The Tampa Bay Lightning announced today that they have re-signed defenseman Andrej Sustr to a two-year contract extension worth a total of $2.9-million. The towering defender played in 72 regular season games and 26 playoff games for the Lightning this season; he scored one goal and added 14 assists during that span of contests.
Almost immediately following the announcement, reaction started pouring in from all corners of Bolts Nation. People weren't thrilled. Sustr, by all accounts, had a fairly rough year for Tampa Bay. Neither the 'eye test' nor the numbers paint a picture of a guy who could be trusted to play top-six minutes for a Stanley Cup-contending team. He was the brunt of an endless barrage of criticism, especially as the season wore on. His playoffs, when paired almost exclusively with Matt Carle, were an unmitigated disaster. Giveaways, untimely errors, and bad reads made his play on the bottom pairing an adventure on too many shifts. In short, Sustr likely wasn't writing home to mom about his play in 2014-15.
And, yet, I have exactly zero problem with this signing. In fact, I think it's a great move by Steve Yzerman and the Lightning's management team. Why? Because this is a pure "prove it" deal. The two-year term doesn't put the Bolts on the hook for a longterm obligation, the dollar value is manageable, and the player is familiar with the coaching staff's system. It's not like we're talking about some 35-year-old journeyman, either. Sustr is a 24-year-old guy who stands at 6'8". He's the kind of player you take a chance on, simply because you can't teach size.
The old adage is that it takes 250-300 games for a defenseman to get totally comfortable in the National Hockey League. Sustr has played 117 regular season games and 29 playoff games to this point in his career; you're looking at a player who has suited up for 146 games in a Lightning jersey. And, it's absolutely worth noting that 98 of those games came this season. Remember that he was used to playing the 40-50 game college schedule before turning pro and joining the Lightning. He's still learning.
Without any longterm or expensive obligation to Sustr, this extension gives the Lightning an opportunity to see what they have in the player. I'm willing to bet that Sustr would tell you that he learned a lot during his first full NHL campaign, a lot that will help him be a better player next year. If he can continue to work with the coaching staff, continue to learn the NHL game, and continue to better himself as a player, the potential is certainly there for him to be a solid top-six defender.
Nobody needs him to be a top-pairing guy. Nobody needs him to be a 50-point guy, either. If he can use his size to his advantage and become a reliable option on the blue line, he'll have a long NHL career. Young defenders who stand at 6'8" and who have shown flashes in the NHL are full of potential. This signing is paying for that potential, not past performance. Writing off a player after his first year in the league makes no sense whatsoever. His potential has value, and the Lightning locked up that value at an affordable rate.
Here's the bottom line: If Sustr develops and performs well for the Lightning during this two-year contract, that's fantastic. In that case, the Bolts will have a cost-controlled, inexpensive defender who can give them quality minutes. If, on the other hand, he continues to struggle and doesn't adapt to the NHL game quite as well as Tampa would like, he's gone in two years. He'll be out of sight and out of mind.
Simply put, the best case scenario is that the Bolts get a quality NHL player out of this extension; the worst case scenario is... nothing. This isn't a win-lose proposition for the Lightning. There's a potential for reward without much risk. And that's what makes this deal a good one.
As always, thanks for reading.