This Broke My Heart…

Not forever a Canuck, classy Ohlund plays on

By Iain MacIntyre, Vancouver Sun

 

While a brush fire raged Monday near Vancouver Canuck defenceman Shane O’Brien, who dropped napalm as reporters asked him about being a healthy scratch, across the Vancouver Canucks’ dressing room the slow smoulder around Mattias Ohlund continued unnoticed.

Ohlund isn’t angry, merely largely resigned to the likelihood that his decade-long stint as the backbone of the Canucks’ defence is nearing an end. Any frustration Ohlund harboured about a slightly diminished role in what seems his final National Hockey League season in Vancouver, long ago dissipated. It was never expressed publicly.

In Saturday’s 4-3 loss to the Minnesota Wild, everyone saw that Mats Sundin didn’t get off the Canuck bench in the final minute of regulation time and overtime. Maybe you didn’t notice Ohlund was sitting at the other end of it.

Ohlund’s only contribution was a fragment of broken stick, snapped against the dasher when Marc-Andre Bergeron scored in OT, that skipped across the ice as the Wild celebrated.

“That was just frustration that we got scored on,” Ohlund said.

When the Canucks pressed desperately for a tying goal, coach Alain Vigneault used defencemen Sami Salo and Alex Edler in the final minute. And when he changed penalty-killers in overtime, going to two defencemen from one, Vigneault left blueliner Willie Mitchell on the ice and sent Salo out to join him. Ohlund stayed on the bench.

“Without a doubt in my mind, Sami and Alex Edler were our two best Ds as far as moving the puck and trying to get their shots on net,” Vigneault explained Monday. “Those two guys, at the end of the game, were our two best defencemen. That’s why they were out there.”

Fair enough.

It was a far more defensible position than Vigneault’s decision to scratch O’Brien and winger Mason Raymond in favour of Rob Davison and Mike Brown, replacing two guys who can handle the puck with two guys who can’t. Though admirably competitive, Brown and Davison combined for just 7:34 of ice time, about 221⁄2 minutes fewer than what Raymond and O’Brien offer.

Partly because of Davison’s limitations, Ohlund logged 25:12. But that nudged the 32-year-old’s season average to only 21:59, nearly two minutes less than last season and about 31⁄2 minutes off the Swede’s career average.

Small changes, but Ohlund has noticed.

“I’m not trying to analyse it,” he said. “They’re going to put out whoever they think gives us the best chance to win. When I get tapped on the shoulder, I go out and play. That’s all I know. I’d like to be out there. I’m sure other guys would say the same thing.”

Overshadowed by the possible free agency of first-liners Daniel and Henrik Sedin, Ohlund’s contractual status generated little fanfare when talks on an extension broke off last fall.

Ohlund, eight points shy of becoming the franchise’s all-time leading scorer on defence, is probably the first Canuck victim of the global economic crisis. He badly wants to stay in Vancouver and general manager Mike Gillis reiterated Monday he’d like to keep the defenceman who has spent his entire 11-year career with the Canucks.

But no one knows what the NHL salary cap will be next season, except that in the next two years it is likely to plummet. With the Sedins still to sign, goalie Roberto Luongo under contract next season at $7.5 million US and defencemen Kevin Bieksa, Mitchell, Salo and Edler on the books for $14 million, Gillis simply doesn’t have enough money to keep Ohlund.

Not for anything close to market value ($5-6 million US over 4-5 years), anyway.

Ohlund understands this. He believes the Canucks have acted in good faith, and accepts there are consequences to the economic uncertainty. He is not bitter. Not even close.

But that doesn’t make this season easier for him. It is no accident that he has never played for another team. So content was he to stay — and willing to give a discount — none of his previous contracts made it to the final year before Ohlund re-signed.

He lives here more than 10 months a year, spending just July and another week or two back home in Pitea. Vancouver is the only home his children, Viktor, 9, and Hannah, 7, have known. Viktor was born with one leg shorter than the other, and the Ohlunds have strong ties to staff at Children’s Hospital.

“My son is pretty interested in hockey, so he knows what’s going on,” Ohlund said of not knowing where he’ll be next season. “But they’re kids. They don’t think much further than the next minute.

“I’m sort of past that point [of worrying]. We’ve played most of the year. There were talks last summer that didn’t lead anywhere. You get to the point where you’re kind of reconciled to it, and then you move on. You go through times where you reflect on it, but now I’m excited about the future.”

Gillis said he hasn’t given up on trying to sign Ohlund after the season and praised the assistant captain for his professionalism and commitment.

“No one knows what the future is from a salary-cap situation,” Ohlund said. “I know this is a business. I’ve been here 11 years and it has been great. But if I’m not here, I’ll move on and be perfectly happy somewhere else.”

This made me tear up a little bit.  You can laugh if you want.  It just perfectly describes why he’s my favourite player.  He’s classy, and never complains.  He adores Vancouver.  It makes me immensely sad that he might be a victim of the salary cap.  Of course you first and foremost cheer for the logo on the front (no matter what it changes to) and not the name on the back, but it doesn’t take away the fact that you get attached to certain players.  I hope they’re somehow still able to work out a contract that works for both sides.  He’s 8 points away from becoming the franchise scoring leader on defence.  I can’t picture him in another sweater.

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4 thoughts on “This Broke My Heart…

  1. One would think they’d at least look at dealing Bieksa and keeping Ohlund, although he really hasn’t stood out lately. Always liked his game, but $5-million a season would be an overpay.

  2. Yeah, both Bieksa and Ohlund have struggled recently. Although it’s hard to pick out a Canuck that hasn’t really. Even I would say 5 million would be too much, but hopefully something similar to what he’s making now can be worked out.

  3. If nothing changes to help out from a financial perspective (trade, sudden rebirth of the economy, no more cap), I don’t see how the Canucks could keep Ohlund even with a discount.

    That being said, I would rather keep Ohlund over Bieksa if there were an opportunity to choose. I see both as relatively equal, but I find there to be more consistency with Ohlund’s game. True Bieksa has the benefit of being younger, but he’s more like Jovo was (what Jovo giveth, Jovo also taketh away) and high risk, high reward.

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