Chris Butler 2013 WOWY



So far in this series we’ve seen one guy who was an obvious benefit to his linemates (Mikael Backlund) and two guys who’s results were equivocal (Giordano & Brodie). This time around is a guy who is at the wrong end of the spectrum: Chris Butler. When I look at these results and take into account his age and circumstances, there probably wasn’t a skater on the team who had a worse season than the former Buffalo Sabre.

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Acquired in the Robyn Regehr deal, Chris Butler spent most of the previous year just trying to keep his head above water on the top pairing with Jay Bouwmeester. There were some evenings where he clearly failed at that task, but I was willing to give the 25 year old a pass since he was thrown head first into the deep end of the pool.

Not so much this year. With Wideman in the fold and TJ Brodie moving to the head of the class, Butler was dropped down the rotation, meaning his underlying numbers should have improved as a matter of course. They didn’t, in fact devolving to the point where it’s a question if the kid is a viable NHLer or not.

The Basics

Here are Butler’s basic possession stats. (This indicates where Butler placed amongst regular defenders on the Flames)

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corsi: -13.50/60 (last)

relative corsi: -11.1 (last)

zone start: 46.6% (middle of the pack)

Primer (skip if you are familiar with corsi analysis)

Corsi is the differential between shots at the net for and against while a player is on the ice (at even strength). It is a proxy measure for offensive zone puck possession and indicative of a players overall performance/effect on the ice. Selke winners and dominating players tend to rate highly in corsi, including Datsyuk, Crosby, Kesler,, Karlsson, Lidstrom, Bergeron, Toews, etc. Corsi also consistently correlates with scoring chance differential, which we’ve discovered from counting chances for years.

The zone start stat is a ratio of offensive zone to defensive zone faceoffs at even strength for the player in question. A low ratio indicates more starts in the defensive zone and therefore a more difficult assignment.

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End primer.

In aggregate, Butler faced roughly the same level of competition as TJ Brodie and his zone start ratio was roughly the same as well (46.6% vs. 47.9%) but he ended up with the worst relative corsi rate amongst regular blueliners on the team. When we corrected corsi rates for quality of competition and zone starts, Butler finished way back of the pack. The next closest regular skater was Derek Smith, who was a full seven shot attempts per hour better.

Those are the basic underlying numbers. The WOWY (with or without you) analysis isn’t complimentary either.

Butler WOWY

These are all skaters who played at least 100 minutes at even strength with Chris Butler, ranked from most to least time on ice with him. Stats via

Player With Butler Without Butler % diff
Hudler 41.5 50.1 -8.6
Stempniak 44.8 51.7 -6.9
Wideman 42.6 49.5 -6.9
Cammalleri 43.4 49.7 -6.3
Cervenka 39.2 50.3 -11.1
Tanguay 47.3 46.9 0.4
Backlund 46.7 53.2 -6.5
Sarich 47.6 49.2 -1.6
Glencross 51.0 48.9 2.1
Smith 44.3 50.0 -5.7
Comeau 46.4 50.3 -3.9
Jackman 50.2 46.6 3.6

Yeesh that’s ugly. Only three guys were better with Butler on the ice (Tanguay, Glencross and Jackman), while a lot of players were made markedly worse by his presence. Cervenka goes from a below replacement level skater with Butler to a guy sawing off the competition without him, for instance.

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Now in graph form:

These results are so bad it’s almost hard to fathom, even if you never liked Butler. His minutes got easier this year and at 26 years old he should be in the prime of career, yet he stepped off a cliff instead. Butler’s personal corsi rate was 43%…that’s something you maybe live with if a guy is buried against top competition. In any other circumstance, it probably means he’s completely over his head and shouldn’t be in your regular line-up.


By all accounts, Butler should have improved this year because of natural progression/career arc or because he wasn’t facing the heavies any more, but he did the opposite.

If he wasn’t fighting through some debilitating injury or personal issue, the Flames should seriously consider moving on from the RFA this summer. Dudes who hamstring the rest of the line-up when they are playing against middling competition are addition by subtraction.

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2013 WOWY Series

  • Jeff Lebowski

    Was there any word from him on garbage bag day? Did he even mention that he had a bad year or did he think he played all right, all things considered?

    They should nix him but I wonder what the hell happened to him this year?

  • mattyc

    Whenever I criticized him at CP I always got substantial pushback, which I find strange; I have no idea what anybody sees in the guy. He’s not physical, he’s not positionally sound, he doesn’t bring offense, and as you note with such detail the advanced stats (to put it mildly) don’t reveal any hidden strengths. He probably moved us up several draft spots all by himself, though, so I guess he played a useful role this year in his own way…

  • Rubberbadger

    Looks like the perfect asset to move at the trade deadline. So many old school hockey guys around that dont believe in advanced stats that you have to think that somebody would take a mobile defenseman in his prime.

    Who would need him that would be willing to give up a fourth round pick? Flyers give up pick #72 in the third round and Timonen for Butler and #97?

    Minnesota #81 and Heatley for Butler?

    Tampa Bay #33 and Malone for Butler and #67?

    There has to be a team out there that thinks that he is a top 4 defenseman entering his prime. Probably have to package in a deal to take back some salary to get a higher draft pick.

    • Yeah it wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world to re-sign him for cheap and plunk him on the third pairing to see if he figures it out. Flames are winning anything next year anyways.

      I won’t be heartbroken if they walk away or trade him either though.

  • ChinookArchYYC

    With or without you?

    Put me down for WITHOUT.

    This exercise may also show the nay sayers just how good Bouwmeester is. He was actually able to play as a 1st pairing defenseman along side Bouwmeester.

  • Scary Gary

    Dude! (couldn’t resist).

    I think he has the physical attributes but as ALT says, he may not be able to think the game at the NHL speed.

    Hopefully he can be packaged up and sent along on his way. Wideman will be happy to be rid of him.

  • T&A4Flames

    This will be a test for Feaster. They gave up a second rounder and Regehr for Butler and Byron. Byron hasn’t done much. Here is hoping he doesn’t stick to ‘his guy’ for the sake of optics.

  • TheRealPoc

    I just feel vindicated for seeing through the shrouds of tough competition and difficult circumstance last year.

    Aside from his skating ability, which is legit, there is no other fundamental area of the game in which he excels. I’ve been saying this since the Regehr trade. Dude’s not an NHL defenceman, period, and it’s time to cut him loose.

  • Graham

    It should be an easy decision not to resign Butler,
    but I wouldn’t put it past Feaster to do just that.
    GM’s tend to favor players they have traded for, especially when they are included in bigger name trades like Regehr. Butler may just earn himself another contract, but in my books, it is an easy choice to let him walk and upgrade the position. (almost anyone except Babchuk would be an upgrade)

    • seve927

      It depends on what your options are. As Kent said above, the Flames aren’t winning anything next year. I’ve looked at his underlying numbers with Buffalo, and they were actually very good. He actually made his teammates better.

      If there’s no trade value, then you can probably resign him for less than a million and hope he finds his way. If he can, he’s a good age to fit in to the rebuild window, and we’re weakest in depth at D. If he can’t, you can have no regrets letting him walk next year, and he’ll probably help improve your draft position.

      If there is trade value, then I’d like to see it done, but otherwise I see no point to letting him go.

      • mattyc

        agree completely. IMO there’s no point in just letting him walk. There is virtually no risk in resigning him since he won’t be expensive, and we probably won’t spend to the cap anyways. If there’s a reasonable trade offer, OK, but otherwise, just throwing away a potential asset.

        • mattyc

          That depends. If Feaster signs him to a 1.3 million dollar contract for a few years, or a 2 million dollar contract for one year, then I agree there is no risk. Worst case you put him in the minors or buy and suffer a minimal cap hit.

          But Butler is playing in the worlds and played an average of over 19-minutes per season with Calgary.

          I am worried that Feaster signs him to a 2M+ 2Y+ contract. And that will hurt us.

  • RKD

    This guy is terrible, he was softer than Jay-Bo on that first pairing in his first full season with the Flames. Opposing forward would skate around him and he literally pulled a Babchuk. He wouldn’t move himself or his stick. If he makes other players worse, that’s a serious problem. They should trade him, he’s more likely to be wanted by another team as it has been impossible to trade guys like Sarich and Babchuk.