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.