The Babchuk Quandary

 

 

When Jay Feaster was named the permanent GM in June, I set up a number of "tests" in my mind heading into the off-season. One of them was Anton Babchuk and whether the club’s new decision maker would be seduced by a nice stats line that was heavily dependent on favorable circumstances. Pat, Bob and myself all tried to explain from various angles why re-signing the big guy probably wasn’t a sensible move this summer.

Alas, Feaster bit and inked Babchuk for $5M over two years with a NTC to boot. The contract isn’t terribly onerous to be sure, but it still struck me as a bad bet.

Even with all that established, I’m still somewhat surprised the good ship Babchuk has run aground this early. Although he is the fourth most expensive blueliner on the team and costs more than half of the forwards on the roster, Babchuk has appeared in only a single game for the Flames thus far. I fully expected Babchuk to see elevated ice time and responsibilities owing to his new contract and for him to eventually lose traction due to an inability to meet those challenges, but Brent Sutter has apparently already determined he has little use for the guy.

This is surprising and concerning on a number of levels. Firstly, it’s not like Babchuk has been usurped by vastly superior options. The players the coach has prefered thus far are the shadow of Cory Sarich and 27-year old fringe defender Derek Smith (who is, quite literally, a replacement level player). If Babchuk had somehow been bumped down the depth chart by an emergent youngster or a suddenly acquired top-four vet, it would at least make some sense. But, in fact, he’s become a 7th defenseman amongst 7th defensemen.

Perhaps more problematic is the apparent disconnect between the coach’s perception of the player and the general manager’s. If the two men were in sync on this topic, it’s highly unlikely that Sutter would be sitting Babchuk after a rough pre-season and one bad game in October. Or, alternatively, Babchuk wouldn’t have been re-signed at all.

No Sutter is treating Babchuk as what he is – a depth defender who has one notable strength and a lot of weaknesses. Unfortunately, that’s not how the team is paying him, so one wonders how they got to this point without even the intervening step of Babchuk falling on his face.

Of course, there is also the concern of having another big, bad contract at the end of the rotation. The Flames have made an unruly habit of sitting many millions of dollars worth of cap space in the pressbox or at out of harms way the last few seasons which speaks to the lack of efficiency and quality of roster decisions. The hope was this would change under Feaster, but the Babchuk misstep is all too typical of the way business has been done by this franchise for awhile. 

It’s still early and maybe Babchuk works his way out of the doghouse and manages to prove myself and Brent Sutter wrong by taking a step forward. That doesn’t strike mas a likely though. And every day $2.5M worth of freshly signed Anton sits out as a healthy scratch, it signals that the club is still laboring under a degree of either incompetence or dysfunction.

  • Vintage Flame

    From my perspective, the signing reeked of further interference from King, just like every other resigning frankly. King needed to sell the team and it was easier to sell with a bunch of the same faces back.

    That being said, I chalk the Babchuk situation up to something happening off the ice that we are not privy to. If I had to guess, Babchuk has been somewhat less than 110% dedicated off the ice and Feaster and/or Sutter are using him to send the message to the rest of the team that if you aren’t rowing in the same direction as the rest of us, you too will find yourself in the press box.

    If only there was a group of people who had access to the Flames players and coaching staff on a regular basis to ask questions about these kinds of things and a means of distributing that information to interested fans. Wouldn’t that be swell.

  • icedawg_42

    Sigh. If only the Flames front office would read this site more often, they could have escaped the Babchuck quandry – and the Kyle Turris debacle that I KNOW…just KNOW is coming.

    • xis10ce

      so true my friend, just posted this in the Feast’er Famine article.

      http://www.lfpress.com/sports/hockey/2011/10/25/18878386.html

      You know that we will be ‘lucky’ enough to acquire Turris for Bourque. In all reality I wouldn’t be shocked to hear we tossed in a 3rd rounder too…

      I just can’t shake the feeling that of the 6 teams interested we are going to the top bidder. And by top bidder I mean team most willing to take it in the youhoo to get the trade done. I find myself at a impass, I can’t stand the so called direction we are heading but as a fan what do I do? Relinquish my season tickets up in the bleeds as a not so silent protest? I just don’t want to do that. As a fan what can you really do other than not go to games, I love watching hockey so much that I am sadly willing to watch the Flames play terrible.

      • jeremywilhelm

        No i mean, it seems like the Flames havent caught a really good break in a long time. No prospects in later rounds that end up being franchise players, no trades that end up being lopsided in our favour.

        I just want a homerun to feel good about.

        • xis10ce

          That’s so painfully true. Now some of it is our doing; poor scouting, bad trades etc. But some of the crap storm that has befallen us is just asinine.

          Point in case: Moss hits a rut in the ice in practice in March 2010 when the Flames were on the home streach of their run to try and make the playoffs then Morrison get injured shortly after. At the start of this season Backlund is out 6weeks with a broken finger in practice.

          I’m not saying we’d be 7-0-0 with Backlund, but lets be honest here, he probably wouldn’t have hurt us being in the line up. Hell, I don’t even want a homerun, I’d just rather not be dumped on for a while.

          You know it’s bad when you’ve dealt with garbage like this for so long that you are happy to accept statues quo for a short time as opposed to the neverending junk train.

          • BobB

            Hell, I don’t even want a homerun, I’d just rather not be dumped on for a while.

            You know it’s bad when you’ve dealt with garbage like this for so long that you are happy to accept statues quo for a short time as opposed to the neverending junk train.

            I think this is what happens when you don’t have a clear strategy/direction.

            You walk in one direction for 1 hour, step in some mud, hack trees and think “This sucks”… go back.

            Then you go in another direction, more mud, more trees, more shit, go back.

            repeat ad nauseum.

            I want someone to say “BAM, see that mountain, we’re getting there…ta hell with MUD, ta hell with obstacles, we’re going.”

            Ask Feaster when we’ll be contenders – what window (approx 4 year window) ’12-’16? ’14-’18? ’20-’24?

            It changes who/what your assets are. To me it looks more of the same, sign some guys, be a fringe/shitty team…sign some other guys….trade for guys who don’t fit a “window”…blah blah blah.

  • jeremywilhelm

    Any GM worth his salt wouldnt allow upper management to mingle with player decisions. If that is the case, then Feaster should be shown the door immediately. BUT I do think this was a case of proof that Feaster is not a good judge of talent. He’s not a hockey guy and looks at number (especially that damn PUCKS system). I say throw out the computer and use your brain. Guys like Scotty Bowman, Jim Nill, Sweet Lou have been using their eyes and brains for talent and have been pretty successful. I hand it to Sutter (wow havnt said that in a while) to know what hes got and sit him.

    • Gange

      Umm, you are suggesting that King, who would appear to be Feaster’s immediate superior, fire Feaster for allowing King to meddle where King sought to meddle.

  • Gange

    I think the Babchuk signing was done to bolster blue line depth. Coming into this season we were all aware of how thin the blue line was. That said, I never agreed with it. I could have accepted the deal at 1.5M but that’s about it.

    Turris for Bourque is a sign that the Flames are throwing in the towel this year (maybe not entirely but somewhat) and I’m not sure that Feaster wants to wave the white flag yet. Turris for Nemisz though, I’d agree to that.

  • Gange

    With the Flames STELLAR trade history??? You’ve got to be joking! It’s not like they’d trade a player like Dion Phaneuf for a couple of bags of hockey pucks.

  • Vintage Flame

    Nemisz has apparently really stepped his game up in Abbotsford, playing a lot more physical as well. I’d still do the Turris for Nemo deal, but if we are talking Turris for Bourque, there had better be (a) draft pick(s) coming back this way.. And I don’t mean a 5th rounder.

  • Gange

    The Turris for Bourque deal should be taken out back and shot if it exists. I’m not confident that Turris is even a regular NHL’er at this point. Potential means nothing if it won’t get realized.

  • Vintage Flame

    He has only played two games. He was terrible in his first game and mediocre in his second. But its only two games. They also have him playing his offside on a line with Sarich.

    That is a poor decision in my opinion. There is no point in increasing the difficulty margin for a guy that struggles defensively, and Sarich and Babchuk shouldn’t be on a line together due to their combined foot speed.

    I also think it is a leap to say that Babchuk not playing indicates a rift between coaching and management. That is a huge assumption. It may be as simple as Smith outplaying Babchuk, or Babchuk not putting in the effort, or Babchuk refusing to waive his NTC, etc. By all accounts management and coaching have been working closely together.

    I don’t have a problem with the contract. He is what he is. He can put up some points EV in the right situation and his shot adds a big peice to the PP. Best case is he is a valuable special teams member to the Flames. Worst case he gets you a pick from a team looking for a puck moving PP specialist. Either way we are out on top.

  • BobB

    I think we should just stop speculating who is “middling” with who, because it’s baseless.

    Feaster signed Babchuk… he screwed up.

    Sutter isn’t playing Babchuk…???

    We can all guess who is middling with who, but we’ll never know.

    The Babchuk signing was Dumb. Full stop.

    That’s a strike against Feaster… he’s the GM.

    Talking conspiracy theories is silly. I wanna know the strategy going forward, cause Feaster “talked” about his plan, but I don’t “see” his plan. One year for Babs would fit in a plan…. two years???? DUMB, DA, DUMB, DUMB. So what if Babs said no and went somewhere else…. THANK YOU!

    “SHOW ME THE PLAN” “SHOW ME THE PLAN”

    I wanna know what 4 year window we’re competitive in. Then I can tell you who is or isn’t an asset for this team, and who is a trade asset.

  • “If only there was a group of people who had access to the Flames players and coaching staff on a regular basis to ask questions about these kinds of things and a means of distributing that information to interested fans. Wouldn’t that be swell.” Good point Tach.

    I don’t want to harp on the mainstream media, but they don’t exactly ask the tough questions around these parts. Maybe that’s why the Flames hired King, because his media connections intimidate? I mean really, like Rain Dogs said, “what the hell is the plan here?”

    After reading the article it’s pretty hard to say that there’s not some sort of disconnect between coach and GM. I still think Jay used Brent to get rid of Darryl and get himself promoted and now that he’s GM the gaps between him and Brent will widen ever greater.

    Calgary is desperate and that leads to overpaying which is probably what the team will do with Turris. Same reason Darryl traded Phaneuf for TO junk.

    And why couldn’t this team have made moves at the deadline last year? The team was playing well, so it was impossible? Is there an NHL bylaw I don’t know about? How about trading from a position of strength? There’s an idea. Sorry, but it’s utter nonsense that their hands were tied when a huge part of the fan base was urging them to make moves anyways, because despite the run their record against top clubs still stunk.

    We could have Schenn here right now, but, oh no, the GM and owners are basically too damned scared to trade Iginla. And that’s it right there. Well, put a real hockey person in charge of the operation who’s not scared to do the right thing for the organization.

    • everton fc

      You’re last sentence says it all:

      “Well, put a real hockey person in charge of the operation who’s not scared to do the right thing for the organization.”

      I don’t subscribe to the trade Iggy sentiments. We lost our chance at a “real hockey” person this summer, by signing Feaster. This was King’s call, and it was a bad one, for the fans wanted real change, and got the same-old-same-old.

      I wonder if King had anything to do with the Phaneuf deal? How much influence was there to move him. I’m not a fan of Phaneuf’s either. But was the return as bad on paper (I know, the dreadeds phrase!) than what we got for Regher?

      Babchuk is a waste of 2.5mill in cap if they don’t play him. I thought Feaster’s moves were designed to free-up cap? He’s the businessman, hey?

      His business acumen doesn’t work here. Brendan Morrison and Conny as co-GMs would have got a better return for Reggie. And maybe even Langkow.

      That’s how much I want the Executive changed.

      As for Iggy… as long as he scores 30+, I could care less if he leads these days. A leader doesn’t necessarily need to be your best player, nor your highest paid player.

  • “If only there was a group of people who had access to the Flames players and coaching staff on a regular basis to ask questions about these kinds of things and a means of distributing that information to interested fans. Wouldn’t that be swell”

    Call me crazy, but doesn’t a person who belongs to the group of people you are refering to work at this very website? Perhaps the editor can give him a gentle nudge as it pertains to press scrums.

  • “As for Iggy… as long as he scores 30+, I could care less if he leads these days. A leader doesn’t necessarily need to be your best player, nor your highest paid player.”

    No, but he should lead by example.

    You can disagree about moving Iggy all day, but you have to admit the team is starting to run out of other options. I made the Sundin and TO comparison 3 or 4 years ago. It’s getting closer and closer all the time.

    And as far as shakeups go, it wouldn’t get any bigger than that.

    @domebeers…first me, now this….ouch, Pat’s really taking it lately.

    Fandom is not happy.

    • icedawg_42

      No – fandom is not happy – nor should they be. We’re not being sold wins, we’re not being sold excitement, and now we’re not being sold hope either.