— Teemu Marjamäki (@TMrjmki) May 28, 2013
We are gathered here today to pay tribute to the notion of something we never truly came to grips with. We are here to say goodbye to Anton Babchuk, Calgary Flame.
Please be seated.
Born Anton “Anatoliiovych” Babchuk in Kiev, Ukraine, on May 6th, 1984, Babchuk’s middle name, once again, is ANATOLIIOVYCH, and that is a total nightmare. This is fitting because it would also come to be an apt metaphor for Flames fans who would see him play in Calgary.
A Brief History
Babchuk began playing hockey at the age of three. If you are currently formulating the opinion “that’s about the time his progress as a defenseman ended” in your head, congratulations, you are a very clever individual.
But you are also right.
At a young age, not being a particularly effective on-ice performer, Anton skated awkwardly over a discarded hockey puck, slipped, and landed on his wrist, breaking it in three places. The tendons, over the course of the recovery period, fused together even tighter than anyone had expected them to, leaving him with an “elastic” release in his arms.
After a rather torrid game of Ukranian street hockey, Babchuk, who was not invited to play but was hanging around anyway, chased down a loose tennis ball that friend and fellow disappointment Nikolai Zherdev had fired wide of the net. In an attempt to hurry the ball back into play, Babchuk let off a slap pass of sorts back to his friends, and the ball travelled with such velocity that it knocked out an innocent bystander who was waiting for the boys to move their nets so he could park his car into his driveway.
Babchuk spent so much time developing the power of his clapper, that “secondary” skills, such as aim, or defensive coverage, or hitting, or hitting the net, were more or less neglected. They didn’t matter. Babchuk had his meal ticket.
Thus began a tumultuous time for Babchuk’s hockey career. Organizations scrambled to find ways to woo him onto their hockey team, with dreams of that slap shot leaving coaches salivating at the prospects of an improved power play. The fact that he could only hit the net one out of every ten attempts on net did not seem to be a pressing concern at the time, as many believed with age and maturity that these problems would correct themselves.
Not only did that never happen, but Babchuk’s hockey career at this point was essentially the inspiration for both the movie Rookie Of The Year and the character of Fulton Reed in The Mighty Ducks. Film studios made a mint off of Anton Babchuk.
Character: A Definition
In spite of all this, success never did elude Anton, somehow. This is truly mind boggling, but it happened. A World Junior Championship with Russia, being drafted into the NHL, scoring 16 goals in a season with the Carolina Hurricanes, these are all achievements that Babchuk netted himself, because as we all know, life is unfair. Babchuk certainly let his strong character shine through during these times.
As an example, in his Hurricane days and being the only rearguard on the roster not subject to waivers, Babchuk was sent down to the minors to make room for a returning Frantisek Kaberle. Being the good sport that he is, Anton REFUSED to report to Albany. The completely unreasonable Hurricanes had the nerve to suspend Babchuk for this, which I think we can all agree is a pretty heinous reaction.
People took notice. Delusional, but influential people. Sutter people.
A Calgarian, Through and Through
Having, um, underachieved on a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs that sent cornerstone defenseman Dion Phaneuf away, Calgary Flames GM Darryl Sutter was trying to save face, and a struggling Ian White was to pay the price.
Having seen Babchuk jump back and forth between Carolina and Russia, go through contract disputes, and miss the net a ton on the powerplay, Sutter was perecptive enough to know that Babchuk needed a change of scenery, and as such, sold off White AND HIS OWN CABBIE PUNCHING SON Brett in an effort to retain Anton’s vitally needed services.
Tom Kostopoulos was there too, I guess. He was actually pretty cool.
So Anton Babchuk thus started his tenure as a Calgary Flame. At first, things were like, kinda okay, man. In 65 games during his first season here, Babchuk scored 8 goals and 27 points. We were able to suspend our disbelief in exchange for production. We could look past his sheltered minutes and ability to get caught in his own end for minutes on end. He had the shot!
So that’s how he came to make bank. Anton signed a two year contract worth $2.5 million a year. Also, a no trade clause.
Congrats to you, sir, good work on wreaking havoc on the Flames then very murky cap room situation! For a team that was in a self-identified “Salary Cap Hell”, the fact that you managed to earn that contract as a soft minute/soft competition defenseman who in spite of all this could never maintain puck possession or generate anywhere close to enough scoring chances for that boomer of a slapshot to be at all worthwhile truly speaks to your overall worth.
Anton spent the past two seasons filling out a desperate need the Flames were severely lacking: the ability to sit in things. Be it on the bench, or in the press box, Babchuk could sit like no other. Sure, he could have been deployed out on the ice as a complete liability, and at times he certainly was, but when you can sit like he can, you have to make use of that rare utility. It’s how he earned his contract.
Sure, there were times where people clamoured for him to be out on the ice. “WE NEED HIS SHOT ON THE PP!” they’d scream. Anton, with his irreverent wit and keen social understanding, loved to troll his Sit-In-Thing detractors by almost never actually taking a shot in those instances where he was taken out of his comfort zone and put on the ice. He’d still find the time to have his opponents hem in his own end during the rest of his on-ice exploits, because Anton Babchuk is hilarious.
Which is why it’s sad to see him go so soon. Too early, really. Sure, Chris Butler looks poised to become an up and comer Sit-In-Things specialist, but it would have been nice for him to have a mentor for one or two more seasons.
Sadly, with Babchuk signing a contract to go play in the KHL, this dream will never come to fruition. Alas, Babchuk could not pass up the opportunity to spend his remaining days imitating a hockey player in tropical Siberia, and he surely cannot be faulted for that.
With that, and with a very heavy heart, I would like to offer this final goodbye to the abrupt end of the life of Anton Babchuk’s career as a member of your Calgary Flames.
May that contract rest in peace.