TSN.ca is reporting that the Tampa Bay Lightning have struck first in this year's NHL free agency by signing free agent veteran Swedish defenseman Mattias Ohlund to a 7-year, $26.5M contract. A Swedish-born veteran defenseman seems like the perfect fit for a team that not only struggled last season without a veteran presence on the blueline, but also just drafted Swedish defensive phenom Victor Hedman.
â€œWe are thrilled Mattias [Ohlund] elected to sign with the Tampa Bay Lightning today,â€ said Lawton upon making the announcement. â€œWith so many options in front of him, having him elect to play in Tampa demonstrates the faith he has in our teamâ€™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.â€
Ohlund is a 12 year veteran of the Vancouver Canucks, drafted by the Vancouver 13th overall in the 1994 NHL Entry Draft. In 770 career regular season games, Ohlund has 93 goals and 232 assists for 325 points. He the leads the franchise all-time for defencemen in goals and points.
Players receiving qualifying offers were defensemen Lukas Krajicek, Matt Smaby, Matt Lashoff and Mike Lundin; forwards Martins Karsums, Blair Jones, Radek Smolenak and Lauri Tukonen; and goaltender Karri Ramo. Both Smolenak and Ramo have signed contracts to play in the KHL next season.
Czech Hockey site hockejportal.cz is reporting that Avangard Omsk of the KHL has signed Lightning goaltender Karri Ramo to a two-year contract. Terms of the agreement are not known at this time, or whether Ramo has an NHL "out" in the contract.
Ramo's three-year entry-level contract with the Lightning expired at the end of the season and remains an NHL restricted free agent with Tampa holding his rights provided that the team issues a qualifying offer prior to the June 29th deadline. The Lightning have also lost forwards Radek Smolenak and Johan Harju to KHL contracts earlier in the summer. At this point, one might be led to speculate that a general lack of attention to prospect signings might be occuring in the vacuum left when the Lightning decided not to renew the contract of AGM Claude Loiselle.
BoltProspects contacted the Lightning for a comment about the Ramo signing but the team indicated they are not issuing any kind of formal statement at this time.
Damian Crisdotero of the St. Pete Times has confirmed with Ramo's agent that Ramo has signed a deal with Omsk. The deal includes an out clause that will allow Ramo to leave Russia after one season, but Ramo is indeed gone for the 2009-2010 campaign.
Perhaps not coincidentally, Ramo's agent is Mark Gandler, of Evgeny Artyukhin contract squabble fame.
According to a Regina, SASK based sports blog, rodpederson.com, the Tampa Bay Lightning are considering hiring Regina's Jamie Heward as a player/assistant coach, presumably with their AHL affiliate in Norfolk.
Not sure how reliable this news is, as technically the Toronto Maple Leafs retain Heward's rights until July 1. However, it is possible the Leafs could have given the Lightning permission to speak with Heward, but that seems doubtful considering the public sparring that has gone on between the GMs of the two clubs over Tampa's #2 overall pick in the upcoming NHL entry draft later this month.
Heward was an anchor for the Norfolk blueline early last season before injuries in Tampa led to his recall and eventual season-ending head injury from a controversial check by Capitals megastar Alexander Ovechkin. Controversy continued around Heward when the Lighting traded him along with injured goalie Olaf Kolzig, prospect bust Andy Rogers, and a 2009 draft pick to the Leafs at the trade deadline. Though approved by the league, the trade was heralded by pundits and fans as a rather obvious deal by Leafs GM Brian Burke to "purchase" a draft pick from the Lightning.
In just a few short hours, the two year run of goaltender Torrie Jung and defenseman Michael Ward as Tampa Bay Lightning prospects could end. As 2007 draftees out of Canadian juniors, both players are facing a June 1 deadline to be signed to entry level contracts by the Lightning or be returned to the 2009 NHL entry draft later this month in Montreal. The Lighting have already signed fellow 2007 draftees Dana Tyrell and Mitch Fadden, along with 2008 draftee Dustin Tokarski to three-year rookie contracts. Jung, who had a spectacular comeback season for the Edmonton Oil Kings, has seemingly played well enough to earn a contract, but faces considerable depth in the Lightning system behind Mike Smith, Karri Ramo, Riku Helenius, and the highly touted Tokarski. Ward, while showing a more pedestrian development and is considered somewhat of a longshot to earn a contract, would seemingly benefit from a general lack of blueline depth in the Lightning system.
Defenseman John Wessbecker, a 2007 NCAA draftee out of the University of Massachusettes-Amherst, faces an August 15 deadline as a graduating senior to sign an entry level contract or be released as an unrestricted free agent.