Eight's a Crowd: Fixing the Flames' Back-End Blues

Mar 31, 2012; Vancouver, British Columbia, CANADA; Calgary Flames defenseman Anton Babchuk (33) during the third period against the Vancouver Canucks at Rogers Arena. The Vancouver Canucks won 3-2 in overtime. Mandatory Credit: Anne-Marie Sorvin-US PRESSWIRE

Now that the Flames seem to be pretty much done augmenting their roster for the time being (RFA Leland Irving is the only player that really remains in the mix) the club's blueline is looking a little different and more than a little crowded.

When it comes to defenceman, the Flames have always seemed to adopt a "more is more" type of approach, which can have its merits when a team is stricken with injuries, but has also proven to be problematic on more than one occasion, particularly when "veteran" players with a larger dollar figure attached to their names are given preferential treatment over younger players attempting to join the ranks of the big club.

Before the start of free agency, the Flames added Dennis Wideman (which has been discussed at length here and here) and also re-upped Cory Sarich for two more years. Along with Chris Butler, Jay Bouwmeester (if you disregard rumours about his imminent departure), T.J. Brodie, Anton Babchuk, Derek Smith and Mark Giordano (who both inked new deals last season), the grand total of defenders representing the Flaming C on one-way deals is eight, leaving very little wiggle room for the club when it comes to the back end.

Of those eight players, Brodie makes the least, and seeing that he played one of the smaller roles on the team last season and according to Cap Geek, would be exempt from waivers, he would probably be the easiest to demote. Not that that would be the right decision, in fact I think it would be a pretty silly one given how well he handled the ice time he did receive before his injury, but it would certainly be better than him wasting his time in the press box.

Derek Smith makes the second least of all Flames defenders, but the 27-year-old would not be waiver exempt, and the team could risk losing him for nothing if they attempted to send him down to Abbotsford. Not that a guy like Smith is absolutely irreplaceable, but when you have a player who can do his job for cheap, why go through the process of having to replace him or replacing him with someone who makes far too much money for the role he would be playing (6/7 defenceman) and can't seem to handle the role assigned to him (i.e. Babchuk)? Both are incredibly inefficient options, but ones the Flames may have to consider if they don't solve this conundrum sooner rather than later.

Of course there is always the possibility of a trade, but the only blueliners who don't have some form of an NTC/NMC are the aforementioned Smith and Brodie and Chris Butler, whom I don't think most Flames fans who have done their homework on advanced stats would be eager to say goodbye to any time soon. Persuading Anton Babchuk to accept a trade under the threat of being demoted/press box and/or waiver fodder might just do the trick, but the last time the Flames dangled their unwanted and expensive refuse in the form of Ales Kotalik, there were no takers.

Teams rarely take on dollars like Babchuk's for free any more; if the GM in question is smart, they'll usually try to get the other team to take on some salary in return or to part with another asset to free up space, but the fact that Babchuk only has one year left on his deal could work in the Flames' favour in that regard--especially once (when) the season gets going and the inevitable injury bug ravages an unsuspecting team's back end.

Whatever happens, there is no question that this is undeniably Feaster's problem to solve. The only defenders here who were not signed to their current deals by Feaster are Brodie and Bouwmeester, whom I think are two of the players that the team should be most unwilling to part with and/or alienate at the moment, but we all know that when it comes to the Flames, what the club should do and what it likely will do can be two very different things.

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