Anton Babchuk’s pro hockey career has been a roller coaster ride of mediocrity, flashes of brilliance and downright non-existence. Hence, the reason he was one of the NHL’s remaining UFA defensemen, until today when Calgary signed him with a 2-year, $5 million deal.
The thing is, he had a pretty solid 65-game stint in Calgary last season. Including his first 17 games in Carolina, Babchuk put up 11G – 24A and a plus-14. He could very much turn out to be a reliable blueliner this season. As far as NHL-ready defenders go, the Flames have : Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Corey Sarich, newly acquired Chris Butler and officially now, Anton Babchuk. As for Clay Wilson, Brett Carson and T.J. Brodie; they’ll get their chance to show their stuff, but you can’t blindly lean on these young guys to fill-out the roster heading into training camp.
There has already been plenty of uproar from Flames fans around the internet, which is understandable. Babchuk was a 21st overall selection in 2002 and has bounced from the NHL to the AHL to the KHL and back again, throughout his entire career. The knock on him is that his only attribute is his rocket of a shot from the point and other than that, is a defensive liability.
First of all, since he hasn’t played that bad in a Flames jersey yet, don’t pile on for things the guy hasn’t done yet…in Calgary. Secondly: $2.5 million a year isn’t bad if you look at the status quo for defensemen this free-agency period. Steve Montador got similar money from Chicago, only for 4 years. Joni Pitkanen gets $4.5 million over 3 years in Carolina. Christian Erhoff gets a ridiculous $4 million for the next 10 seasons in Buffalo. In an inflated market with a team handcuffed by the cap, Feaster didn’t do to bad. Also I would bet (or hope) that Babchuk might a little humbled by the lack of interest in him by other teams and that he doesn’t have to sign in the KHL, again. Let’s see if he comes to camp ready to prove he can be a top-4 defenseman in the National Hockey League
Here’s what Jay Feaster had to say about Babchuk:
“Anton Babchuk is a sound positional player on the back line and perhaps one of our most adept defenseman at pinching down the wall to keep the play alive in the offensive zone,” said Feaster. “Anton makes a good first pass, his shot is a big weapon for us on the power play, and he contributes to our offense without sacrificing his defensive responsibilities. He is a good teammate and a team-first guy. Even more exciting is our belief that Anton’s offensive output will continue to grow under Brent’s system. Our plan had been to have him return this season, and we are very pleased that we were able to come to an agreement that will keep him in Calgary.”
Ok so clearly the Flames aren’t holding the highest of hopes for Babchuk’s defensive zone prowess, but again; plus 14 last season. Perhaps a little stability will allow him to focus on honing a more well-rounded game. But as of this moment, considering what a Kaberle, McCabe or Hannen might cost, and what Calgary has to spend, I like this move by Jay Feaster. And hey, if the fans aren’t happy about it, at least the expectations haven’t been raised to what they are in Buffalo and Florida.