Player Profile – Chris Butler




As the Robyn Regehr transaction unfolded this past weekend, there was a considerable sense of disappointment when Chris Butler was announced as the NHL portion of the return. Butler, a 24 year old defenceman from St. Louis, was used for much of the year as a 4th/5th D by the Sabres, particularly in the early part of the season. 

One somewhat surprising item that did pique my interest was the fact that his minutes really spiked after he returned from injury in February. That was a period where the Sabres were playing very well as they made the climb to 7th in the East, so it did get me wondering how he was used during this period and how productive he was.

Anyone that’s hung around these parts is likely aware that I have a strong bias towards players that are out-shooters at EV, with particular emphasis on player performance when the game is tied. Score effect is notorious for inflating shot totals, but via the magic of Vic Ferrari’s, we can filter shot data to reflect the performance of players in the tied game state, thus allowing for an examination of a player with less noise involved. Again, as a quick review, Fenwick refers to shots + missed shots for and against, and Corsi adds shots blocked to Fenwick to cover all attempts at net.

To get started, here are Chris Butler’s full-season EV tied possession numbers:


  Shots % Fenwick % Corsi %
Butler 0.563 0.542 0.540
Team 0.524 0.517 0.509


He was clearly running ahead of his team, but with the easier minutes provided to him, particularly early in the year, that’s about right for a solid bottom pair defender on an OK team, that like Calgary, really needed to win via its depth, especially with Derek Roy shelved by mid-season.
The Sabres went on a major run after they lost to the Flames on December 27th, not unlike Calgary themselves from that time forward, and although they certainly had a few bounces help them along, they really began out-shooting teams in a major way over the last two months. Butler was injured from mid-December until February 8th, and his return did appear to conveniently coincide with Buffalo dominating games when they were tied at EV. Here are the EV tied possession numbers for Butler and the club after February 8th:
  Shots % Fenwick % Corsi %
Butler 0.587 0.575 0.578
Team 0.566 0.556 0.539
Lights out for both the player and the team over the last two months of the season, I’d say. The West’s best team at EV tied for the full year was likely Chicago, and their numbers would have been in the .540 range. Butler’s own performance was very good as well. There wasn’t a regular Flame D-man within hailing distance of those numbers for the year other than Babchuk, and he was sheltered to a degree that was well beyond any advantages Butler might have enjoyed.
What really got my attention, as I noted at the beginning of this post, was that Butler’s icetime took a sharp uptick late in the year. He’d played 20 minutes in a game twice before February. After Feb. 8th, he played at least 20 minutes 13 times in 31 outings, and topped that figure in 6 of Buffalo’s 7 playoff games as well.
What was equally interesting was who he was working with. Over the last two months of the year, he was regularly alongside Tyler Myers, playing a decent mix of top sixers and bottom feeders. Based on the game by game icetime sheets I reviewed, it looks like his QComp over this period would have been about 3rd on the Sabres defence, behind Myers and maybe Sekera, which was quite a bit higher than his full-season QComp of bottom six types.
I don’t doubt his possession numbers benefited from the rising tide of the team in full, but he certainly wasn’t a significant drag on the club through this period, and given the increased responsibility he saw during this stretch of games, that has to be seen as a bit of good news.
I also reviewed the faceoff data over this period just to make sure that those nice possession numbers weren’t Babchukian in nature, and thankfully for Flames’ fans, they weren’t. Butler was on ice for 138 offensive zone faceoffs as opposed to 137 defensive zone faceoffs, for a OZone % of 50.2. Dead neutral in other words, so his out-shooting was earned without Lindy Ruff placing him in cushy surroundings.
Now, before anyone gets too far gone, it’s fair to note that when the Sabres played Philly in the post-season, Butler and Myers played second-line comp and got lit up pretty badly. That lead to Butler spending G7 on the third pair alongside Mike Weber, so Lindy Ruff wasn’t fully convinced that Chris Butler could be trusted at that point. That sort of treatment does happen to young guys on occasion, so I wouldn’t write Butler off based on that type of sample size, but it’s a fact that needs to be considered with all the good that Butler was part of over the last two months of the year.
It’s also worth noting that the Western Conference, Boston’s cup win aside, is still likely a fair bit stronger in overall terms than the East, so saying that Chris Butler was reasonably functional as a top 4 defenceman for a couple of months in the East should almost certainly translate to slating him one pair lower out West. He looks like he should rate minutes worthy of no more than a 5th defenceman on the Flames, at least for now. That said, he’s almost certainly a better fit for that role than any of Calgary’s current options, and that would absolutely include Anton Babchuk if Jay Feaster doesn’t lose his fool mind and overpay the big Ukrainian. 
Overall, after examining these numbers, I can sort of see what the Flames might like about Butler. He’s had flashes where a team might get the impression he might have more to offer than what he’s provided to this point, and that may well be so. Still, it’s folly to count on Chris Butler being more than a decent bottom pairing defenceman, at least for now. If he’s capable of more, possibly along the lines of Mark Giordano, that will just be a nice, and unexpected, bonus.
  • Captain Ron

    Robert thanks for giving us the goods on this guy. I’m eager to see him play live so we can see what we have. The most encouraging part is that he is still pretty young and has shown significant improvement in the last year.

  • PDumes

    Very interesting. Didn’t know that this guy was actually a decent defenceman in Buffalo. Like the fact that he got more ice time after his injury, not less. That shows that the coaching staff had some faith in this guy to play top 4 minutes in important situaions.

  • everton fc

    Butler also seems like a decent guy off the ice and in the room, he should be a good fit. I am hoping the best for him, as a fan, for the obvious reasons… but interviews on the FAN, and those I’ve listened to online… seems to point towards a decent character guy. I’d think he’d be worthy of the #5 pairing over Carson, and he and Pardy/Carson may be the 5/6 pairing if Babchuk isn’t resigned.

    Since we are not going after the Cup next season (or are we?!) pairing Sarich w/Brodie may help Brodie. I’m still not 100% convinced on Brodie for next season. We shall see. I think he may be ready for the NHL. If he’s not… 3/4 may be Sarich/Butler, 5/6 Carson/Babchuk/Pardy, or some combination thereof.

    (Did we sign Mikkelson? I can’t remember… And if we did, or are considering signing him… Why? Depth in Abby?)

    Time will tell, of course, on Butler. I get a good vibe about him, though he has himself called out his on-ice inconsistency. His scouting report from the past says he may have some – and I mean it when I say “some” – offencive upside. He seems responsible both ways, according to scouting, and makes few mistakes… Not to mention he is an above-average skater. Always a positive.

  • marty

    ya i think there is some potential here. is he going to be as good defensive as reggie. nope not ever. but there could be a up side with maybe a few more points and he could become a solid d man. maybe this isn’t as bad as first seems. It will all depend what feast does with the cap money he saved.

  • everton fc

    Well at least with this article some Sanity should at least be restored. He may not be the best prospect or player at this point, but there are a lot of good numbers for him and they could translate to some even better numbers. If he continutes to progress and can play 3/4 minutes at half or less than half the salary of Regehr the trade essentially becomes a wash, yeah we lost a fan favourite in Regehr but we gained two assests and a big third in Cap Space. The 2nd rounder still pisses me off just because Feaster is a hypocrit when he said he wouldn’t follow the path of his predecessor and waste the second rounds.

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Butler is very young and was put in situations (playoffs) that will only benefit his development. The review of stats, although interesting, are only a snapshot. To me the key point was that later in season when the Sabres were pushing to get into the playoffs his ice time increased and in many cases was above 20:00. When the team needed good play the most they went to him. At 24 that is impressive. In regards to Babchuk: What kind offered would make Feaster a fool?
    From my perspective he warrants upwards of $2.5M per year. Why?
    Simply for the offense he provides. You pay for offense, you don’t pay for defense. Offensive ability is the scarcest commodity for any organization to have. Defensive play can be bought for league minimum numbers from combinations of players throughout the season.
    Babchuk is a 30-35 pt right shooting guy. When you look around at dmen who produce at that level see what they are getting paid.
    I don’t doubt that Babchuk needs improvement on his defensive skills but in terms of his value to the team, I don’t care.
    In this era you do not pay for defense. Regehr was simply overpaid for his production/contribution to the Flames offense.
    I went to a number of games and watched how the Flames came out of the zone. Too many times it was hard off the glass or a rim around the boards. Babchuk was one of the few who would make a good first pass, allow Calgary to attack from the middle of the ice and have the opposition collapse and react to that.
    Butler and Babchuk will give the Flames the ability to attack off the rush. You can have the best forwards in the league but if they don’t get the puck on their sticks with speed entering the zone you stiffle a lot of skill. The Flames have to show they can attack of the rush through the middle of the ice and dump and chase. They are too predictable otherwise.
    In short if the combination of Babchuk and Butler make up the $4M that left with Regehr that is a much better allocation of money where offensive puck moving play is rewarded.
    My guess is a guy like Hannan will not get a big contract. Bieksa got paid for his offense (his potential to produce and his past numbers). These are just example of the trend of paying big only for offensive guys.

    • Captain Ron

      Jeff, I’m really enjoying your well thought out and mostly positive comments that show a level of maturity that some people here don’t seem to have. Same thing can be said to Brent G and his take on the situation in comment #19. I’m with you on the new GM and the we’ll probably be a little bit worse before we get better. Go back a couple of pages on this site and read what I had to say about Ryan Lamberts garbage story in comments #92 and #94 and you’ll se what I mean. Some Guys just don’t get it no matter how you try to explain it to them. Keep the great comments coming!

  • These are just example of the trend of paying big only for offensive guys.

    I understand you can get defense only guys cheap – and should if you can – but the real issue with every player one purchases for a team isn’t “what are his totals?” It is “what are his differentials?” It doesn’t matter if a guy scores a ton of points every year if the other team scores more while he’s on the ice.

    In addition, every defender’s production is largely dependent on his circumstances with a team. That’s not to say Regehr would start scoring a bunch of points if he was on the third pairing, but you can bet that Babchuk’s production would go in the tank if he was suddenly handed Reggie’s role: top-line opposition, a bunch of own zone starts and team leading PK numbers every night.

    In short, Babchuk is a 35 point guy when he plays in soft circumstances behind dudes who are doing the heavy lifting. This is why paying him a bunch of money is a catch-22: it means you may not be able to afford the other roster players that make his output possible.

    • Jeff Lebowski

      In short, Babchuk is a 35 point guy when he plays in soft circumstances behind dudes who are doing the heavy lifting. This is why paying him a bunch of money is a catch-22: it means you may not be able to afford the other roster players that make his output possible.

      I agree he is a 35 pt guy but don’t agree that his contributions only came against easy opponents.
      Arguing that his offensive zone starts is corrlelated to his poor defensive play is misleading. You have to factor that the coaches put him in situations where his best skill set are used ie offensive situations. I think it is unfair to criticize a guy for producing when asked and also criticize for not delivering in situations he was not put in.

      As for differentials as a measure of what you pay then +/- would be the measuring stick. Iginla was even this year, does he warrant his salary? You can’t look at +/- of a player and say he was directly responsible for goals against. At the same time guys who get a + might not even touch the puck. If you get a point you can definitley say you contributed to the + differntial that’s why offensive prodcution has to be valued highly.

      In terms of Babchuk’s production and therefore value to the team, if he is removed who would replace that production? Regardless of what circumstances he was put in the garner those points he garnered those points. I have no idea if those points were garbage and didn’t affect the result of games but I’d bet some were very instrumental to the teams wins.

      I mean if he scored and gave the Flames a two goal lead late in a game I’d value that highly regardless if it isn’t a GWG.

      Given what the Flames have on the back end Babchuk’s value is high to the team and the market value of that kind of production is what it is. A bad defenseman doesn’t get 35 pts a year.

  • PDumes

    If the Flames see Butler as a #5 who might push for the #4, then they are leaving the # 4 spot for Brodie or Babchuk at this point, which is a little scary right now.
    As of right now, the team’s NHL defensive depth looks like:

    Bouwmeester – Gio
    Sarich – (blank)
    Carson – Butler

    If Babchuk accepts his offer where does Brodie fit in? Does he battle it out with Carson or does Babchuk slide into the #6 spot and play soft minutes with top PP time?

    • Captain Ron

      I think that’s exactly what they see him as. But in my eyes I think it’s safe to say that Mikkelson/Carson would be the seventh defender. I don’t think we’ll see Babchuk resigned, because we’re going to resign Pardy instead. So our pairings would look like this…….:
      Bouwmeester/Gio Sarich/Butler Pardy/Brodie 7th (Carson/Mikkelson). I think if everyone in these 8 that needs to be resigned does, than you’ll see Mikkelson start in the minors.

      Babchuk won’t be resigned because he needs to be sheltered too much and if we want to get younger (BRODIE), than get rid of him and make some room for the young guy.

  • PDumes

    Butler kinda reminds me of what we had in Keith Aulie only a bit older. Am I in the ballpark on that comparison?

    Butler seems like a solid player, who’s one goal is to try and shutdown the opposition. He’s no Regehr but he also hasn’t been around long enough to prove so. I’m hopeful on Butler.

  • Barker just cleared waivers. What do you guys think of Hagman for Barker? The guy is a project, but I think has more potential then Babchuk and it gives the Flames Barker, Carson, and Butler to rotate into the number 4 slot.

    If he doesn’t work, let him loose after next season.

  • Greg

    We definitely have a hole right now on that second pairing slot. It would be nice if the flames can pick someone up to plug that hole Friday, but given the demand for defencemen this off season, I’m not sure it’s going to happen. I’m thinking we’ll go with our top 3 and hope that these bottom guys can play well enough that at least 1 can manage top 4 minutes on any given night.

    This does sound promising for butler’s current capabilities though. Sounds like we got a young, cheap, solid #5 guy who could still develop into a top 4. Really, when you are trying to move an older and more expensive player out, that’s probably a reasonable return when coupled with a youn offensive prospect. Not exciting, but likely fair. For now I’ll go down as “satisfied” with Feaster’s trade… Which is a really strange feeling compared to sutter’s trades – those always left me either elated or infuriated.

    • everton fc

      Random thoughts:

      Perhaps Butler is seen filling that spot? Or… Sarich is moved… you have room for Babchuk… Pardy (if signed) Mikkelson (was he signed?) and Carson (signed to a one-way. Pardy and Babchuk may have been tendered offers… If they do nothing by Thursday… Will they be moved? Time will tell…

      Butler and Babchuk as the 5/6 pairing… Doesn’t bother me too much… Where Brodie fits in remains to be seen – he may end up back in Abby, for all we know. Sarich/Babchuk scares me less…

      Almost seems like you have to move Sarich… Free up some more cap space? Is Brodie truly a #4 NHL defender? We may find out this fall. All that said, even w/Brodie… Butler… Carson… and so on… we’d have a very questionable backend next season, after JBO and Gio.

      I think the organization want Babchuk back. I think any team struggling to make the cap floor should be offered Stajan and Hagman for picks. Even low ones.

    • Robert Cleave

      Thank you. Someone gets it. Anton Babchuk is very much analogous to Marc-Andre Bergeron, in that both are below average NHL defencemen at EV who share a mutual ability to shoot the puck with a certain skill level on the PP. Bergeron got a two year deal for a million a year from Steve Yzerman.

  • Whether Brodie is ready or not is sort of irrelevant. It’s not like we’re going to win the cup next season (barring some fairytale run like 03-04), so let the kids play (as long as it doesn’t totally destroy their confidence losing 10-2 every night).

    They get experience, we tank, and pick top 5 next offseason. Tons of contracts come off the books. Winning all around.

    • Vintage Flame

      I think this is going to be a key year for Brodie. I personally think the Flames need to get him in the fold and play him a lot. He is going to be sheltered to a certain degree, I don’t think there is any doubt in that. But I also think they need to get this kid up to speed as quickly as his development curve allows.

      I also don’t think this team will lose 10-2 every night. There will be the occasional blowout, but hey we had those with our core d-group as well. It just happens. This team is going to be faster and that’s a good thing.

      Get these kids transitioning the puck out of the zone and don’t ask for anything fancy. Let the forwards carry the mail and JBo and Gio QB the defense.

      I wouldn’t be AT ALL surprised if we don’t see Jbo and Gio NOT on the same pairing, just to average out the veteran ability. A lot of people are going to hate this, but don’t be surprised if it’s Sarich playing with Bouwmeester, cause he can hit like Reggie and Bouw would be the puck mover.

      You might see Gio with Butler or who ever they sign, if they sign someone, for his defensive responsibilty.

  • Vintage Flame

    I can’t believe what a bunch of turncoats you all are! What are we Canuck fans?

    The second Feaster pulls this off I read the boards to see everyone assume the sky is falling and we got royally screwed. There is an excellent article up at M&G that outlines this process well and how painful a rebuild really is. It’d be great if we could get 5 1st rounders for players but thats not reasonable. Anyone who thinks Feaster wanted to get rid of that second to move Kotalik is a moron and not fit to use a computer. It’s evident ownership isn’t keen on wasting 6 million on nothing next year, perhaps if you were signing the checks you would feel the same. You dont like it, dont buy tickets, I would be more than happy to take you place.

    Fact of the matter is everyone on here assumes Feaster is an incompetent piece of $hit without giving him a chance. The slandering of a man based on his weight throughout the ENTIRE draft? What does that have anything to do with hockey?

    He picks Baertschi and a lot of people said he was stupid and should take Mcneil. I cannot believe how many people are jumping all over him for the pick of that highly skilled (yet very small player) in the 4th round. 4th rounders almost never turn into anything decent you might as well shoot for the fences.

    Is Butler as good as Regher? No! Why would someone give you a younger version of Regher for a 31 year old Regher who is likely going to face injury issues any season now (it’s already begun)? Maybe everyone should think of the master plan, really analyze what Regher is worth before they jump all over Feaster. For once it seems like our GM truly has a plan in place and we will get significantly worse before it gets better. He is surrounding himself with great hockey minds as well (I didnt see anyone praise the Assistant GM hiring of a very good guy).

    Does Feaster have faults? Who doesnt but why dont we give the man a chance (try avoid over-valuing our old declining players to think Regher could be had for Crosby or something stupid like that) and give him time. I for one am happy to have a GM in place who knows he isn’t perfect and is admitting his mistakes and looking to improve on them. It will take years to fix what Sutter did, but I am more than willing to see how Feaster does in the mean time.

    • Vintage Flame

      Yeah i agree. I’m thinking along the lines of lets wait and see what happens next year but more importantly the following two years. It’ll be those years that truely define Feaster. By then it’ll be entirely his team

  • Vintage Flame

    It’s nice to see some positive information coming out about Butler. It’s going to be really interesting to see where he gets slotted and what he makes of it.

    He has good underlying numbers, but the one thing I noted from Bob’s article is that he will be facing tougher opposition in the West, so hopefully it doesn’t affect his play too much. The possibility and likelihood of development is also encouraging. I like that he’s only 24 or 25 so he has room to grow before he really comes into his own.

    Still hope the Flames go out and get someone like Stralman, but I think this kid has a fit with the Flames and can be a positive in the future.

    Another good article Bob.

  • Oyo

    as of right now im almost willing to keep the D as it is. see who out of the young guns is going to step up and play that #4 role. i think we are going to find out real quick who is ready to play more.

    The only player i really want to sign would be Kennedy. young and very good driving the play. i think that would make our top 9 at the very least tough to play against.

    put him with langkow and bourque and use that as more of your defensive line.

    let glenx / jokes / mosser just eat other third liners.

    and give tangs , backs, iggy as good of ZS as possible.

    plus our fourth liners destroy other forth liners.

    i think we could still be competive altough sit at 10th at the very end.

  • Oyo

    I don’t see us signing Kennedy … I’m not sure why but there are probably lots of teams after him and unless we over pay for him I don’t know why he’d sign with us as much as I’d love to have him here.
    Realastically I don’t see the flames changing much at all before the start of the season.

  • Derzie

    Babchuk may be below average relative to the league but he’s above average on the Flames. I did a look at PlusMinus per Salary dollar for the Flames defensemen and Anton did just fine last year. Showed good hustle as well. A solid 2nd-3rd pairing guy in my opinion. He’s not a geezer either.

    • Vintage Flame

      No way you can put Babs on a 2nd line pairing. He’ll get eaten alive. He did well last year at what he was out there to do, but he was extremely sheltered against opposition play.

      You put him on a 2nd line pairing and he’s not going to fare well at all.