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Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman welcomes pressure of $20 million contract extension

Victor Hedman, left, knows more pressure is part of his five-year, $20 million extension: “But I’m secure within myself that I can … make a difference.”

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Victor Hedman, left, knows more pressure is part of his five-year, $20 million extension: “But I’m secure within myself that I can … make a difference.”

BRANDON — Now, Victor Hedman said, perhaps he will buy a house.

The Lightning defenseman has rented in the Tampa Bay area since his 2009-10 rookie season. But after signing a five-year, $20 million contract extension that kicks in next season, he said "it would be nice to get a place" for himself and "forever" girlfriend, Sanna Grundberg.

"I'm so happy," Hedman said. "I've been walking around with smiles and having trouble sleeping, I'm so happy."

It has been a whirlwind few days for the big Swede, who signed Wednesday, let it sink in Thursday and after Friday's practice at the Ice Sports Forum did an extended interview with a Swedish television station that considers him big news back home.

Big contracts get that kind of attention. But Hedman said he knows there is more to the deal than all that guaranteed money — namely, guaranteed pressure.

Tampa Bay expects Hedman, 6 feet 6, 229 pounds, to be a cornerstone of the future, along with center Steven Stamkos. It also is banking on the No. 2 overall pick of the 2009 draft developing into an elite blue liner.

"When you get that type of contract, there obviously becomes pressure," Hedman said.

"It's taken a lot of hard work to get where I am right now. It's going to take even more work to get better as a player. But I'm secure within myself that I can be that player and be that defenseman to make a difference."

Lightning coach Guy Boucher said he sees Hedman like Boston 6-9 defenseman Zdeno Chara, an intimidating force who contributes on both sides of the puck and is an annual contender for the Norris Trophy, given to the league's top defenseman.

It is a long-term goal, but Boucher said, "I think teams are already starting to notice, 'My goodness, this guy has taken a step.' … He's huge. He's a horse out there. He's hitting guys. He's finishing checks. He's everywhere the opponent is."

"Just trying to go around him is virtually impossible," Tampa Bay captain Vinny Lecavalier said. "He's got speed, he's big and strong, and has that long reach. He's got the full package."

Hedman plays against the top lines, so expect him to face former Lightning star Brad Richards tonight against the Rangers at the St. Pete Times Forum.

He averages 22:53 of ice time and is minus-7 in 21 games, in part because he has just two goals and zero assists.

Considering Hedman's personal bests last season were three goals and 26 points, Boucher is confident offense will come.

"He's our best at finding holes in the offensive zone," Boucher said. "He's just not doing a good job finishing. If that's where we are, we're in a good spot."

Besides, general manager Steve Yzerman said, "He's in his third year. He's just learning the position."

Will pressure from a big contract affect Hedman's learning curve?

"I don't know; we'll see," Boucher said. "But I know one thing about Victor. He's a very dedicated athlete. He's a horse in the gym. He's always first on the ice and last off, so I would certainly bet on him getting better."

"I want to be a force on this team," Hedman said. "I want to be a difference-maker and help this team win hockey games."

minor moves: The Lightning traded AHL Norfolk center James Wright and defenseman Mike Vernace to the Panthers for AHL defensemen Mike Kostka and Evan Oberg. Wright, 21, was a Lightning fourth-round draft pick in 2008 and made his NHL debut in the 2009-10 season, playing in 48 games (two goals, five points). He played one game with the Lighting last season. Vernace, 25, played 10 games with the Lightning last season (one assist, minus-2). Oberg, 23 and 6 feet, 165 pounds, played two games for the Canucks in each of 2009-10 and '10-11, and has played in 125 career AHL games. Kostka, 26 and 6 feet 1, 210 pounds, has never played in the NHL and has 255 AHL games.

Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman welcomes pressure of $20 million contract extension 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 9:19pm]
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