ANAHEIM, Calif. – The Anaheim Ducks signed defenceman Luca Sbisa to a four-year contract extension worth US$8.7 million, rewarding the young Swiss Olympian for his promising play this season.
Although Sbisa just recently turned 21, he has become a dependable, hard-hitting NHL defenceman over the past four months. After a rough training camp and a stint in the minors, the Ducks believe he has finally matured into the player they expected after acquiring him for former league MVP Chris Pronger.
“I worked really hard for this contract,” Sbisa said Tuesday after practice at Honda Center. “I like the stability.
“I know where I’m going to be, and I know I can just focus on hockey.”
Sbisa has two goals and six assists in 52 games for the Ducks, averaging nearly 16 1/2 minutes per game. He’s also among the team’s most physical defencemen, ranking second with 131 hits.
“We’re seeing a young player starting to mature into an everyday NHL player, and we think there’s a lot more he can grow into,” Anaheim coach Randy Carlyle said.
Sbisa could have been a restricted free agent this summer, but the Ducks chose to offer a long-term contract over a qualifying offer. He will make $1.2 million next season, $2 million in 2012-13, $2.6 million in 2013-14 and $2.9 million in the final year of the deal.
Sbisa credits his rapid development to his early start in the North American game. He started playing junior hockey with the WHL’s Lethbridge Hurricanes at age 17, and joined the Philadelphia Flyers a year later after they drafted him in the first round in 2008.
He even played in one playoff game for Philadelphia, becoming the second-youngest player to appear in a post-season game for the Flyers, but he spent most of last season back in junior hockey and with the Swiss national team after the trade to Anaheim.
But he struggled last fall in his second training camp with the Ducks, who sent him to the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch for a month.
“It was the right decision,” Sbisa said. “I didn’t want to leave at the time, but I needed to play a lot of minutes, take a lot of responsibility.
“It was also just about going out and having fun, and since I’ve been back up, I’ve tried to do the same thing.”
Carlyle believes Sbisa’s month in the AHL cleared his head after a horrible training camp.
“We thought he was going to get hurt out there,” Carlyle said of Sbisa’s camp effort. “But then he dominated games down there (in the AHL).
“Numerous people told us he was too good for the AHL.”
Sbisa was born in Sardinia, but his family moved to central Switzerland a few months later. He was captain of the Swiss world junior team before playing alongside Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller at the Vancouver Olympics last year.
Sbisa thinks he has played the best hockey of his life over the past month, highlighted by a stellar effort in a thrilling 7-6 loss to Washington in mid-February. After Ducks general manager Bob Murray initiated talks about a long-term deal, Sbisa’s agent flew in from Europe to hammer it out.
“They want to commit to me, and that just gave me a big confidence boost,” Sbisa said.