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Tampa Bay Lightning signs defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker and retains defenseman Lukas Krajicek

TAMPA — Mattias Ohlund said he never has met Victor Hedman, the Lightning's top draft choice, but he can't wait to get acquainted.

"I'm sure I'm going to be talking to him in the next few days," Ohlund said. "I've heard only good things about him, and I'm looking forward to spending the next few years with him."

And more than that if the Lightning has its way after signing Ohlund on Wednesday to a seven-year, $26.25 million contract with the understanding he will mentor his fellow defenseman and Swede.

"I'm real excited about joining him," Ohlund said. "I made mistakes when I was young. Hopefully, I learned from them and can prevent him from making the same ones."

Tampa Bay made no mistakes on the first day of free agency.

In addition to Ohlund, considered the second-best defenseman available behind Scott Nieder­mayer, the Lightning signed defenseman Matt Walker to a four-year, $6.8 million deal and re-signed defenseman Lukas Krajicek to a one-year deal for about $1.5 million.

Just like that, Tampa Bay's blue line went from porous to promising. There even is potential for competition, with Andrej Meszaros and Paul Ranger rounding out the top six, and Matt Laschoff, Matt Smaby and Mike Lundin, once signed, battling for the seventh spot.

"It certainly looks a lot better on paper," general manager Brian Lawton said at the St. Pete Times Forum. "I don't think a general manager is ever satisfied, but in this case, we're moving in the right direction."

Ohlund and Walker believe so and said the squabble between owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie had no effect on their decisions.

"I spoke to Brian and felt this was the team that wanted me," Ohlund said. "That's all I needed to hear."

Said Walker: "I'm just concerned with the kind of team we bring to the ice."

Tampa Bay still needs a backup goaltender, and Lawton said he would like to add another scoring wing. But he also said the chances of finding them in free agency are 50-50.

The priority Wednesday was defense. Ohlund, 32, after 11 seasons with the Canucks, was Tampa Bay's "top guy" and steps into the No. 1 position, his 6-foot-2, 227-pound frame providing the physical presence the defense lacked.

A solid two-way player, Ohlund had six goals and 25 points in 82 games last season, and a career-high 105 penalty minutes. His 95 career goals are a Vancouver record for defensemen, and he led the team last season with an average 23 minutes, 46 seconds of ice time.

Ohlund's contract, which averages $3.75 million, is front-loaded, though specifics were not available.

Walker, 29, who will make an average of $1.7 million, also is a bruiser at 6-3, 214, and had a goal, career highs of 13 assists and 14 points and 79 penalty minutes in 65 games with the Blackhawks.

"He has the physical toughness, grit, great character and just team attitude we were looking for," Lawton said.

But Ohlund, a three-time Olympian with 770 NHL games, was the catch of the day.

"This is a big moment for our team," Lawton said. "It's not an earth-shattering $100 million deal, but it's the right deal. … He plays the game the way it should be. He skates with his head up. He's got size. He's an excellent skater. He's a tough guy to play against."

And he's "ecstatic" to be with Tampa Bay after he said he realized the Canucks were not serious about re-signing him.

"I felt right from the beginning, this is the place I wanted to be," Ohlund said on a conference call from Sweden. "It felt like something I wanted to be part of.

"I do feel like I have my best years ahead of me, and I'm going to push to get better and better every year. If I can help some young guys out with my experience, that's great."

Victor Hedman, are you listening?

Tampa Bay Lightning signs defensemen Mattias Ohlund and Matt Walker and retains defenseman Lukas Krajicek 07/02/09 [Last modified: Thursday, July 2, 2009 1:25am]

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