Watching the progression of Anton Babchuk in his time with the Calgary Flames this past season was one of the more interesting storylines of the 2010-11 campaign. While he gave the Flames an element they haven’t had since Dion Phaneuf manned the point, we also saw a number of deficincies in Babchuk’s game. Because he had strong counting numbers, Babchuk will have interested parties that may drive his price tag up; a price tag I believe the Flames need to be very wary of.
Babchuk is coming off a one year contract where he made $1.4 million split between Calgary and Carolina after spending a year in Russia. In all honesty, and I’ll give credit where credit is due, he gave the Flames a whole lot more than I thought he would when the trade was made. With a howitzer of a shot, Babchuk is absolutely a factor on the powerplay. He makes rooms for other players and he has the ability to unleash a shot that seemingly goes through goaltenders. As such, 11 of his 27 points with the Flames last season came with the man advantage.
There’s no doubting how Babchuk can be effective, but there’s also the fact that he’s not the most well rounded defenceman. Defensively, there are glaring problems that pop up especially as he plays more minutes on a per game basis. Those things can be covered and minimized by utilizing him at even strength in a much less impact role, which is exactly what Head Coach Brent Sutter did as the season progressed last year.
When Babchuk first arrived, he was playing more minutes in a higher role, and he was not donig very well 5-on-5. Gradually, Sutter managed his ice time more and more to the point where he was relegated to a 5-6 role on the blueline with plenty of powerplay time and very little defensive responsibility. His 61.9% offensive zone start was the highest among regular Flames players and among the highest in the NHL. Essentially, the Flames utilized Babchuk as a specialist, which is just fine and it’s something that you can get value from. The question is, however, how many resourcse do you put into that type of player?
I’d have no problem if the Flames brought Babchuk back at or around the same cap hit from a year prior. However, I don’t see that happening, as his camp is probably fully aware how thin the free agent crop is this season, and how many teams would love a nice infusion on their powerplay. As such, Babchuk’s price will probably be driven up to the point where I believe he’d no longer be a realistic option for the Flames.
Calgary needs to cap what they’re willing to offer Babchuk and not let the market force them into a bidding war. Let other teams get into that, because as good as he can be on the powerplay, paying much more for a guy who gives you very little at even strength is not worth it. I’m not overly optimistic the Flames will resign him anyway, as there is a perceived rift between Babchuk’s agency and the Flames; I’m not sure to what extent that actually exists, but not signing this guy may not be the worst thing for the team.