It’s not every day the reigning Hobey Baker winner is on the open market, and when one is, as Will Butcher will be, plenty of teams will come calling. One of those teams should be the Jets.
Butcher announced earlier this month that he will be testing the UFA market after August 15, following four successful years at the University of Denver. He was originally drafted in the fifth round of 2013 by the Colorado Avalanche.
For whatever reason, and there are many potential ones, Butcher has opted not to sign with the team that drafted him. He could still sign in Colorado after August 15, but it’s unlikely he’ll be returning to the state he’s called home the past four years.
Butcher’s announcement has led to a great deal of speculation and, of course, no shortage of awful puns (my favorite kind).
Per source, Will Butcher will meat with several teams before deciding who makes the cut.
— Ian McLaren (@iancmclaren) July 26, 2017
It’s a rare thing for a player like Butcher, a clear cut above his college competition, to steak his future on the whims of the UFA market. But while his decision will have many teams licking their chops, only a few will be serious con-tenders. I imagine he and his agent will spend the next few weeks grilling potential suitors and…
Now see what you’ve done, Ian McLaren? I can’t stop!
Incidentally, don’t plug “Will Butcher” into a Twitter search unless you’re prepared to see some hysteria mixed in with the hockey tweets.
In all seriousness and all puns aside (for now), you can never have too many defensemen. A mature left-shooting puck mover like Butcher will attract all sorts of interest.
Now, who do we know who could use left-shooting puck movers in their system?
Landing the Big Fish
The Jets have managed to attract college UFA talents in the past (see Tanev, Brandon) but Butcher is another matter entirely. He will have a great many teams after, and much like Jimmy Vesey, he’ll have the negotiating leverage at least somewhat on his side.
Will Butcher would make a lot of sense for the Penguins. His camp will certainly listen if the Pens call: https://t.co/KSHcadPrg7
— Jason Mackey (@JMackeyPG) July 28, 2017
This would be the most coveted college UFA the Jets have seriously gone in on, and they’ll be up against some tough competition. The Pittsburgh Penguins name has come up in more than one source, and it’ll be hard to compete with the defending Stanley Cup champs.
Then there’s the Chicago Blackhawks, whose name always seems to come up in these races. They carry a winner’s reputation in a hockey-mad city and that could tempt Butcher as well.
There aren’t many teams in the NHL who wouldn’t want Butcher, and they can all offer up a tempting package. Even the Avs, who Butcher seems likely to spurn, have the advantage of being in a city he’s quite familiar with after four years at U of Denver.
So how do the Jets pitch themselves to the reigning Hobey Baker winner?
Well, the Jets do have a few things working for them. Immensely skilled young forwards, a veteran defense core that will allow Butcher to grow at his own pace, a hockey-mad city that worships the team, and an AHL team right in the big club’s back yard.
The other thing the Jets can tempt Butcher with is the knowledge that their left side is one injury away from needing a capable player to play full-time minutes. Not every highly touted NCAA defenseman gets those right away. Just ask Mike Reilly.
Position of Need
It’s no secret the Jets need depth on the left side on defense. Adding Dmitry Kulikov helped, but Kulikov is a short-term fix (i.e. the next three seasons).
Within the system, Logan Stanley is going to need a couple years of AHL seasoning at least. And while Sami Niku is coming along nicely, he’s also likely due for some time with the Moose.
A little extra depth on defense never hurt anyone, and the Jets in particular could use all the help they can get. If they can persuade Butcher to join the squad, they should do all in their power to do so.
The Jets are in a unique position here. They can neither outbid nor be outbid for Butcher. His contract will be an ELC no matter what. Since cap space is a growing concern in Winnipeg, this is a bonus for the Jets.
Worth a nice reminder that Will Butcher actually will NOT head to the highest bidder. He's headed for an entry-level deal.
— Catherine Silverman (@catmsilverman) July 26, 2017
Of course, it means no team can outbid another, and they must sell Butcher solely on the merits of the team and the city. Winnipeg has historically had trouble doing this as a smaller market, but the Jets right now are as marketable as they’ve ever been.
The Jets young group of forwards and upward trajectory make them easier to sell to UFA’s like Butcher than ever. That’s not to say this will be cake walk, and I’m certainly not here to guarantee anything, but the Jets have both the motive and the opportunity to go after Butcher.
This will be a real test of Kevin Cheveldayoff’s ability to market the team he’s built. Let’s see how the Jets big boss handles it.