Whereas Jay Bouwmeester and Scott Niedermayer may cost way too much - both in actual salary and opportunity losses (signing other players), there is one top pairing-capable defenseman remaining among the UFAs this summer. Well, he was a top pairing defenseman on his own team up until this past season. But I think he definitely can still do it. I'm talking about Vancouver's own Mattias Ohlund.
#2 / Defenseman / Vancouver Canucks
Sep 09, 1976
2008-09 Salary: $3.5 million
|2008 - Mattias Ohlund
Up until this season, Ohlund was the minutes leader on the Canucks' blueline. In 2005-06, he averaged 25:40 ahead of Sami Salo and Ed Jovanovski. In 2006-07, he still led with 24:47, though Kevin Bieksa, Willie Mitchell, and Salo weren't too far behind. In an injury-shortened 2007-08, Ohlund still led with an average of 23:46 ahead of Bieksa, Mitchell, and Salo. Yet, only in this past year did Bieksa and Mitchell overtake Ohlund to lead Vancouver's defense. Even then, he still averaged 21:34.
While the dropping average in minutes may be a concern for some, I think it's more of a fact that Mitchell and Bieksa (and soon Alexander Edler) have taken over the blueline. Ohlund hasn't had a massive fall from grace, so to speak. He still averaged at least 20 minutes a night, which is quite good - the coaches felt he could handle that much work and for the most part, he did just that. The scouting report on him is that he's still an intelligent player who uses his size and skating ability well.
Yet the numbers at Behind the Net for this past season in even strength situations won't wow you. While the shots against per 60 minutes is a big 27.5 when he's on the ice, his quality of competition (0.01) was still above average with a lower quality of teammates (-0.02). Yet, the goals against per 60 minutes is still a good 2.34; though part of that has to be attributable to Roberto Luongo. Impressively enough, the goals for per 60 when Ohlund is on the ice is 2.94, a big leap over when he's not on the ice, which is a mere 2.46. Again, that could be his teammates, but I don't think he's taking anything away from him.
In short, Ohlund can still play a solid amount of minutes per night and get the job done. Maybe not impressively well, but not to the total detriment of the team. He may find himself in a better spot in New Jersey, where every skater is taught the importance of playing in their own zone (and they definitely will be taught that again and again and again). Plus if Paul Martin goes down to injury, Ohlund can properly replace him and his minutes.
As a side bonus, according to the Canucks blog Nucks Misconduct, apparently Ohlund is definitely looking to get out. Even if he wants a raise from his current salary of $3.5 million, it's not going to be prohibitively large like Bouwmeester or Neidermayer. I can't see him getting too much more than $4.5 million - at most. Especially if Oduya doesn't want to come back, I think Ohlund would be a good option to replace him despite the different styles of play. And if Oduya does want to return, Ohlund would be a massive upgrade over Mike Mottau in the top 4 while still leaving enough cap space to sign him (though maybe not Holik as well, but I don't think anyone would mind that).
He's solid in his own zone, he's not going to cost an arm and a leg, he wants out of Vancouver (or so I think), and he'd be an upgrade. He's only 32, so he's not seriously fighting Father Time to stay relevant. What's the problem then?
First off, he's not an offensive defenseman. He's a defensive defenseman and about a third of you wanted that, so perhaps that's not a big deal. Still, do not expect a lot of points to come from Ohlund. His career high in points is 36 and he hit that in the 2001-02 season. He's never scored more than 14 goals, and as you see above, he's not hitting close to those numbers. Plus, he's a left handed shot like, well, all the other Devils defenseman so it's not like he'll bring a different angle from the point. Again, if you want or don't mind a defensive defenseman, this won't be a problem. Then again, I think the biggest hole on the blueline is in terms of offense - Ohlund will not fill this hole unless his offensive game rises like a phoenix. I highly doubt that will happen.
Second, he had surgery on his left knee back in the end of the 2007-08 season. I don't consider this to be major now, as he played a full season of 82 games and playoffs with the Canucks without too much of a problem. But if there's a sign that his left knee could hurt his performance, I'd avoid giving him a long term contract at least. I wouldn't use it as a reason to avoid him completely, given that he did play all of 2008-09. Still, I'd pay a little more attention to his medical report, that's all. If everything checks out, than this is a non-issue (for now).
Third, since the free agent defenseman sweepstakes will be centered on Bouwmeester this summer, it means some players are going to be given ridiculous deals because they are what's left after Bouwmeester and, well, they need a defenseman. That's why Oduya is a concern for being re-signed because he's relatively young and really coming into his own on defense. Ohlund will have multiple suitors for many of the positives I mentioned earlier. The added bonus for Ohlund is that he knows what it takes to play on that first pairing and play significant minutes on a nightly basis.
That all said, I feel Ohlund is the best and most reasonable signing should the Devils want a top-pairing capable defenseman. I would not complain about Ohlund in a Devils uniform. While the Devils would still remain to be lackluster on offense from the blueline going into 2009-10; he would definitely make it stronger on defense. Again, a top four of Martin-Oduya and White-Ohlund is definitely nothing to mess with. I think he would be a good signing, but Lou and the staff have to think whether they truly need a two-way/offensive defensman. Again, I think they do and in that case, perhaps they shouldn't make the effort to sign him.
What do you make of Ohlund? Is it a big deal that the Devils sign a defenseman who can pile up 22+ minutes a night on average? Do you feel he would be a big upgrade to the defense? Or do you still strongly think the Devils should go after someone who is more capable of generating points from that blueline? Have your say in the comments.