BRANDON — In two months, Mattias Ohlund has increased from 10 to 20 the exercise repetitions he can perform with his left knee.
A 30-minute walk with his family is no longer a test of how much pain he can endure.
"And I'm not laying on the couch with my knees up and ice packs on them," Ohlund said. "My daily activities are perfectly fine."
It is his hockey career that is teetering.
The Lightning defense- man is six months removed from major surgery in which a thin layer of titanium was used to resurface his femur at the patellofemoral joint behind his kneecap. That created a cushion where cartilage had flaked away and bone-on-bone rubbing caused such severe pain, Ohlund missed all last season.
There is no guarantee, though, the surgery — basically a partial joint replacement — will allow him to play.
"Do I have a dream to still play hockey? Yeah, I do," Ohlund, 35, said Monday after a workout at the Ice Sports Forum. "I'm slowly getting better. But I don't know what the end result will be."
Ohlund could not say if this is the most difficult test of his career. There was the time, after all, when he was 20 and playing in his native Sweden that he lost for two months the vision in an eye hit by a puck. And even if he never again plays in the NHL, the surgery, he said, "definitely was a success as far as, my normal life is better."
Still, any athlete wants to go out on his own terms, which is why Ohlund, scheduled to make $5 million next season and with four years, $11.75 million left on his contract, will exhaust all efforts to get back.
It will be a long process.
As much progress as he has made, there still is no timetable to get Ohlund on skates. Ohlund isn't even jogging and admitted there is pain in his knee which might never fully disappear.
He certainly won't be ready for the start of the season, and general manager Steve Yzerman said he put together next season's squad "with the assumption (Ohlund) wouldn't be ready to go."
That is a continuing blow to a team that could use the hard-hitting 6-foot-4, 229-pounder, especially on the penalty kill.
"He was such an important part of our team (in 2010-11)," Yzerman said. "If we were able to get him back it would be a big help."
Lightning assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier said Ohlund, who last week returned to Tampa after rehabbing for two months in Sweden, is at least headed in the right direction.
"Significantly improved," Poirier said. "When he left me he could only get to 10, 12 reps; it was painful. Now he can do 15 to 20 reps without pain. The next step is to build him up even more."
"Nobody has told me this is impossible," Ohlund said of a comeback in his 14th NHL season.
"Have I thought about not being able to play? Absolutely. But at this point my focus is to get better tomorrow and the next day. I can see improvements. I'm not sure where it will take me but I'm quite positive about how I feel compared to a couple of months ago."
For now, that is all he can ask.
Around the league
TORONTO — The NHL Players' Association is preparing to present its vision for a new collective bargaining agreement to the league when labor talks resume today.
Just don't call it a counterproposal.
NHLPA executive director Don Fehr said Monday the union's proposal will offer a "different kind of an approach" and an "alternate view."
The presentation comes a month after the NHL made its first proposal, which included a 20 percent reduction of players' share of revenues and limitations to free agency.
AVALANCHE: Goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere signed a one-year contract extension through 2013-14.
FLYERS: Defenseman Andreas Lilja had left hip surgery last month, and is expected back no sooner than late October.
Information from Times wires was used in this report. Damian Cristodero can be reached at [email protected]