Ian White - the primary asset that came the Calgary Flames' way last year in the controversial Dion Phaneuf trade - is on the move again, this time to the Carolina Hurricanes.
The Flames traded White and embattled forward Brett Sutter, who was charged with assault just last week in Phoenix, to the Hurricanes in exchange for defenceman Anton Babchuk and forward Tom Kostopoulos.
White was playing on the Flames' No. 1 defensive pair alongside Robyn Regehr for much of the year, but he is a pending unrestricted free agent. When Calgary signed Mark Giordano to a multi-year contract extension early in November, it essentially closed the door on any chance that they could sign White as well.
Already, Calgary has too much money committed on long-term deals to defencemen - $6.7-million to Jay Bouwmeester, $4-million to Robyn Regehr, and $3.6-million to Cory Sarich along with the $3-million that White was pulling in this year.
In Carolina, White will be reunited with Paul Maurice, who coached him for a time in Toronto. Hurricanes' general manager Jimmy Rutherford projected that he would play among the team's top four defencemen.
"We were looking for a little more experience on our defence, and to set up our pairings better than they've been," said Rutherford. "We felt Ian was a better fit in our group. He can play in all situations - he skates well, moves the puck well. I am aware that he hasn't played as well in the first 20 games as we're used to seeing him, but if you look at his overall career, it's certainly been better than what we've seen of late."
With Jamal Mayers leaving as a free agent last summer, all that remains for Calgary from the Phaneuf deal now are forwards Matt Stajan and Niklas Hagman, both of whom are having erratic seasons. White was also having a miserable year for the most part, and was a team-worst minus-10 after 16 games, to go with his two goals and four assists.
Babchuk, by contrast, is a relative bargain at $1.4 million. He is just back from Omsk in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League after playing an important role in the Hurricanes' deep 2009 playoff run. Kostopoulos, meanwhile, joins his fifth NHL team, including a two-year stop in Montreal where he played 145 games for the Canadiens. He is a versatile journeyman, joining a team that has many other versatile journeymen in its line-up.
Babchuk is 6-5, with a long reach, and has a laser-like shot from the point, when he can get it off. "He's a guy, when he's getting his shot off, it's a hard shot for the goalies to handle when he gets it through."
Because Brett Sutter was assigned to AHL Abbotsford after the incident in Phoenix, the deal saves the Flames about $680,000 in salary-cap charges.
In Carolina, Brett Sutter will join his cousin Brandon, who is an emerging young star on the Hurricanes, a team that doesn't mind taking chances on siblings. Earlier this year, they acquired the rights to Eric Staal's younger brother, Jared, from the Phoenix Coyotes in the hopes that he will eventually develop into an NHLer.
"We tell the older sibling to take care of your own job and we'll take care of the development of your brother or cousin or whatever it may be," said Rutherford, "but we do recognize there are certain times in the season where guys like to bounce things off somebody else and there's nothing better than having somebody within your family that you can do that with."
Moving Brett Sutter gives the son of GM Darryl and nephew of coach Brent Sutter a chance to develop as an NHL player, outside of the Sutter-centric Flames' organization.
Last week, after the 23-year-old was charged with assault while traveling with the Flames in Arizona, he issued an apology for his actions. Calgary subsequently sent him down to the minors on a conditioning stint and Carolina extended that until such time as they decide where to place him next.