Published by hockeybuzz.com, 8-28-2017
From everything I've read and heard, the Sabres presented an impressive package trying to lure free agent defenseman Will Butcher to Buffalo. But one thing they couldn't offer, which seems to be the overriding reason he signed with the New Jersey Devils, was an immediate opportunity to play on the big club. Sure, Butcher could have come into Sabres camp and battled for a spot on the roster. However, it would have been a pretty tough go of it, especially in a left/right scenario.
The left-handed Butcher would have been trying to win the job over fellow lefties Marco Scandella, Jake McCabe, Nathan Beaulieu, Josh Gorges, and Justin Falk. The 27 yr. old Scandella and Beaulieu (24) were recent trade acquisitions by new Sabres GM Jason Botterill while McCabe (23) has solidified himself in the Sabres top-six after spending four years in the organization. Gorges and Falk are the elder statesmen of the group with Gorges in the final year of his contract and Falk being a probable tweener for the Sabres.
If that wasn't enough, Buffalo also has a pair of lefties in the system that will be vying for a spot on the roster. Victor Antipin signed with the Sabres in May after spending six seasons playing against men in the KHL while Brendan Guhle (2016, 51st overall) is poised to make a run at a spot after finishing his Canadian Junior career.
That's a loaded left side, so the odds of Butcher making the big club were pretty slim.
According to NHL.com's Mike Morreale, Butcher's agent, Brian Bartlett, laid out what the 2017 Hobey Baker winner was looking for, "opportunity, coaching, development, style & returning players. Will has always been an offensive defenseman & felt like if he continues to develop, there could be a chance to help NJ's PP in the future."
The Sabres had all of the checklist there for Butcher except for opportunity. They're coached by an offensive-minded Phil Housley who was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame for his offensive prowess. Housley coached the most dangerous defense-corps in the Nashville Predators during the 2017 NHL playoffs. And after going through three years of turnover, Buffalo would have 2015 Hobey Baker winner Jack Eichel returning for his third season as well as a host of others from Ryan O'Reilly and Kyle Okposo to Rasmus Ristolainen as well.
But what the Sabres couldn't or wouldn't offer was an opportunity for a quick development curve and NHL minutes. That's where the Devils came in.
GM Ray Shero has been doing a fine job building his team since taking over the GM position vacated when Devils legend Lou Lamiorello left for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Shero traded for Kyle Palmeri (ANA) and Taylor Hall (EDM) to help overhaul the forward group and that effort was bolstered immensely when they won the 2017 NHL Draft Lottery and selected center Nico Hischier first overall.
However Shero's defense corps took a hit and were in desperate need of talent beginning with the loss of Adam Larsson, who went to the Oilers in the Hall deal. The Devils were anchored by two aged veterans in captain Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy and outside of Steve Santini, who will be returning for his sophomore campaign, flux seems to be the operative word, which is something that seemed rather appealing to the Butcher camp.
Although Buffalo missed out on an offensive defenseman with definitive powerplay acumen in the vein of Andrey Makarov (according to Morreale via Denver Pioneers head coach Jim Montgomery,) they did give it the old college try. And before people get too depressed thinking that sought after college free agents like Jimmy Vesey and Cal Petersen don't want to play in Buffalo, it's best to remember that college players choose free agency to find what they believe to be the best fit and for whatever reason, the Sabres weren't quite that.
It's also good to remember that the Sabres have had some success in signing coveted college free agents like Evan Rodrigues, Casey Nelson, C.J. Smith and former Sabres' Chad Ruhwedel (PIT) and Tim Schaller (BOS.)
Finally, here's a very classy tweet from Butcher, "Honored & humbled to be apart of the NJ Devils, would like to thank all teams involved in the process. The NHL community is truly the best."