Chicago Blackhawks’ Lack Of Will Butcher Interest Could Have Merit

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 08: Will Butcher
CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 08: Will Butcher /

After waiting some time for the Will Butcher sweepstakes to begin, Chicago Blackhawks fans may have been surprised to learn their team wasn’t even placing a call to the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner

Plenty of web space has been used on this blog to talk about defenseman Will Butcher, the reigning Hobey Baker Award winner and a newly christened free agent yesterday after deciding to test the open market instead of signing with his drafting team, the Colorado Avalanche. It doesn’t look like we’ll be talking about the Chicago Blackhawks acquiring him, though.

The Athletic’s Scott Powers reported yesterday that the Blackhawks, who have a pretty rough setup on the blue line going into the 2017-18 season, hadn’t even placed a call to Butcher’s side. The fact the Blackhawks would not inquire about the latest NCAA MVP ahead of a season rife with defensive uncertain is puzzling, to say the least.

Butcher played in a system at Denver University that in ways mimics the one currently employed by the Blackhawks, as noted by Blackhawk Up’s Aaron Goldschmidt earlier this summer. Butcher is also a young, cost-effective athlete. The last big-name college free agent, forward Jimmy Vesey, signed with the New York Rangers for two years at a cap hit of $925,000, for reference.

So why aren’t the Blackhawks interested in this promising blueliner when their system is currently bereft of stud defensive prospects? Let’s dig a little deeper.

Are Blackhawks confident with what they have?

This could seem outlandish considering how weak the Blackhawks’ blue line currently looks. But maybe general manager Stan Bowman is happy with what he sees on the back end.

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Butcher is a left-handed shot. Left-handed defensemen currently employed by the Blackhawks who will see NHL time next season are Duncan Keith, Michal Kempny are Gustav Forsling. On the minor league side — guys who could see NHL time this season, or at least likely will in the near future — you have Jordan Oesterle, Luc Snuggerud, Carl Dahlstrom, Viktor Svedberg, Robin Norell and Erik Gustafsson.

Perhaps the Blackhawks see enough promise here to feel comfortable with their future. Butcher could help immediately should he be signed, but adding him would be more about impacting the future than 2017-18.

If Bowman feels that the Blackhawks’ pool of defensive left-handed shots is solid enough, that would certainly weigh into his decision not to use precious cap space on a college free agent — a venture Bowman has been hit or miss on in the past.

Worried about an adjustment period?

Chicago obviously has multiple concerns on its blue line heading into the 2017-18 season. The Blackhawks currently have two veterans who appear to be slowing down (Keith and Brent Seabrook), two guys in their second year of the NHL system (Kempny and Forsling), two guys in their first year of the system (Connor Murphy and Jan Rutta) … and Michal Rozsival.

So adding a college free agent on defense, no matter how promising he is or how well he fared in the NCAA, would have been a solid gamble for Bowman. He’s trying to rebuild his team on the fly so that the last peak years (or first post-peak years, in some cases) of guys like Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Corey Crawford, Keith and Seabrook aren’t without championship aspirations.

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Adding a college free agent on defense and immediately asking him to play a major role is more of a full-on rebuild move. Bowman probably doesn’t believe he has time for that, hence his lack of interest.

If it were the 2013 offseason, I think Bowman would have far more interest in someone like Butcher. The Blackhawks’ defense didn’t look nearly so bleak at that point — probably the most recent offseason you could truly say that. Butcher could have dropped in as a third-pairing player and worked his way up to a key role, instead of jumping in the deep end right off the bat.

Still looking for a late veteran add?

The biggest reason I think Bowman decided to avoid Butcher was the possibility of adding a veteran defenseman as the regular season begins. Once Marian Hossa hits long-term injured reserve, there seems to be a good chance Chicago jumps on someone like Cody Franson or Francois Beauchemin to bolster the defense.

Though Hossa’s LTIR-ing frees up a nice chunk of cap space ($5.275 million), it’s not like the Blackhawks should just use all their space because its there. Adding Butcher and a Franson/Beauchemin type would really hamper any possibility of a midseason move, should Bowman want to make one.

It’d also really muddy up the defensive waters, as then you’d have far too many blueliners competing for spots. You could easily cut Rozsival and send Forsling to the minors, but Rutta wasn’t signed from overseas to sit in the minors, and no one else is going anywhere. So you’ve got a logjam in which everyone needs playing time.

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The Blackhawks, it appears, are actually playing it safe by not adding to their defense via a college free agent like Butcher. He could certainly develop into a solid NHL player, which could cause Bowman to feel regret down the road. But I think the GM has a plan, and Butcher just wasn’t part of it.