Friday, June 3, 2011

Free Agent Preview: Anton Babchuk Bombs Would Be Welcome On Rangers Power Play

With less than a month left until the frenzy that is free agency begins and the New York Rangers will certainly be looking for offense when the market opens on July 1.  In looking ahead to the free agent market there have already been looks at Brad Richards for the first line center role, James Wisniewski as a puck-moving defender that could also aid the power play, Brooks Laich as a top-six forward and Simon Gagne as another potential cheap gamble.  Today, the looks at the free agency previews continue to look at the options on the defensive side today with Anton Babchuk, most recently of Calgary.
It might seem strange given the recent trade for defenseman Tim Erixon to be talking about signing a free agent defender, but given the fact that other than Dan Girardi the entire defensive corps would be 24 or under there could still be a need for a veteran presence.  Also, given the weakness of the free agent forward market, signing a defender would given the Rangers even more flexibility to move an NHL defender for scoring help.

There are bigger names on the market than Babchuk whether they be Ehrhoff, Bieksa, Pitkanen, Wisniewski and Kaberle, but that does not mean Babchuk cannot be the best combination of value and filling a need the Rangers have.  The Rangers do not need a first pair defender as they have Staal and Girardi firmly planted there with McDonagh and Sauer proving they are more than capable of holding down the second pair roles.  What the Rangers need in a defender is someone that can be a steady third pair player who can add offense both at even strength and on the power play.
Babchuk, 27, is coming off a season in which he scored 11 goals while adding 24 assists in 82 games.  The 35 points match his total from the 2008-09 season where he had 16 goals and 19 assists before playing in the KHL for one season in which he had nine goals and 13 assists in 49 games.  The 6-foot-5 Babchuk has an absolute rocket from the point, which is something the Rangers do not possess in their current defense core, even if Del Zotto returns as a playmaker next year.  With the man advantage Babchuk tallied six goals and seven assists this season.
Anton Babchuk is certainly not the best defender on the unrestricted free agent market, but for what he is and what the Rangers need in terms of player and cost, he is possibly the best fit for the Rangers to go after this summer.  Babchuk should be able to be signed for something like $2.5 million and potentially for only one year unlinke most of the other bigger names that are on the market while providing the Rangers with a big shot to help their power play.