How Should New Jersey Devils Deal With Will Butcher Next Season?

Will Butcher #8 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Will Butcher #8 of the New Jersey Devils. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The New Jersey Devils have a lot of young players on the roster, but one player who’s hitting his “prime” and might not be in the right timeline is Will Butcher. The 26-year-old defenseman hasn’t been the same since his rookie season. The Devils signed him two years ago to a three-year deal paying him $3.73 million per season. Obviously, that looks like an overpayment now, but Butcher honestly didn’t look that bad when he was given a legitimate shot late last year.

So, in Lindy Ruff‘s system that seems to play to Butcher’s weaknesses (most notably his footwork), what could he possibly be next season? What should his role be on the Devils moving forward?

Obviously, this could be a moot point if the Seattle Kraken decide to take Butcher in the expansion draft. That’s very possible, because he’s a player who might do better in a system from someone like Bruce Boudreau or Gerald Gallant. There might be better options for the Kraken, so Butcher is likely spending another season in New Jersey.

This is also unless they just buy him out, which seems like a terrible idea. According to CapFriendly, Butcher’s final year at $3.73 million would turn into $1 million next season and $1.36 million in 2022-23. Pushing a bigger cap hit to next season when the Devils have to pay Jack Hughes is not a smart decision.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s clear Butcher is likely to be here next season. He’s not even a bad option to have. It’s clear that Lindy Ruff doesn’t see him as a viable option for the lineup when considering six possible options for an every-night basis, but he’s a great seventh defenseman. He’s much better than other seventh defensemen like Matt Tennyson and Mirco Mueller.

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Butcher’s Corsi For percentage is not great when compared to his teammates, but most of his season’s games came after the Devils traded most of the team’s veterans. His CF% was 46.65%. The good news is he was finally able to get some power play time again, so he was able to make an offensive impact with the man advantage.

Butcher was on the ice for one high-danger chance every three minutes on the power play. It’s not the greatest number, but it’s better than the other Devils defensemen. Damon Severson was on the ice for one high-danger chance every six and a half minutes. P.K. Subban is at 6.35 minutes per high-danger chance on the PP. Even Ty Smith was only getting a high-danger chance every four minutes.

So, Butcher was the best power-play quarterback on the team based on these very simple numbers.

Obviously, it’s hard to take Subban or Smith off the power play with how much they impacted those units this season, but it seems pretty easy to give Butcher Severson’s minutes next to Subban on the second unit. Butcher needs to be on the power play.

As far as 5v5 play, Butcher still struggles. He will continue to struggle in this system, but he might be in a much better spot to succeed next season. Butcher will be paired with Jonas Siegenthaler or one of the young studs like Kevin Bahl or Michael Vukojevic. Pairing him with someone of that ilk would be much better than playing him on his off hand with Connor Carrick.

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Butcher deserves at least an opportunity next season. He shouldn’t be relied upon to be one of the main defensemen on the roster, but he should absolutely get a role in training camp and let him go from there. Maybe he starts the season as the seventh defender, but he showed he can come out of the owner’s box to replace an injured player or to come in on a back-to-back game situation. He’s definitely an asset since the team isn’t close to the salary cap ceiling.