Red and Black Hockey
by David Lee on 06/06/10 at 07:24 PM ET
Even though there haven’t been any major announcements, the Hurricanes look like they have answers to the big questions about the defense lines for 2010-11. There’s been talk for several weeks about the return of the mysterious Anton Babchuk, and that looks more and more real every day. They’ve signed Jay Harrison to a bargain basement one year contract renewal and they’ve pretty much ruled out a return of Brian Pothier.
The Pothier talk isn’t surprising to me at all. Getting him from the Caps in the Joe Corvo trade was a salary dump, and they can do even better by letting him become a free agent on July 1. For the amount of money they save by being off the hook for Andrew Alberts plus the money they’ll save by letting Pothier walk, they can re-sign Babchuk, re-sign the RFAs (Brett Carson, Casey Borer and Alex Picard) and still come out looking pretty from a bottom line standpoint.
Babchuk has been a player that the Caniacs have loved to hate and hated to love for the past three plus seasons. More after the jump.
Anton Babchuk has certainly had his share of ups and downs since joining the team for the 2005-06 season, and he’s taken the fans with him all along the way.
The big defenseman first came to Carolina in January of 2006 in exchange for underachieving defensive prospect Danny Richmond. Babchuk came with a reputation of being a tough, physical defenseman and a beast running the point on the power play. He immediately fell into place with the Canes, who had been decimated by injury that season. He played in 22 regular season games with Carolina that year, potting three goals and adding assists. He did not play any games in the playoffs and was technically ineligible for having his name etched on the Stanley Cup. The minimum requirements for that are 41 regular season games or one Stanley Cup Final game. Along with defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, his name was included after the Canes petitioned the league. That summer, before the names were etched, Anton got to take the Cup with him to his native Ukraine. That was the apex of his time with the Hurricanes. It’s been a rocky road since then, and to say that Babchuk is an enigma would be an understatement.
In February 2007, after the Hurricanes recovered from a slew of injuries, Anton Babchuk found himself in the middle of a numbers game. The defensemen were all healthy and his contract was the only one of the two-way variety. He was assigned to Albany to make roster space, but it wasn’t that easy. He refused to report to Albany, sparking a feud with Canes GM Jim Rutherford and owner Peter Karmanos. He was suspended by the club, and when he came to his senses, he reported to Albany, where he spent the bulk of the rest of the season.
Partly because he was still being a little petulant bitch, he signed a deal with Avangard Omsk the following season, despite still being under contract with Carolina. This was a bad decision on his part because it pushed back his UFA eligibility and his arbitration rights by one year.
One year later, he came back to Carolina for the 2008-09 season, where he showed fans and coaches why they liked him in the first place. He put up really impressive numbers, with 16 goals (nine of which were power play markers) and 19 assists for 35 points in 72 games. Down the final stretch, as the Canes were fighting for a playoff spot, he was a big hero in a number of games with game-winning blasts from the right point. He was especially good against the New Jersey Devils. He also appeared in 13 playoff games, but only got one assist.
He returned to Avangard Omsk for the 2009-10 season, again getting in his own way as far as UFA and arbitration eligibility are concerned. He had a respectable season, and continued to be an offensive contributor. Last season, he notched nine goals and 13 assists in 49 games.
Now, he’s a restricted free agent. Carolina still owns his rights, but he is a free agent. Therefore, they can’t sign him until July 1, but it certainly looks like that’s going to happen. And if it can happen for his going rate of $1M, that’s even better.
Joni Pitkanen, Tim Gleason, Jamie McBain and Jay Harrison are already under contract. Assume that Babchuk will be added on July 1. Also assume that they will re-sign RFA Brett Carson and Casey Borer, who have NHL experience. That leaves Alex Picard to be OUT of the mix if you ask me, but others are thinking that he’ll be in and Borer will be for Charlotte.
There are loads of questions about the forward lines, and they will be answered soon. The idea, though, is that they’re going to get younger. Much younger. There’s a possibility that Sergei Samsonov will be bought out, and there was already talk of buying out Rod Brind’Amour. Ray Whitney might not be re-signed unless they can get him to do it for a deep discount.
If all of this goes down, Carolina will go from being one of the oldest teams in the league to being one of the youngest. Almost all of the new wave will be made up of talent grown in their own system. I like it.
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About Red and Black Hockey
David Lee is a restaurant manager with an unused degree in political science. He can be found at Carolina Hurricanes games, Scrabble tournaments and indie-rock shows. Sometimes, all in the same day.