Matt Smaby's new two-year contract guarantees an NHL salary. Still, the Lightning defenseman knows a roster spot is not a sure thing.
"I definitely have to earn it," he said Sunday. "It's not a walk-through by any means."
Still, the $1.05 million deal, signed late Saturday, that pays $500,000 next season and $550,000 in 2010-11 provides some peace of mind.
It is a one-way deal, meaning it pays the same whether Smaby is in the NHL or the minors. It avoids an arbitration hearing scheduled for Tuesday, and Smaby believes it means a longer look at him in training camp.
"I feel this gives me a better shot than anything else," he said.
Much better, he said, than in past camps, when "I felt I was really, really fighting for a spot, like I was swimming upstream. I didn't want to have that feeling."
That is why Smaby, looking for a one-way deal, filed for arbitration after Tampa Bay's qualifying offer to the restricted free agent was for $660,000 if he played in the NHL and $65,000 if he played in the minors.
Smaby, 24, of Minneapolis did his part last season with four assists and 50 penalty minutes in 43 games, sticking with the team after a December callup from AHL Norfolk. He played several months with a broken right foot to help an injury-depleted blue line.
"I feel what I did, any guy fighting for a spot would do," he said. "I just pushed myself to get better every day."
With the foot healed, Smaby said summer workouts have added 8 pounds to his 6-foot-5 frame and he weighs a lean 240.
"He's worked his (butt) off," agent Ben Hankinson said. "You're going to see a much-improved Matt Smaby."
Damian Cristodero can be reached at email@example.com.