Two years ago, it was Jimmy Vesey. Last year it was Mike Vecchione. This year, Hobey Baker Award winner Will Butcher is exploring free agency after his four years as property of the Colorado Avalanche expired Tuesday night.
Butcher was drafted in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft by the Avalanche who were then under vice president of hockey operations and former Avs great Patrick Roy. Roy didn’t see the value in Butcher, who in Roy’s opinion, was an undersized defenseman. In 2015, Avalanche officials then contacted Butcher, telling him that they had no interest in signing him to an entry level contract. In an article with the Denver Post, Butcher explained his mindset about the situation, saying, “I’m just going about my business at (University of Denver), being the captain next year. They’re doing their business how they want to do it. And I’m doing mine.”
Fast forward to when Joe Sakic had final say in all matters, he contacted Butcher, telling him he was interested in bringing in Butcher on an entry level deal once he finished college. Butcher was in the midst of his team’s run to the national championship when Sakic made these comments. Sakic was then quoted saying, “As soon as they’re done, he’ll have a contract offer. We hope to sign him.”
Butcher capped off a great college career the way that all collegiate athletes dream, winning the national championship with his University of Denver teammates. True to his earlier statement, Sakic proposed his deal just days after Butcher and his teammates returned from Chicago. Butcher declined, however, and now that the August 15th deadline has passed, he is free to sign with whatever team he pleases.
Type “Will Butcher” into the news search on google. You will find teams like Detroit, Buffalo, New Jersey, Las Vegas, Pittsburgh, even the Chicago Blackhawks, who are finally desperate for a defenseman, are in on the Butcher sweepstakes. Chicago is considered an early favorite due to the proximity to Madison, Wisconsin, which is where Butcher grew up. Butcher is a hot commodity, coming off a college season in which he won the Hobey Baker Award and a national championship. Teams who are desperate for a puck-moving defenseman are going to push to get Butcher on their roster, and fast.
What does that mean for his potential market? This means that you will get teams like Chicago, Montreal, maybe even Detroit who are going to be willing to pay more money because they need a competent blue liner. More than likely, Butcher will get a max entry level contract. Most teams would be willing to pay that kind of money for a talent like Butcher. Most teams also don’t have the depth on defense, so signing him would make perfect sense. Would it make sense then, for Philadelphia to go in on the sweepstakes for Will Butcher?
Let’s take a look at the numbers here. In Butcher’s four years in college, he amassed 28 goals, 75 assists, and was a cumulative +52 along all four seasons. Butcher produced, there is no doubt about it. His last season where he led his team to a national championship, he had 7 goals and 30 assists in 43 games. How would this compare to an already budding prospect pool with the Philadelphia Flyers?
To be fair, and to be completely honest, the Flyers are in a position where they don’t need to pursue Butcher. They have a plethora of defensive prospects from years of Hextall building through the draft. Still, after landing Mike Vecchione last year, it’s only fair we see how this pans out if Butcher decides to sign with the Flyers as well.
The Flyers prospects already in place are being groomed for big roles with the big club in the very near future. Prospects like Samuel Morin and Robert Hagg, who many believe to be the two that get called up for the upcoming season. Others like Travis Sanheim and Phillipe Myers, who are essentially next in line, and absolutely dominating in their level of play. Then you have the prospects who have almost become lost in the shuffle because of the already mentioned blue liners and their success. Prospects like Mark Friedman, who is still very young, but posted 26 points in 40 games at Bowling Green State University. Others include Reece Willcox, Maxime Lamarche, and Mark Alt, all who have been solid contributors with the Lehigh Valley Phantoms.
Looking at players like Sanheim and Myers, they are on a whole different level than most of these prospects. Myers was brought in as a free agent and absolutely stunned the Flyer’s brass. Sanheim took the other route, a first round selection who has matured greatly over his tenure as a Flyers prospect, and just about seems NHL ready. The only thing essentially stopping Sanheim from debuting at the NHL level is the fact that there are only two spots open and both Morin and Hagg seem to be the frontrunners for those two spots. Myers’ name has also been thrown around in the same conversation, but it’s unlikely that Hextall would throw him into the NHL right away with little experience at the AHL level.
To put it as simply as possible, the Flyers don’t have the room for a guy like Will Butcher. A smaller, puck moving defenseman, Butcher would also benefit from going elsewhere because he would get more opportunity to shine and showcase his abilities. Between Gostisbehere, Provorov, MacDonald, and soon Sanheim, the Flyers have their fair share of puck movers on the blue line.
Will Butcher would thrive in a situation like Chicago. He has a guy in Duncan Keith, who he would benefit from greatly. He has a coach in Joel Quenneville who is incredibly talented. Butcher would join an already stacked team that has a shot year in and year out to bring Lord Stanley back home.
Don’t expect to see Will Butcher in a Flyers sweater this season, next season, and probably beyond. The Flyers are finally at a position where they are comfortable with their blue line prospects, and I don’t see them really adding to it considering their 2017 draft. They seem to have switched their focus from defense to offense, and seem to be set on the personnel they have on the back end. Would it be nice to add a guy of his ability, of course. Is it realistic? Not really.
Mandatory Credit: Caylor Arnold-USA TODAY Sports