For Anton Babchuk, the 2008-2009 season was the best of times, and it was the worst of times. Back in the dark days of the 2006-2007 season, Babs was ordered to report to Albany for a conditioning stint. He refused. His next stop was the Russian Superliga. When he got there, Anton had this to say in an interview with the Siberian Geraldo Rivera, Oleg Malitsky:
Oleg: Leaving North America and returning to the Super League – it’s a serious step. Was it difficult to make this decision?
Anton: No it wasn’t difficult. Simply, at my age, I need to play, not ride around with the farm club.
You see, Anton was just not gonna be part of some bush league AHL road trip posse. (full interview here)
2008 - Anton Babchuk
Despite this demonstrated propensity for petulance, JR took a flyer on re-signing the blueliner who put together a solid season with Avangard Omsk in Siberia very near Kazakhstan…is very nice.
Babchuk had a great regular season in his return engagement in the sightless eye. Anton outscored both Chad LaRose and Joni Pitkanen this season, and those 35 points earned him a top-40 point total finish among league defensemen. A year away didn’t reduce the awesome power of his Flak 88 slap shot, and his nine power play goals reflect his value as a weapon with the man-advantage. I also like the way he mixed up howitzer shots and back door pinches on the PP this year.
When it mattered most in the playoffs, Anton Babchuk became Manute Bolchuk. A big ole 6’5" traffic cone of indecisiveness. It seemed as if the game suddenly moved to fast for him. The minute somebody penetrated his happy place, he’d spit up soft passes along the boards, misfire with his slapper or lose the puck in his feet. So has Babchuk learned from this experience, or is he doomed to go Jake Delhomme when the going gets tough?
As a restricted free agent, the Canes have first dibs on re-signing or trading Babchuk. If I read the regs correctly, the Canes can extend Babchuk a minimum offer of $1,050,000, or they can sweeten the deal in the hope of keeping him. History shows that Anton tends to hold himself in higher esteem than the rest of the hockey world, so who knows how salary negotiations will go with him. Of course he can reject any offer and stay an asset in the Canes system…probably back in Siberia. And another team can tender an offer which the Canes can match or take a 3rd round compensation draft pick. Not sure if even the Rangers would take a Dustin Penner-type risk on a mercurial player like Babchuk.
This is one of the tougher calls for JR and team. Do they think Babchuk is still a player on the rise? Does he have the mental toughness to perform in the most demanding situations? It’s one thing to launch blueline bombs on a power play in Atlanta. It’s another to try and control the point at full strength - in the conference finals - with Gino Malkin closing on you at flank speed.