No clear frontrunner has emerged in the Will Butcher sweepstakes, but we are getting some clarity as to the signing options being weighed by the reigning Hobey Baker winner and NCAA champion.
“What ends up winning the day, I’m not sure,” Butcher’s agent, Brian Bartlett, told the Tampa Bay Times. “But we have not told teams that if you don’t have an NHL spot for him in training camp, don’t bother even calling. It’s quite the opposite.”
Butcher, who became an unrestricted free agent this week, spoke with at least five interested NHL teams Wednesday and Thursday. The offensive defenceman plans to visit a couple of cities and is expected to reach his decision at some point next week.
“I would think a lot of teams would be interested in a young, puck-moving defenceman. Ultimately, it’s about finding the best situation for Will to continue his hockey career,” Bartlett told the Las-Vegas Review Journal. “If there’s an opportunity that’s compelling, we’ll pursue it.”
Various reports on the clubs interested (and not interested) in Butcher have been flying around. Here, we gather the latest rumblings to determine which teams are in and which ones are out.
Of course, this is a moving target, and new suitors could pop up.
Vegas Golden Knights: The Knights held a phone call with Butcher and Bartlett Thursday.
“The conversation went well,” Bartlett said in a text message to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. “The management was well prepared and painted an impressive picture of their plan and how a player like Will would fit into that.”
The Knights’ interest in the Hobey Baker winner may have ticked up a notch with news of an ankle injury to defenceman Nate Schmidt, who’s also a left shot.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Although currently much deeper on the left side of his blue line than the right, Jackets GM Jarmo Kekkalainen has made a pitch to Butcher, according to The Athletic‘s Craig Custance.
Pittsburgh Penguins: The two-time defending champs should have no trouble selling winning to Butcher, but the Penguins’ left side already features Olli Maatta, Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole and Matt Hunwick. Still, if anyone knows the value of defensive depth, it’s GM Jim Rutherford.
“A player like that’s going to have several teams in that same category,” Rutherford told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Wednesday. “We will be in that mix with other teams.”
New Jersey Devils: The Devils lost the rights to their own NCAA star and have immediately focused their efforts on securing Butcher.
Since trading puck mover Adam Larsson to Edmonton last summer, New Jersey’s defence has been in desperate need of youth that can help drive offence, and Butcher fits that bill. With a left side led by captain Andy Greene, 34, John Moore, 26, and not much else, rebuilding New Jersey may be able to offer Butcher the most immediate playing time.
Buffalo Sabres: According to multiple reports from Sabres reporters, Butcher spoke over the phone with Buffalo’s brass Thursday morning. Under new GM Jason Botterill, the Sabres have been aggressive in overhauling their D core this summer, letting free agents Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov walk, trading for Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu, and making a run for Kevin Shattenkirk.
Due to Chicago’s proximity to Butcher’s Wisconsin roots and the Blackhawks’ loss of so many defencemen this summer, the Original Six team was believed to be an early contender here. However, The Athletic‘s Scott Powers reports that no contact has been made and “it’s safe to say they won’t be pursuing him.”
The Tampa Bay Lightning, Philadelphia Flyers, Detroit Red Wings, Toronto Maple Leafs and San Jose Sharks are also not making early overtures for Butcher, according to reputable reporters.