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Sharks release veteran Lilja from tryout contract

by Dave Lozo
STOCKHOLM -- Defenseman Andreas Lilja was released from his tryout contract by the San Jose Sharks on Tuesday, just three days before the Helsingborg, Sweden, native was set to play in the team's regular-season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Globe Arena.

When the news was broken to Lilja is unclear, but he arrived in Stockholm on Tuesday afternoon and traveled to the arena with the team. He conducted a few interviews with Swedish media upon his arrival but never joined the Sharks on the ice for practice.

This marks the second season in a row that Lilja came to Stockholm to play in a Compuware NHL Premiere game without ever having the chance. As a member of the Detroit Red Wings last season, he was suffering from concussion problems long before he touched down in Sweden, so it wasn't a surprise when he couldn't go against the St. Louis Blues.

But this time Lilja was healthy and playing well with the Sharks during the preseason. He always tempered his enthusiasm about getting a chance to play an NHL Premiere game this season since he was on a tryout deal, and it turned out he was right to be cautiously optimistic.

"With the Andreas Lilja situation, we knew him in the past and we knew what he could do," said Sharks coach Todd McLellan, who saw Lilja first-hand as an assistant coach with the Red Wings from 2005-08. "He came in and had a very good camp. He did everything he could to make the hockey club, but a couple of our younger players stepped up and played really well throughout training camp.

"In fairness to Lils, if we kept him any longer he would lose out on some of the other chances he had throughout the National Hockey League and around the world. We tried to do what was right for him and we tried to do what was right for our hockey club."

While McLellan spoke about the business side of the move, defensemen Niclas Wallin and Douglas Murray took the release of their fellow Swede a little more personally.

Wallin said he planned to talk with Lilja after Tuesday's practice because he was set to fly back to the United States on Wednesday morning. Lilja is in a tough situation with his visa about to expire and a family in Detroit that may need to leave the country if he can't find a job with another NHL team.

"It's just sad because he's here in Stockholm and we have to turn him back to go and pack up," Wallin said. "His options were running out on his status in the country. He only has three more days on his visa or he has to move his family out of the country. The kids are 7 and 4 years old and in school. But it's just business. It's how it is. It's not the first time it's happened and it's not the last.

"He was happy he got a chance to show himself. He's a really good player. It's tough from last year, having been out pretty much the whole year with the concussion and coming back from the playoffs."

Murray echoed Wallin's sentiments.

"Personally, it's obviously sad. He's a good friend," Murray said. "It's a business. We lose friends and gain friends every year in this business. For all I know I can get a phone call this afternoon or get a tap on the shoulder and be told I'm gone. You learn to deal with it. I wish he could've played for us, but it is what it is."

There's still a chance Lilja could be signed by another team before Oct. 10, the date his visa actually expires. In 478 NHL games, he has 15 goals and 59 assists, but he's known more for his physical and defensive play than his scoring touch. He was part of the Red Wings' championship season of 2007-08, playing in 12 Stanley Cup Playoff games.

"He showed up in camp and he was in great shape. I'm pretty sure he's going to get a job somewhere," Wallin said. "He's a good stay-at-home defenseman, and there are other teams in other leagues that are definitely interested, so I'm not worried about him."

Follow Dave Lozo on Twitter: @DaveLozo
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