was good situation and I jumped at this opportunity. They spoke to me about the city of Tampa and I know the club is very talented. I feel I can bring a lot to the hockey team with my experience and, at 32, I feel my best years are ahead."
Ohlund made his NHL debut at the start of the 1997-98 season in Japan during a two-game regular-season series against the Anaheim Ducks
. He equaled Jyrki Lumme
for the team lead in scoring among defensemen with 7 goals and 30 points and finished second to Boston Bruins
forward Sergei Samsonov
in the voting for the Calder Trophy as the NHL's top rookie.
A serious eye injury suffered in a preseason game against the Ottawa Senators
on Sept. 21, 1999, forced Ohlund in and out of the lineup over the next two seasons while recovering from two eye surgeries.
"I was so young at the time (of the eye injury), I didn't have a whole lot of concerns," Ohlund told NHL.com earlier this season. "Had something like that happened now, I'd have more concern but it went by and I missed quite a few games. I took a year and half before I felt fine again and now things are much better. I still can't see 100 percent (out of the right eye), but I wear contacts and glasses and they do the trick."
Ohlund has represented Team Sweden on an international level several times, including three Olympics, three World Junior Championships, three World Championships and one World Cup.
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.