TAMPA — Every now and then, Mattias Ohlund admitted, he ponders the possibility his career might be over.
But then Ohlund remembers how it is "truly a blessing" to be a pro hockey player, and the Lightning defenseman, who in February had major surgery on his left knee in an attempt to save his career, gets back to the brutal task of rehabilitating the joint.
"I have to, for my own peace of mind, give myself a chance to do this," Ohlund said. "I'd like to play again. I don't know if it's going to happen, but I hope so."
It has been 11 weeks since Ohlund's surgery at the Cleveland Clinic, where a layer of titanium resurfaced Ohlund's femur at the joint behind his kneecap, called the patellofemoral.
That created a cushion where cartilage that usually covers the bone had flaked away, causing bone-on-bone rubbing so painful it forced Ohlund, 35, to miss last season and has kept him off skates since mid November.
That operation came after arthroscopic surgeries on both knees last summer to clean out what the team called "loose bodies."
"When you're younger, I might have looked at guys my age and in my situation and said, 'Why does he not just quit?' " a sweaty Ohlund said Friday between workouts at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
"But when you get older, you realize this is truly a blessing to be in this game. … I want to give myself another chance to play, and I'm hoping that's going to happen, but who knows?"
Letha Griffin, an orthopedic surgeon at Atlanta's Piedmont Hospital and a spokeswoman for the American Academy of Orthopaedic Surgeons, said Ohlund faces a "daunting task."
"With replacements of the surfaces of the knee, you usually would not see an individual going back to high-risk, high-contact sports of a professional nature," Griffin said. "Certainly, hockey is one of the worst for falling and injuring body limbs, and it's a very intense sport for the patellofemoral joint because it's all done off a bent knee."
Griffin stressed that her assessment is a generality. Any recovery "depends on the individual circumstances," she said, but "it would be a daunting task after partial joint replacement to play at a pro level."
Ohlund called that fair, as did Tampa Bay assistant athletic trainer Mike Poirier, who has helped Ohlund through a five-day-a-week rehab schedule that so far includes light weight training, stretching, swimming and riding a stationary bike.
Considering Ohlund did not do much the first six weeks after surgery, he is in the earliest stages of what Poirier said will be a "very slow process," with no guarantee Ohlund will be skating by training camp in September.
"But if there is anyone who's going to do it, it's going to be him," Poirier said.
Said general manager Steve Yzerman, "He's a proud guy, he's a pro, and he's doing everything he can to get back."
Even so, Yzerman said, "I'm not expecting him to start the season healthy. I suppose it's possible, but we're planning accordingly."
The defensively challenged Lightning would love to get back its 6-foot-4, 229-pound battering ram who was a mainstay on the penalty kill and during the 2010-11 playoffs averaged 20:12 of ice time and was plus-5.
Tampa Bay also wouldn't mind more return on Ohlund's contract, which has four years and $11.75 million remaining, and pays $5 million next season.
"I'm sure if this doesn't work out, we'll sit down and talk about it," Ohlund said when asked if he could walk away from a 14-season career. "But I haven't put a ton of thought into that. My goal is to play hockey again, and that's where I want to put my energy."