Anton BabchuK: Luxury Item

            

 

I’ll confess I’ve watched the reaction to the Anton Babchuk signing with a bit of bemusement since the Flames re-upped their free agent defender Monday afternoon. There seems to be a school of thought that accepts the deal as reasonable given the current silly FA market, and people believing his ticket is fair value could well be correct that it might not be out of line for what he brings. My problem, however, isn’t so much with the contract per se, but with the inability of the Flames to see the forest for the trees.

First, as Kent and others have repeatedly pointed out, this is a player that has needed significant sheltering to be a functional NHL defenceman 5v5. The Flames were able to achieve that feat most of last season because they could lean on Bouwmeester, Giordano and Regehr to carry the load.

That’s not in the cards for 11/12, so someone like Chris Butler is going to be asked to carry a weight he might not be capable of, and because of that, there’s every chance that we’ll see a trickle down effect on Bouwmeester and Giordano. They’ll be asked to do everything at EV and on the PK, and those are pretty heavy minutes to carry on a team with decent, but not great forwards. Absent a quantum leap by a player that’s been playing major pro hockey of some sort for half a dozen years, they won’t get much help in that department from Babchuk.

Beyond the clear hole that Calgary faces 5v5, the addition of Babchuk does nothing to improve another glaring failure that we’ve seen from this club over the last few seasons. One of my ongoing complaints about Calgary’s defence corps was that despite the significant salaries being spent on a number of them, they possessed a collective inability to win races to pucks, particularly on the PK. I noted with interest that a team that was 4th in shots against overall and 5v5 slid to 13th in shot prevention 4v5, and based on what I witnessed, it was often the case that Calgary featured of a group of defencemen that were too slow to cover the extra ice they faced when down a man.

It’s not much of a secret that for most of last year the only decent skaters on the backend were Giordano and Bouwmeester, with a collection of leadfoots making up the rest of the squad. Regehr’s other talents allowed him to mostly compensate for his skating deficiencies, but even he was found wanting against the better PPs, with Vancouver and Anaheim being particularly adept at exploiting the Flames’ PK units by simply outskating Calgary’s defence to every loose puck. 

Anton Babchuk, for good reason, averaged about 30 seconds a game on the PK for Calgary last season. He was about the last option that Brent Sutter opted to use in that scenario, and that’s about the same type of utilization as we saw from Paul Maurice during Babchuk’s last full year in Carolina. His lack of foot speed and agility can be covered 5v5 and on the PP, but on the PK, with the need to retreive pucks in space at a premium, there’s virtually no hope that he’ll be a major contributor. 

 

            

 

That inability to help the club do the work that defencemen are ultimately essential for is really at the heart of my objection to keeping Babchuk. His offense on the PP is certainly nice, and on a team with a solid top EV four he’d be a decent option to have around, operating in the way that allows Marc-Andre Bergeron to continue to have a career in the NHL despite some fairly obvious defensive lapses.

The Flames aren’t in that spot. An honest interpretation of their roster reveals two proper top-four defencemen, which by my math is a shortfall of approximately two from the standard requirement, and it’s an indefensible postion for a cap team to find itself in, whatever one might think of the potential for a player like Butler or possibly Brodie. Cory Sarich, who should be a top four contributor, has never really looked up to that task in four seasons with the Flames. I’m not expecting that to change.

My overwhelming sense is that the Flames, having failed to accomplish whatever primary goal they had in unloading Regehr beyond keeping Tanguay employed, simply moved to the next option on their list. It’s at times like these that I often find myself invoking the Politician’s Syllogism. For those unaware, the geniuses behind the British comedy Yes, Prime Minister identified this logical fallcy and laid it bare:

1. We must do something

2. This is something

3. Therefore, we must do this.

My short answer to that approach is no, no you don’t. If inking a player for fairly significant dollars doesn’t fix a major problem, you’re simply filling the roster, and that can be accomplished for a lot less than 2.5M a year. Adding to Calgary’s collection of bottom pairing defenders for that amount just seems like a waste of time and money, and even if there wasn’t a wide array of terrific options left in free agency, simply spending the money because you can is no way to run a franchise. I know that the Flames haven’t operated in this fashion since before the lockout, but being a bit more discerning regarding player expenditure isn’t always bad, and signing Anton Babchuk is a case where that approach might well have been the wisest course. 

I don’t doubt that Babchuk can post some pretty boxcar numbers in the right circumstances, and the market for PP defencemen is a bit inflated at the moment to be sure, so it’s entirely possible that his contract isn’t a grievous overpay by that standard. I’ve often called Christian Ehrhoff a faster version of Babchuk on Twitter, and we saw what Terry Pegula’s ego lead him to pay Ehrhoff for the next number of seasons, so maybe Babchuk is just getting the going rate.

That said, what I still can’t figure out is how he’ll make the Flames a markedly better team. If he can’t carry top four minutes, the club will need to hope that Butler and someone else can. That’s not a bet I feel comfortable with, so there’s every chance Calgary has paid real money to a player that will be a peripheral figure in the area where the club needs the most help. I don’t hate the guy, and the contract isn’t the type that will kill a franchise, but if the Calgary Flames were really interested in fixing what’s been ailing them, Anton Babchuk is exactly the sort of player that they should have moved on from.

  • Dr. Nick

    Hey Bob,

    Can someone please write an article that provides at least one ray of sunshine into the Flames upcoming season? All these doom and gloom stories are really bumming me out. I mean you guys are supposed to be the Flames Nation. If I wanted to keep hearing how we have cap problems, too many NTCs and NMCs, our defense is gonna suck, our GM has as much brains as a Cheeto, our players are overpaid, old, slow and not getting any better, I could talk to an Oilers fan. They may even give me an answer to the question of how many people in Flames management actually graduated kindergarten which keeps keeps coming up here in one form or another.

    So please, for the sake of all that is good in this universe, give me a reason to watch the Flames this season.

    P.S. Because we’re not the Oilers doesn’t count as an answer, a friend already tried that.

    • Robert Cleave

      The funny thing is, I’ve written before that I don’t think the Flames were all that bad last year beyond their goaltender, and I expect them to be more or less competent again. In review, here are my short form thoughts on the summer:

      Glencross: I’m good with his deal, and said as much.

      Tanguay: I could have done without that last season getting tacked on, but again, the dollars aren’t bad, and look better by the day.

      Regehr: they didn’t get enough. That doesn’t mean that Butler will be terrible, either, but just that expecting him to succeed as a top four D in the West absent some compelling evidence is based on hope rather than evidence at this point. His contract is perfectly acceptable, and if he turns out like Gio did, that’ll be one where the club gets good value. He’d be a worthwhile option as a 5th D on a better team, so if Feaster can extract at least one more solid D, he should get the chance to flourish behind a good Flames’ bottom six.

      Babchuk: see above. He’s not the worst D ever, just the wrong guy for their needs. Another slow D doesn’t fix the issue.

      That’s really where the fixation of some on getting the team younger misses the point. Joe Corvo, who went to Boston for a 4th yesterday, has been and will continue to be a better NHL D than Anton Babchuk, simply because he can still skate at a high NHL level at age 34. Just being younger doesn’t make you faster or better. It just makes you younger.

      The draft: I approved of the direction the Flames took and said as much. I can’t control what others write after I post something.

      As well, I’ve been virtually alone in not losing my rag every time the Flames sign a deal with a movement clause. Players waive them almost without fail if asked, and Brian Campbell’s willingness to move from Chicago to Florida is the shining example of that phenomenon.

      So, the Flames’ personnel moves have been a mixed bag this summer, and I don’t see any reason why that should be sugar-coated. If you want the Flames to have a good season, find Kipper and hypnotise him into thinking it’s the spring of 2004. That will give Calgary a better chance of having a good year than any other move they could have made, and that absolutely includes signing Brad Richards or any top four D.

    • Our goal here isn’t to brighten days…it’s to provide coverage and honest, critical analysis of the team. The Flames website can provide all the sunshine you need because it’s aim is to market and promote the club.

      We at FN write positive things when we see them as positive. For instance, if Feaster somehow plugs the top-four hole on the blueline by the time training camp rolls around, you’ll no doubt see a post celebrating that fact.

      • I appreciate you provide a good honest approach to analyzing the Flames and at times can naturally come off as a very negative outlook on the club. My complaint is that this site focuses so much energy on the bad aspects of the club and makes only a minor mention of the very positive things.

        Do I legitimately think the Flames are a playoff team? No, they truly aren’t built for it this upcoming year (as it stands today). Fact of the matter is there is some positives to look forward to next year.

        Some of the things I am looking forward to and feel everyone should be excited for is (in no particular order):

        – Langkow coming back for an entire season. If he were around all year, Bourque would have been more effective (likely) and the Flames would have made the playoffs (definitely)
        – Seeing how Karlsson follows up on a pretty darn good rookie season. Will he get 20 to 30 starts next year? He really should.
        – Is a prospect going to surprise everyone in training camp like Brodie did last year? Will Brodie stick with the big club this year? How many games will Nemisz get? He isn’t as useless as many of the authors on this site will have you believe.
        – Backlund taking a major step forward in what should be a moneumental step in his career. Langkow will play with Bourque, Stajan sucks and Jokinen plays so well with Glencross and Moss. Me thinks the writting is on the wall that Backlund will start in a first line center role. He showed some very positive flashes to close out the season last year.
        – Kotalik is gone and that $3 million is someone elses problem now.
        – Butler is a pretty highly regarded guy by other GM’s for someone very unknown around these parts. Word on the street is he is very underrated and could turn into something a little more special than anyone gives him credit for. Maybe pairing him with Gio would allow for him to be a top 4 option.

        I could go on with some of the things to look forward to. Rome wasn’t built in a day and it will be a very long process to get there but in the interim I, personally, would rather focus on some of the positives and be a happy positive person than constantly make it feel like the world is coming to an end and the Flames forever will be the worst team in the NHL forever.

        The second Feaster does ANYTHING everyone goes on about how stupid, fat, useless, etc. he is. In the Sven signing story some started going on about what a terrible pick this was. The negatives on the kid are pretty minor (age, good team) whereas the fact the guy loves Calgary, works really hard, and has some major league talent should get you excited to see how he develops. The fact he is Swiss and there aren’t any good Swiss players sickens me to think this is the mental capacity of your average Flames fan.

        • Yourmomthinksimhot

          In the Sven signing story some started going on about what a terrible pick this was. The negatives on the kid are pretty minor (age, good team) whereas the fact the guy loves Calgary, works really hard, and has some major league talent should get you excited to see how he develops. The fact he is Swiss and there aren’t any good Swiss players sickens me to think this is the mental capacity of your average Flames fan.

          That was me, and I said it because im an oilers fan. Thanks for taking the most ridiculous thing I could come up with and thinking it was real… All of you that responded by defending Bartschi are soooooooo insecure. You’ve officially made my day.

          GOOOOOOOOO OOOOOOOIIIIIIIILLLLLLLLL!!!!!!!!!
          BWAHAHAHAH!!!!!

        • Super_Gio

          I was watching some youtube vids of Sven, this kid is for real! sure he was on a powerhouse of a team last year but the pure skill he has is something special and I for one am super happy about the signing and look forward to his development!
          You bring up the same points that I am also looking forward too in the coming season. Its not all doom and gloom!
          I like the Babchuk signing. I couldn’t count how many times he would block KEY shots from everywhere. You block shots – you win games.

          • Robert Cleave

            Blocking shots wins games? The teams that were in the bottom ten in total shot blocks included six playoff teams and New Jersey, who were a good team undone by the worst shooting luck we’ve seen in years. In 09/10, eight of the bottom ten were playoff teams. Just sayin’.

          • Robert Cleave

            I suspect that most of those teams with alot of blocked shots also faced alot of shots directed towards their net so I don’t know if that is fair.

            I think the more telling measure would be percentage of shots directed toward the net that were blocked.

            I suspect the correlation to wins is minimal though in any event.

            As far as Babchuck goes, I don’t mind your analysis as him as an unneeded bauble. That being said, when you look at what is on the market and the Flames’ roster it seems to me the bet is on one of Butler, Babchuk, Brodie or another to be a top 4 D-man. Given what is out there, I can live with that bet for this season. The only way this team can get better is for younger guys on cheaper deals to fill bigger roles.

            Babchuk, if sheltered, will probably add more goals on the powerplay then he will cost as compared to a similar cost replacement.

            My calculus is thus – we add another $2.5 million defender, like Montador or something similar. He might prevent say 4 or 5 more goals in a third pairing role, but would add nothing to the powerplay. Babchuk might improve our powerplay by 4 or 5 goals but give some of those back at 5 v 5.

            On a net basis, he might be the best bet out there at $2.5 million. He doesn’t make us a world beater nor a contender.

          • Super_Gio

            Lol ok I should have known someone would have some statistics somewhere to prove that haha. That was just my opinion. Ok let me rephrase that – I noticed during the 2 month winning stretch that the flames were blocking a ton of shots particularly Babs and well Gio just goes without saying

      • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

        I think it goes beyond that and it’s entering George Johnson type territory for overall negativity.

        How else do you explain the reaction of some on twitter about an unsubstantiated rumor from a “hack” insider that the Flames were going to sign Shane O’Brien. Chicken Little would have played it cooler!

        I think it’s time for some to step away from the computer, enjoy the weather, maybe play some actual hockey and enjoy life.

        No one is saying you have to be positive about everything, but the constant groaning about anything and everything is driving people away and making calgarypuck look like a more enjoyable place which is not only sad, but unbelievable. There, it’s just a bunch of idiots with an opinion. Here, it’s a bunch of “experts” who know everything based on underlying numbers.

  • It is just July 6th. Do we really believe that the Calgary defense is already set in stone? Training camp doesn’t open for two months. I have a feeling that Babchuk will be a 5-6 defenseman this year, just like last year.

  • Prairie Chicken by-the-Sea

    Amen brother.

    I feel like I could say something, but instead I’ll just read it again because this is spot on.

    We’re one of few teams who have gotten worse this offseason.