To be honest, the fans in Calgary were rather lukewarm to the idea when Anton Babchuk was signed for two years and a cap hit of $2.5 million. I was included in that group. I saw him as a depth defenseman. Initial reaction was that he took advantage of the higher contracts being signed throughout the league.
Upon second look, I’m starting to like it more.
The big problem with Babchuk is that he gets lost in the mix. He doesn’t meet the offensive defenseman mould that Mark Giordano has created in Calgary. Babchuk isn’t flashy and is often missed when watching a game – except when he takes a shot from the point. Hard to miss one of those powerful slapshots.
Ultimately, whether fans take notice of him is inconsequential to on ice results. So let’s take a look at his stats and salary and compare them to other NHL defensemen.
Babchuk was second in scoring for Flames defensemen with 11 goals and 24 assists. He also led the Flames with a plus-14 rating. In comparison to all NHL defensemen, Babchuk was 35th in scoring and 25th in plus-minus. To top it off, Babchuk played in all 82 games, split between the Carolina Hurricanes and Flames.
To put those stats in comparison for the 2010-11 season, Babchuk outscored former Flames prodigy Dion Phaneuf and had a better plus-minus rating than defensive specialist, and also former Flame, Robyn Regehr. Given the current make-up of the Flames roster, Babchuk will see a significant increase on his 15:00 minutes per game and be paired against opponents’ top lines. So those defensive numbers may suffer.
Given those stats, let’s compare Babchuk’s salary.
Ian White, whom the Flames traded for Babchuk, has never scored more than 30 points and was a minus-10 before the Flames moved him. White signed with the Red Wings on July 2 for a cap hit just north of $2.8 million.
Roman Hamrlik, at 37-years-old, had similar stats to Babchuk, but will have a $3.5 million cap hit on a Washington team that is currently over the salary cap.
Adam Pardy sat out much of last season with the Flames because of injuries and hasn’t had more than 10 points in his three NHL seasons. Despite that, Pardy signed a two-year-contract in Dallas at a $2 million cap hit.
What has to be acknowledged is that given the crop of defensive free agents, and the types of contracts that were being signed, the Flames came away with a fairly good deal. It is far from perfect and Regehr left a hole in the top four that Babchuk doesn’t quite fill.
However, the Flames needed to move Regehr for the cap space. To get a player of Regehr’s quality back in the trade would have meant taking on a similar contract to his. So the Flames needed to fill a roster spot and Babchuk was certainly a good internal option.
At two years, the Flames aren’t hindered by a long term. The no movement clause is a tough pill to swallow, for a team already hindered by 11 others.
That said, Babchuk offers an offensive upside that the Flames need from their blueline, and his defensive numbers are definitely respectable.
In a perfect world, Flames fans and Jay Feaster alike wouldn’t have Babchuk penciled in as a top four defenseman. But in the real world, where NHL clubs are handing out contracts far more shocking than this one, Babchuk could prove to be a good and comparably cheaper option.