Should the Canucks Pursue Pending Free Agent Defenceman Will Butcher?

For the second consecutive summer, a Hobey Baker Award winner is hitting unrestricted free agency after finishing their senior season without an entry-level contract to call their own. This year it’s University of Denver standout defender and Colorado Avalanche draftee Will Butcher who’s holding court.

In a conversation with BSNDenver.com’s Adrian Dater, Butcher’s agent, Brian Bartlett, revealed his client’s intention to let the Avalanche’s window of exclusivity expire on August 15th in favour of the 31 team field unrestricted free agency will afford him.

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From there, it’s anyone’s guess as to where Butcher lands. Interest will be at a fevered pitch. I can’t imagine there’s a team in the NHL without room for Butcher on their depth chart.

The real question, then, is where Butcher’s allegiances sway. It’s too early in the process to say with any certainty which way the Denver defenceman is leaning. Even if Butcher had any inclinations one way or the other, who knows if we’d even get the word, though. These are the dog days of summer, after all, and the NHL’s insiders are likely more interested in when they will get their next margarita than Butcher’s final decision.

Luckily for those who follow the Canucks, News 1130 AM’s Rick Dhaliwal never sleeps ‘cus sleep is the cousin of death — he’s always on his grind. And mere hours after Dater’s report about Butcher’s status, Dhaliwal reached out to Bartlett about the possibility of moving to the Pacific Northwest.

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That’s encouraging, right? Well, perhaps not as much as it might seem. If we’re to take Bartlett at his word, Butcher wants “opportunity” more than anything, which makes sense on a certain level since there are limitations on the financial value he can earn on his entry-level contract.

I would generally view a player’s ideal version of opportunity either as the chance to compete for the Stanley Cup or to crack an NHL roster. Neither the Canucks, nor the Avs, offer the first of those options. Opportunity to play? Well, I don’t know if the Canucks have much to offer, certainly. The Canucks have eight defencemen on one-way contracts, and another three-to-four knocking on the NHL’s door. Colorado is a different story.

Image courtesy: CapFriendly

This wouldn’t be the first time an agent has pulled punches or mislead in their client’s name, though, so let’s not get too hung up on the likelihood that Butcher sees the Canucks as a viable candidate for his services. The fact remains: if he’s available, the Canucks should put on the full court press.

Butcher, who the Avalanche selected with the 123rd overall pick in the fifth round of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft, is a stout, offensive minded defenceman with a full offensive toolkit at his disposal and the mind to put those tools to good use. Scouts I’ve spoken to praise his shooting ability especially, pointing to his full arsenal with a heavy slap shot and a precise wrist shot as the one-two punch.

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It’s taken Butcher some time to put everything together. Until his senior year, Butcher was a fairly pedestrian offensive producer on the Pioneers, and that reflects itself in his suspect pGPS (Prospect Graduation Probabilities System) outputs. One person I spoke with cited Butcher’s skating as a chief concern of his as it relates to the undersized pivot, and perhaps that’s what made the transition into college hockey an especially difficult one.

These last two seasons, Butcher’s had no such trouble. He leaves college as a Hobey Baker winner, the captain of a NCAA Championship team and with enough hardware to warrant a trophy case for just his last season alone — no, seriously, check out his EliteProspects.com page, it’s wild.

When we look at Butcher’s last season through the lens of pGPS, he checks out as having a 16.1% Exp. Success rate and an Exp. Point per 82 Games of 28.2. The pGPS system leans heavily on height as an input to determine player success, and I’d imagine Butcher is held back by his 5’10” frame. As the league moves further away from height bias (at a snail’s pace, I might add), I’d like to imagine players as productive as Butcher won’t share so bleak a career outlook as our draft projection metrics places upon them.

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Still, one could do worse than to find a player with Butcher’s skill set and collegiate career for nought but the cost of his contract. And I’d like to think the qualitative base we have to work with tilts the scales past the nearly one-in-six chance of NHL success he projects as having in the quantitative frame. Perhaps Butcher’s a pioneer. Or better yet, one day a Canuck.

  • Fred-65

    If Butcher a small but talented D is looking for opportunity there’s none better than the Av’s there D is almost non existent. I think he’s just jacking them around to try and and get more, maybe more bonuses

    • But if the ELC caps compensation, Butcher shouldn’t be looking to maximize bonuses but *positive* playing opportunities so he can cash in on his first non-ELC deal. I think he wants to stay away from the trainwreck tire fire that Sakic is building because it’s only going to hurt his stats and dent his bank account in two years.

  • truthseeker

    meh….won’t really care if we don’t get him. I get the whole “add an asset for nothing more than money” thing….and if he chooses us than great. But I expect he won’t so I won’t lose much sleep over little more than an average prospect.

  • apr

    Sure, why not. But while its great to have a nice offensive tool kit, can he play D? Stecher is in the line-up because he is a smart defensive player. Subban is not because he’s poor defensively. I think Tyson Barrie is a model of the new smaller d-man – and while he puts up great numbers, he is a brutal d-man – and I think a main culprit why Colorado stinks so much even with Duchesne, McKinnon, Landeskog – and a reasonably good goalie in Varlamov.

  • Holly Wood

    I haven’t seen him play, but not gonna get too excited about a 5’10” college d man with questions about his skating. The Hobey is a great accomplishment but doesn’t mean nothing in pro. But nothing to lose by adding him to the mix

  • Silverback

    31 teams could call and they would all get the same answer. ” We are looking for opportunity and there is certainly opportunity in (input team name here), we will see how they stack up.”

  • canuckfan

    I would say that Montreal will pursue and if he is looking for opportunity there certainly is that with Canadians at this point…I am not a Canadians fan but after reading what their situation is with other articles and what they are in need of have 8.5 million cap space left need a number one center and offensive defender. Don’t have assets to trade so could pick up the offensive defender and then just need a center.