Chris Butler is Worth More Than You Think

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying that Butler deserves a statue.

 

However, what he does deserve is a bunch of praise for what he accomplished last year as a 25-year-old. Certainly, he is not exactly what one would call and offensive threat – but he manned the blue line pretty well last season, with most of his time on the ice coming against top offensive threats such as the Sedin twins, Dany Heatley (haha) and Alex Burrows.

He also logged about 17.5 minutes per game at even strength last year, behind only Jay Bouwmeester – while also playing against the 5th most difficult opposition in the league and starting in his own end 45% of the time.

Now, I’m willing to admit that Jay Bouwmeester’s exceptionally long coat tails (see: Staios, Steve) likely had a lot to do with Butler’s play overall last year – but the fact is Butler put up comparable, if not better, numbers than Bouwmeester playing rather solidly in a legit #2 role – and he did it for only 1.25 million dollars.

Looking at his top-20 cap hit comparables on CapGeek, the only real quality guys that jump out to me are Karl Alzner, Justin Braun and Carl Gunnarsson. Interesting in that to my eyes, all of those guys are cut from the same cloth as Butler – lackluster even strength offensive stats, but they all have some pretty good advanced stats there in one place or another.

If I’m constructing a team, it’s those types of guys you should be looking to anchor a defense on – combined, those four made $5,110,000 against the cap last year, none of them are over 26 or under 24, and all of them are out of their ELC periods. Guys like that allow a GM to go make overpays like Dennis Wideman without impailing the entire blueline on a metaphorical money sword because they provide positional value in comparision to the amount of money they make.

Moving Forward

Speaking of money and contracts, Butler’s going to need a new contract after this season and he’s smack dab in his prime as it is (26), so another short to medium term (i.e. 3 years, taking him to his 29 year old season) contract leaves minimal risk for the Flames and the chance for great reward. The other three big guys on the blue line are still pretty secure when it comes to contracts and are pretty close in age, meaning that this particular group (pending contracts) looks to be a solid one for the next 2-3 years.

However, getting value from guys like Butler and Brodie is going to be imperative when you’re paying the rest of the blue line 20 million dollars as it is. I think the Flames are likely to get that value out of both of those guys until at least the 2015-2016 season, given reasonable contracts.

Side note: It will be interesting to see who’s lined up with who on the blue line when the Flames return, because they have a number one guy, two 2/3 guys and a 3 guy (feel free to guess who’s who) – but the talents of each make it so that I think you’ll find a 6 that looks like this to be the optimal setup:

Bouwmeester-Wideman

Butler-Giordano

Brodie-Sarich

Smith 

Lastly, I feel like I need to address something: the manner in which Butler came to Calgary. Looking back, if I had to do that exact same deal as was proposed on June 23rd, 2011 I absolutely would’ve done so knowing what we know now. I realize a lot of anger over the deal stemmed from the lack of apparent shopping around Jay Feaster did, but today that deal is essentially Robyn Regehr and Jake McCabe for Butler – and even in that context I think the Flames won the deal.

Agree or disagree with anything? Drop a note in the comments.

  • mendicant

    For the most part I agree. Compared to other D-men, I thought Butler did _really_ well considering the position he was put in.

    Sure he made mistakes, but he’s young and going up against good talent.

    • loudogYYC

      Butler did play well most of the year, the issue with being involved in the Regehr trade makes him a scapegoat of sorts unless the Flames return had been a landslide win. This is not so much because Regehr was still a defensive stalwart, but because he the 2nd longest tenured Flames,a fan favourite, and the centerpiece of the Theo Fleury deal about a decade earlier.

      Regehr was a key part of the Flames identity, but Butler is a very servicable, affordable, and reliable defenseman. He’s cheap as well, and the way Darryl Sutter threw money away we needed affordable role players with a moderate degree of potential.

  • jakeryley

    I don’t have any particular problem with Butler. He is just very vanilla. He doesn’t have a shot. He doesn’t get into the play. He doesn’t generate points. He doesn’t play physical. He isn’t an iron man. He doesn’t log huge minutes.

    Normally I want something else in a top 4D man that goes along with being solid.

    But he is solid, young, and the price is right.

    Personally I would like to see Brodie with Bouwmeester next season. Bouwmeester seems able to carry a weaker D partner and if he is going to do that might as well be an up and commer. That leaves you with a solid pairing of Gio and Wideman. I think Butler and Sarich would give us a very respectable third pairing option.

  • He is definitely one of the few value contracts the Flames have. I’m not a fan of using the “good” deals to justify the “bad” ones, but technically you’re right and it balances out.

    Overall, Butler was fine last year. JBo may have carried him a bit, or rather, likely carried him. But really, for what the Flames are – which is a below-average team – he fits in fine. However, on an above-average team we’re talking about a number 4 at best, likely a 3rd pairing guy.

    Good stuff, Justin.

  • jakeryley

    I still would not make that trade.

    Out: Regehr, Kotalik, 2nd
    In: Butler, Byron

    That’s the bottom line on that trade, but in and of itself – maybe it makes some sense, but what followed this summer does not.

    I would sooner have Regehr at 4.02m signed, use him as a 4th d-man and have him for “physicality” on the back-end then have Sarich signed for 2 more seasons at 2.0m, and I sincerely doubt Sarich would have been re-signed had we still had Regehr.

    Bouwmeester – Wideman
    Giordano – ?
    Regehr – Brodie
    Smith

    is better than

    Bouwmeester – Wideman
    Butler – Giordano
    Brodie – Sarich
    Smith

    seeing as we currently have a decent amount of cap-space anyways. Saddling the team with Sarich for two more years, when we could have a better player (Regehr) for only 1 more year, would have made a lot more sense.

    • Looking and Reggies outcomes for BUF last year…I don’t know if he’s the better player anymore. The Sabres played him in a top pairing role still, but he got the crap beat out of him. Talking to BUF fans and writers, they say he spent a lot of time struggling around the ice. I think his knees and long career are really catching up to him at this point.

  • SmellOfVictory

    I never saw the same issues with Butler that other people allegedly did. He had the occasional brainfart defensively, but they were rare (yet spectacular). I also wouldn’t be averse to him getting a ~5 year deal in the 2 million range, if that’s a possibility. Even if his play dropped off, that’s only Sarich money (oh Sarich).

    As to the trade, I don’t mind the Regehr/Butler aspect of it (although it’s a far cry from the alleged Regehr/Thornton offer made by Boston back in the day), but I really do wish the 2nd/Kotalik aspect of it hadn’t occurred.

    @Kent: it’s tempting for me to support a JBo/Gio pairing as well, but that makes the second pairing, with Cpt Brainfart and Dennis ‘Defence?’ Wideman pretty scary against anyone with any speed or skill.

      • SmellOfVictory

        It’s definitely not ideal; I just think JBo would do a better job of covering for him than Butler. While I don’t think Butler is bad, he strikes me as more of a complimentary guy (e.g. you don’t want him being the best defensive player on either your first or second pairing). I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that he and Wideman would be a complete disaster.

      • T&A4Flames

        I’m kinda’ with SOV on this one. Wideman has shown to be a big minute D man, more so than Butler. I think with Wideman and JBo together it would create a better puck-possesion scenario against better lines. If JBo can help carry a young guy like Butler, he should be able to cover for Wideman’s more puck rushing style. Also, a Gio/Butler combo would be more of a balance for TOI. I think we’ve seen Gio to be more effective when he is not playing JBo type minutes. The only question I have is, can either Gio or Butler play the right side effectively?

  • SmellOfVictory

    I’m not going out on a limb here but move butler down to a second pairing D man and I think he will have more success. He may one day be a top pairing D but let him develop more with less pressure on the second pairing. I enjoyed the article because it really does show that he does have value and not just worth “2 bags of pucks”

  • lots of fans laud Giordano as the Flames’ best defenceman–so why not put the money where the mouth is, so to speak, and actually PLAY HIM ON THE TOP PAIR??????? Especially now that the Flames actually have 2 competent 2nd pair dmen.

    on the other hand, Giordano and Wideman together would make a rather daunting offensive threat.

    Butler absolutely blew me away last season. Not because he’s amazing (because he’s not) but because he actually managed to do a rather convincing impression of a #2 dman. If I recall, for the first ~1/4 of the season, he and Bouwmeester actually had positive corsi numbers.

    Also, Sincity, I don’t buy the “doesn’t play physical” bit. In his best games, he was throwing around his average frame with very impressive abandon. He also averaged better than a hit per game, which is about the same rate as Giordano.

  • It’s not that Butler doesn’t hit, but that his hits don’t hurt like Gio’s can: watch what Gio did to Dustin Brown last year – I don’t think Butler can do that. Which is fine, I mean, that’s one of the reasons Butler doesn’t make the big bucks. But the Flames really do need another D whose hits hurt.

    What they do have, though, is an interesting competition for Butler to stay in the top 4 with the emergence of Brodie. I agree that Butler’s a guy who has shown some character under pressure, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him show some new improvements in this situation.

    He’s a useful guy – not ideal for the Flames situation but, let’s face it, a guy who can slot in anywhere from #2D to #6D at $1.25 mil is a guy any team can use.

  • Max Powers - Team HME Evans

    questions:

    1. is the opposition to the trade because of the second rounder or regehr

    2. was the lack of stability on the defence when butler went out last year more of a reflection on the player and his role or the team overall? I feel like the dropoff from most #4d to derek smith isn’t as big as what we witnessed when butler went out last year with smith playing top minutes

    points:

    1. I like the balance had by having wideman on the top pair because it gives you two pairs that can play against top comp and allows you to have an “offensive” and “defensive” guy on each pair. it just seems more balanced, and I do think that wideman and butler are basically interchangeable defensively – but the reason for that is because wideman (in my limited viewings) likes to put himself out of position a lot. I’d rather have bouwmeester back on a 2-on-1 than giordano.

    2. regarding wideman: I brought it up last year, but I wish the flames had signed carlo colaiacovo instead – it would be a short term deal and it would give you a clearly defined defence, with the option for brodie to move up in the next year or two. the only way that option currently exists is if bouwmeester isn’t resigned (very bad) or if butler isn’t resigned (bad because he provides value). the flames have 3 guys that can play bottom pairing minutes, so even if cc was to get hurt, a blueline like this:

    bouwmeester-butler
    giordano-brodie
    sarich-smith

    could survive for 20 or so games a season.

  • RKD

    I think Butler will be a good asset for the Flames. However, I think most of us can agree he is not a top 2 d-man. Last season, he was in way over his head.

    The problem with Butler is that he is way too soft on opposition forwards. I couldn’t even count how many times guys skated right in front of him and around him and not only did he not move his feet he had none if little contact on the other player.

    The Calgary Flames used to be one the league’s scariest d to play against with Reggie and Dion laying on the boom. Our d needs to be more physical,
    Jay-Bo doesn’t give us that.

    As long as Butler is not on the top pairing, then he will succeed at his position.

    • jeremywilhelm

      “The Calgary Flames used to be one the league’s scariest d to play against with Reggie and Dion laying on the boom.”

      yeah. They also got scored on a lot.

      • SmellOfVictory

        Only under Keenan. Under Sutter they had excellent goals against. Until the last two seasons the Flames have always been very good at either generating or limiting goals/shots; the problem was that they rarely did both well in the same season (occasionally it was basically Kiprusoff’s fault, other times it was a team thing).

  • jeremywilhelm

    Remember Gio’s year 25? He looked just like Butler whenever he was played above a bottom two pairing position.

    25 is still young for a Dman, it was his first full season. Yes, the kid is Vanilla, but vanilla is good. Vanilla at 1.5 million is a fantastic asset. Vanilla means that they can legitimately play all 3 pairings and not get demolished.

    He is a good all around Dman, and I am glad we got him back in the trade. Regehr is broken.

  • RexLibris

    If the Flames could acquire enough defensive depth to play Butler on the 3rd pairing, then they’d be in a better situation. Having him on the 2nd pairing, to my mind, displays a glaring weakness in the organization.

    That being said, $1.25 for him seems a bit high.

    As for the Regehr trade, when limited to Regher for Butler, the Flames win the deal. The Kotalik and a second for Byron (aka: insert-warm-body-here) was, I believe, a clear loss.

  • loudogYYC

    Although I would have preferred a bigger name in return for Reggie, I’m perfectly happy with the swap. Regehr was out of his prime and seemed to be pretty crabby in his final years here. In Butler we got what I thought was a bit of a project but he turned out to be fast enough, smart enough and tough enough to handle top defensive minutes in the western conference. $1.25M for a top 4 minutes defenseman is a great deal. Every team needs 3 or 4 great deal players.

  • loudogYYC

    I don’t think anyone is expecting miracles from butler but I’m very pleased with our return on regehr. We r younger and I feel butler has some positive potentiial and will be a solid regular for this team . He’ll continue to get better.

  • Mitch2

    I defended this trade from the beginning, even with all the outrage at the time.

    The factor for me though in defending it was watching the last 20 games of the season for Regehr as a Flame.

    His play had really fallen off. Like really fallen. He was never fast in the first place but he was even slower at the end as a Flame.

    It was an absolute final moment to trade him for some kind of return given his contract. I know Kotalik was the negative value in the trade that really soured a lot of people but Buffalo was also probably the only team left in the NHL that was willing to give him one last chance, since he had his best success with them.

    Bottom line is I like this trade from the beginning. It also is something Flames fans have to steal themselves for in the future. Valuing players for their elite play in the past is not the return they are going to get now as they age.

    Regehr was moved in the nick of time and Butler is certainly looking like a young and decent top 4 D man AND as Justin points out on a decent value contract.

    All works for me, it always did.