This is the prime example of one of those times where I set out with an idea for an article and a plan for where to find the data to support my conclusion, and then run straight into a wall when I realize my conclusion is simply incorrect.
This article was supposed to be putting down the Butcher-haters. I planned on talking about how the narrative “well he’s not being given first pairing assignments” was a last year thing and that his job has gotten much harder this year. Then I looked at the numbers ...
Will Butcher has seen his minutes per game rise by 3 full minutes from 16:04 last year, to 19:04 this year. That’s not common — of the defenders who played 75% of their teams games both seasons, only 5 saw a bigger minute per game bump than Butcher. So let’s look first at where those numbers are going.
As you can see, there has been over a minute added to his 5v5 time, but there’s also been a sizable increase to his PP time. He was already on PP1 last year and those are “easy” minutes. He won’t be exposed for being small, slow, or weak (some common criticisms) in that situation. And, tellingly, he’s still gotten basically no PK time — Hynes gave that privilege to Damon Severson, a player who, himself, doesn’t have a pristine track record when it comes to defensive responsibility.
Butcher was the most sheltered defender on the team last year when it came to the competition he faced and the zone deployment. Maybe with over a minute extra 5v5 time, Hynes isn’t able to protect him as much. Let’s see if he’s had to be used more in the defensive zone at even-strength.
Nope. He was most sheltered by a fair margin last year, and this season that has continued. Whereas the 2nd most sheltered defender of last year, Damon Severson, has been granted ample opportunity to prove himself defensively, Butcher has not yet been trusted with such a chance.
So perhaps the minute didn’t occur in less advantageous scenarios, but it occurred against tougher competition. Let’s see if the average time on ice of his opponents has risen.
So we do see some movement here, but he’s only risen to the 2nd most sheltered defender rather than the most. My guess is that this has occurred mostly since his promotion to the 2nd pairing which moved him up and away from the still-sheltered Lovejoy. But he’s still below every other defender even those as sparingly used as Santini and Mueller (Yakovlev didn’t make the TOI cut).
So the questions is...
Is John Hynes Trusting Will Butcher More?
Every deployment metric has risen in responsibility. He’s facing slightly harder competition, with slightly more time in the defensive zone, over a sizable total time on ice increase. But he still is on the bottom of the team in most of those metrics. So it might be fair to say that Hynes is trusting Butcher more as an overall player, but has yet to be convinced of his defensive game. Contrast that with, say Damon Severson.
Damon Severson has been sheltered for most of his career. This season, he was promoted to a top pairing role with Andy Greene. Only Greene and Santini get heavier defensive deployment, and only Greene and Vatanen face tougher competition. Shockingly, he’s even suddenly been given a role on the PK2 unit depending on the lineup on a given night.
But this hasn’t happened with Will. Perhaps he needs to work through his problems for several years like Damon did. Or perhaps he just needs to be given the opportunity. If you’re asking my opinion — which you’re not because articles are intrinsically monological, but oh well, you clicked already — I think Will should keep getting more opportunities until he fails. In an article last year, I showed this graphic indicating that in the limited time Butcher has played against tough competition he has done perfectly fine. This is why I believed he was underutilized last year, and seeing as he’s the only clearly good defender this year we might as well keep ramping up the minute count until he proves unable to handle it.
What do you guys think of Hynes deployment of Will Butcher? He using him enough? Not enough? Too much? What are your opinions of Butcher’s game? Is there a compelling reason to keep him out of the D-zone?
Thanks as always for reading and leave your thoughts below!