D Anton Babchuk signs with Carolina after one-year hiatus

Just as it has in the past, the opening of the NHL free agency period produced a flurry of big signings. On the day, over $300 million were committed to player contracts. In a move that flew under the radar early in the day, one of those many millions was committed to defenseman Anton Babchuk by the Carolina Hurricanes.

His signing ($1 million for 1 year) marks his return to the organization with which he won a Stanley Cup in 2006. Though the team won a championship in his first season in Carolina, his relationship with the Hurricanes turned a little ugly the following season. To begin the 2006-07 season, the Hurricanes assigned Babchuk to their AHL affiliate in Albany. When he refused to report, he was suspended for violating team rules.

Babchuk ended up playing 52 games with the Hurricanes that season, and after eventually accepting a demotion, played an additional 9 games in the AHL. That season Babchuk posted a career-high 12 assists, 14 points, and 30 penalty minutes.

Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League was his destination for the 2007-08 season. Babchuk, a 1st round pick of the Blackhawks in 2002, had a strong season for Omsk. He amassed 9 goals and 15 assists while playing in all 57 regular season games. However, as an elite athlete, Babchuk still had a burning desire to return to the NHL, to play in the best league in the world.

The signing of the 6’5”, 215 lb. Babchuk is just one move the Hurricanes have taken to re-tool their often criticized defense for the 2008-09 season. With the loss of Bret Hedican and Glen Wesley to free agency, Carolina has also brought in Josef Melichar, returning to the NHL from time in Europe, and Joni Pitkanen, acquired from the Oilers in a trade for Erik Cole. The Hurricanes will look to Babchuk to be a steadying force on the blueline, as well as to contribute offensively by jump-starting the attack and manning the point on the power play.