A few days ago, Will Butcher proclaimed that he had no interest in signing with the Colorado Avalanche; the team that drafted him in the fifth round in 2013.
Since he has graduated, the Avalanche will lose his rights later this month, in the same fashion as Jimmy Vesey when he dropped the Nashville Predators to join the New York Rangers. (The particular rules are outlined in the CBA, Section 8.6(c). If you’re seeking a more comprehensive study, our colleagues over at Lighthouse Hockey wrote an article in 2013 explaining the case further.
With Butcher testing the market, the Montreal Canadiens should jump at the chance to sign a young defender who has racked up the accolades over the years, including being awarded the Hobey Baker Award as the top NCAA Collegiate Player for 2016-17.
Having played his whole college career for the University of Denver, he has taken a step forward every year, captaining the team to a Frozen Four Championship and finishing with a team-best 37 points (7 G, 30 A) over the season’s 43 games.
When Mikhail Sergachev was traded by the Canadiens for Jonathan Drouin, it rent a huge hole in the organization’s skill level on defence. This issue could be addressed with a battle-tested and — from what it seems that Marc Bergevin prefers in his personnel — character player who could benefit Montreal for years to come.
It seems that Butcher is NHL ready, even though he may have to be deployed with a more defensive option in order to get the best out of his offensive talent. With Shea Weber signed for the foreseeable future, Butcher could prove to be the partner that Montreal needs for their top defender, with a skill set that can’t be found among any of the team’s current options.
In Weber the club has not only a pillar to lean on but a foundation to build up an NCAA player and get him ready for the big leagues. To have a pro as dedicated and defensively stable as Weber to learn from would make an enticing offer for Butcher as he evaluates his options.
For Bergevin, he would be signing a player who can move the puck and quarterback the power play. Butcher is a smart player with a great deal of tenacity, and there is only upside to a potential signing of the young American.
Montreal has plenty of cap space to make a competitive offer, though the demand shouldn’t be especially high for an entry-level contract. The team can offer substantial ice time and the incentive of playing in front of the world’s best goaltender. Add playing in a hockey-mad city like Montreal with all the extra excitement, and it should be an easy sell for Bergevin.
After a summer of key losses, namely the exodus of Russian stars Alexander Radulov and Andrei Markov, the biggest piece on the market might be a 22-year-old defender from Wisconsin.