Will Butcher had a great weekend. On Friday, he won the Hobey Baker Award as the best player in college hockey. Then, the University of Denver captain followed that up by helping his team capture a national championship on Saturday.
The 22-year-old Butcher has nothing left to prove in the NCAA. He is a senior and has reached the pinnacle of the college game, both individually and with his team. Soon, the defenseman will set his sights on the professional game.
The Colorado Avalanche just so happen to need some help on their blueline. Butcher is currently Avalanche property, having been selected by the club in the fifth round (123rd overall) of the 2013 NHL Entry Draft. The logical next step would be to ink him to an entry-level contract, right?
If only it were that simple.
Yes, the Avalanche own Butcher’s rights. Right now, they are the only team he can talk to, the only team he can sign with. That all changes on Aug. 15 however. If he is not signed by then, he becomes an unrestricted free agent, free to sign with any team.
The Avalanche are probably interested in Butcher. They will probably offer him a deal. Whether or not he takes it likely depends on if he holds a grudge.
Last year, the Pioneers were playing in the Frozen Four. The Avalanche are said to have informed Butcher he was not in the team’s future plans. Now, plans changed, and that message is said have been delivered at the behest of Patrick Roy.
Roy is no longer with the organization. The former Avalanche bench boss prefered big defenseman. Butcher is not that. Now that Patrick is gone, so too may be the mandate for size.
If the hurt feelings remain, it might be harder for the Avalanche to ink Butcher; especially if he blames the organization, and not just the former coach. If both parties look at things logically however, they should get a deal done.
For the Avalanche, the incentive to add Butcher should be apparent. He is a left-handed shooter, he is also a leader, who has won a national title, and was the best player in college hockey. The Avs need defensemen, they also need to find a way to get back to their winning ways. Plain and simple, Butcher is a winner.
The Avalanche’s interest in Butcher should go deeper than that however. The team has the right side locked down in their top-4 defensemen, with Erik Johnson and Tyson Barrie. Butcher’s natural spot is on the left.
Perhaps the most enticing part of his game for the Avs is his intelligence. He is a smart, two-way defender, who is responsible with the puck. A lot went wrong for the Avalanche last season; amongst the most costly was the ghastly defensive zone turnovers.
If Butcher makes it to Aug. 15 without a deal, he would likely have his fair share of suitors. As it would be an entry-level deal, the money would likely be about the same regardless of where he went. So why would he want to play for the lowly Avalanche?
In truth, there are many reasons. The first of which is that there’s actually a chance he would play with the Avalanche right away. He fills an immediate need for the Avs. Though there’s no guarantee he would make the roster next season, he would likely at least get a legitimate chance to compete for a spot in his first training camp. That wouldn’t be the case with many teams.
The second is familiarity. Butcher is familiar with Denver. He’s also familiar with the Avalanche organization. He attended the team’s rookie camp last summer, and the front office has had a presence at DU’s campus all season. Assistant general manager Chris MacFarland even attended the Frozen Four in Chicago.
Along the same lines, also working in Butcher’s favor is how revered he is in the Mile High City. He was the captain of the team that moved the Pioneers back to the top of college hockey landscape. He is also only the second person from the school to win the Hobey Baker. He wouldn’t have the same level of admiration in another city, should he choose to move.
Butcher’s entry-level deal will be for two-years, he can either spend it in a familiar city, with the only NHL organization he’s ever known, or he can dive into unfamiliar waters. Defenseman take time to develop. With a new organization, his path to success may be much longer.
It’s time for the Avalanche and Butcher to put aside the past and move forward together.