|Anton Babchuk is staying with the Flames after inking a two-year deal. (QMI Agency/Jim Wells)
CALGARY - It may turn out to be a bargain.
The way some defencemen have been raking in the cash over the first few days of free agency, the two-year, US$5-million deal the Calgary Flames negotiated with Anton Babchuk doesn’t seem so bad.
But that will all depend on what the 27-year-old with the booming shot from the blueline does in his first full season with the Flames starting this fall.
With veteran rearguard Robyn Regehr being traded to the Buffalo Sabres, the Flames still had a hole on the back end. GM Jay Feaster said Monday at the summer development camp the team would gladly make a deal for a legitimate top-four contender, but if nothing comes to fruition, he likes what he’s got in Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Giordano, Cory Sarich, Babchuk, Chris Butler and Brett Carson — all signed to one-way deals for next season.
Babchuk might have the most upside. He thrived in a bottom-pairing role most of last season after coming over from the Carolina Hurricanes in a trade bringing his big shot to the Flames powerplay.
He netted 11 goals and 35 points even though he struggled to contribute down the stretch.
“He’s still a young guy. I think he’s going to get better,” Feaster said.
Babchuk thinks so, too. That’s why negotiations with the Flames weren’t completed before July 1 when he hit the open market.
He was looking for more money. And term was just as important to the 6-foot-5, 212 pounder from Ukraine.
“It was a struggle (to keep the costs down),” Feaster said. “And it was one of the reasons we didn’t get something done early. I think the reason we were able to get something done and get it done at that number is because Anton really liked it here. That was a big factor — that he wanted to be here.”
Badly enough to ensure he got a no-trade clause for the first year of the contract. That turns into a modified no-trade in his second season, when Babchuk can avoid being traded to 10 teams by submitting a list.
He settled for a two-year term at $2.5-million believing he will be worth much more when that contract expires.
“He believes he is going to be a 50-point guy, and if we were to do a three-year term, he feels he’s gonna be underpaid,” said Feaster, who stated on the weekend the team also feels Babchuk is capable of being an elite scoring defenceman.
But he’s not about to guarantee him a spot in the top four.
“A lot of that will depend on what he’s doing when he gets to camp and what (head coach) Brent (Sutter) is thinking,” Feaster said. “We think he’s capable of moving up and playing in that four slot.”
If they don’t make any other moves, they’ll hope Babchuk or newcomer Chris Butler — the defenceman who came from the Sabres in the Regehr deal — will step into those bigger minutes.
If it’s Babchuk, his new deal will definitely seem like a steal.