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Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning were the stars of the opening day of the free-agent season - and ended up signing so many new players that they had ultimately had 18 forwards on one-way contracts by the time training camp opened.

This year, the Lightning were also first off the mark, signing ex-Canucks' defenceman Mattias Ohlund to a new contract. The move was done strictly to help fellow Swede Victor Hedman, their 18-year-old first-round draft choice, adapt more easily to the NHL.

It is a fairly astute move, given that Ohlund played a little over 21 minutes per night last season and won't turn 33 until September, so he figures to have three-to-five decent seasons left on a front-loaded contract with a $3.75-million (U.S.) annual salary-cap charge.

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The two moves, taken together, meets the Lightning's primary need of upgrading what was probably the worst six-man defensive unit in the NHL last season (with apologies to the New York Islanders). Since it looks as if Vincent Lecavalier is going to stay now, assuming Tampa's Mike Smith comes back OK from injury, the Lightning might actually be competitive next season.

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About the Author

Eric was the winner of the Hockey Hall Of Fame's Elmer Ferguson award for "distinguished contributions to hockey writing" in 2001. A graduate of the University of Western Ontario's grad school of journalism, he began covering hockey in 1978 and after spending 20 years covering the NHL and the Calgary Flames, joined The Globe in 2000. More

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