The San Jose Sharks announced Thursday that when camp opens Friday, September 17 at Sharks Ice, they will have another competitor for a top-6 defenseman spot.
Former Detroit Red Wing blueliner Andreas Lilja, who missed most of last season with a concussion suffered during a fight with Shea Weber in 2009, has accepted an invitation to camp with the Sharks.
Lilja, 35, played about 20 games with the Red Wings last year (and 11 post-season contests) before becoming a free agent. Detroit GM Ken Holland was reported to have made one attempt to re-sign the stay-at-home defenseman, but when the offer was rejected, he allowed Lilja to seek work elsewhere.
San Jose’s top six defenders are Dan Boyle, Douglas Murray, Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Jason Demers, Kent Huskins and Niclas Wallin. San Jose GM Doug Wilson has been looking for someone to replace the retired veteran Rob Blake; Wilson had explored free agents, including an offer sheet extended to Niklas Hjalmarsson of the Stanley Cup Champion Black Hawks, but had not made any moves.
Lilja is well known to San Jose head coach Todd McLellan, who was an assistant in Detroit for several years, as was current Sharks assistant coach Jay Woodcroft.
McLellan told San Jose Mercury reporter David Pollak that Lilja “is a solid, heavy player . . . good penalty killer . . . blocks a lot of shots.”
McLellan noted that, in addition to the coaching staff’s familiarity with Lilja, there is the player’s familiarity with the staff’s style. “He understands us as coaches . . . and how we want to play.”
The team believes Lilja is now 100% healthy, since he was able to play over 30 games at the end of last season, and they plan to give the veteran “every opportunity” to play his way into a contract.
Camp opens Friday, and attendance by fans will be limited to the first 300, who will gain entry via wristbands issued an hour prior to each day’s session at Sharks Ice.