For former Lightning defenseman Mike Lundin, a dream-come-true situation with his hometown Wild has gotten off to a depressing start.
Lundin, 27, a native of the Minneapolis-St. Paul suburb of Burnsville, Minn., who played for Tampa Bay his first four NHL seasons, signed a one-year free agent deal with the Wild over the summer. However, Lundin has been sidelined since the third day of training camp due to a freak back injury, returning to practice last week.
"It's been long, been tough, frustrating," Lundin said in a phone interview. "(It's been) just trying to stay sane mentally while watching your team win hockey games and play together, and hope you'll be back."
Lundin would love nothing more than for his season debut to come tonight, when the Wild, first in the Northwest Division, hosts the Lightning at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
"I know most of the guys and would love to compete against them," Lundin said. "I'll do everything I can do to be ready for that game."
Lundin had envisioned still being with the Lightning, which drafted him in the fourth round in 2004. He had been one of its better defensemen, a mobile, steady player who averaged more than 20 minutes in the 2010-11 regular season, though his play dropped off a bit in Tampa Bay's playoff run to the Eastern Conference final.
The Lightning liked him but was wary of how much Lundin, who could have been a restricted free agent after last season, could earn through salary arbitration. So it didn't make Lundin a qualifying offer in the summer, making him an unrestricted free agent.
"When the season ended, I was pretty certain I'd be back," Lundin said. "But the business side of things unfolded, and we just had to go separate directions. It didn't happen suddenly, so I kind of saw it coming but was a little bit surprised."
Tampa Bay did end up offering Lundin a multiyear deal worth more money annually than the one-year, $1 million deal he eventually signed with the Wild.
"It was still a tough decision," Lundin said. "In the end, I thought that obviously being close to home and friends and family was good. But when it came down to it, the best place to step in and hope to play some good minutes (was in Minnesota). I felt there was a hole here I could fill. That was the deciding factor."
Lundin settled into a home in Lakeville with his wife, Shelly, and 1-year-old son, Finn. But he got more babysitting duty than he had planned after suffering from back spasms on the third day of camp. What followed was a challenging rehabilitation, which included different setbacks and having him "pretty much doing nothing for two months."
"I've never had any back problems or anything like that," Lundin said. "It was kind of a freak injury."
The Lightning could have used him this season, considering its depth has been sapped by losing Mattias Ohlund for a while because of minor knee surgeries. Lundin said he has fond memories of Tampa Bay, from his former teammates and coaches to the fans.
"It was tough the first few years, being close to the bottom (in the standings) and not making the playoffs, and the coaching changes," Lundin said. "But playing in Tampa, even with a bad team, fans always stuck with us. I definitely have some memories there."