The hope, the plan, was to have Will Butcher signed, sealed and delivered to the Colorado Avalanche by now. It hasn’t happened yet, and with every passing day closer to Aug. 15, hope grows dimmer.
The University of Denver defenseman, the winner of the Hobey Baker Award as college hockey’s best player this past season, technically remains property of the Avalanche. But Aug. 15 would be “Freedom Day” from the Avs if he so chooses, and that appears to be where the situation is heading.
The Avs have expressed their desire to sign Butcher, who helped lead the Pioneers to an NCAA championship in his senior season. On March 17, BSNDenver broke the news that the Avs would offer a contract to him when his season was over, after choosing not to offer him one the year before.
But whatever offer the Avs have made to the 5-foot-10, 190-pound left-handed defenseman, to this point, has not been agreed to by the Butcher camp. Neither side is saying much publicly.
“We have the sole right to negotiate with him until Aug. 15,” is all Avalanche vice president of communications and team services Jean Martineau would say on the matter. General manager Joe Sakic declined to comment.
If recent history is any guide, the temptation to negotiate with any of the 31 NHL teams on Aug. 15, when he would be granted unrestricted free-agent status, might be too strong for Butcher to resist. Last summer, Jimmy Vesey of Harvard won the Hobey Baker and was the property of the Nashville Predators, who drafted him. The Predators couldn’t come to a deal for him, though, and traded his rights to Buffalo for a third-round draft pick. The Sabres had until Aug. 15 to sign him or he could go UFA.
Vesey went UFA, spurning the Sabres’ numerous offers to sign with the New York Rangers. A few years before, University of Wisconsin star Justin Schultz pulled a similar maneuver by refusing to sign with his draft club, Anaheim, to sign a free-agent deal with Edmonton. The Avs could still try to trade Butcher’s rights to another club, and that club could have the same negotiation exclusivity until Aug. 15, as the Avs do now. But the Vesey case might make other teams gun-shy from doing that.
Butcher can not just sign a “sky-is-the-limit” contract with any club, however. Under NHL collective bargaining agreement rules, the maximum length contract Butcher can sign right now with any club is two years, and the most he can make in base salary is $925,000. Players aged 22 or 23 that sign their first “entry-level” contract can sign for no more than two years, and Butcher is 22. Players 18-21 can sign for three years. Butcher can negotiate separate signing and performance bonuses, but there are strict rules on them and how they count against the salary cap.
According to Capfriendly.com, “Signing bonuses may not exceed 10 percent of the contract’s total compensation, and is paid to players annually. Performance bonuses for entry-level contracts, that are paid by the team and count against the salary cap cannot exceed a maximum of $2,850,000. Performance Bonuses are broken into 2 categories: Schedule A and Schedule B. Schedule A Bonuses may not exceed $212,500 per individual bonus, and $850,000 in total. There are two types of Schedule B Bonuses. League-wide award/trophy bonuses that are paid by the league and are not captured within the actual entry-level contract signed by the player, and player & club agreed upon bonuses, of which the maximum is $2 million per season.”
Any NHL team would essentially have the same financial negotiation leverage as any other in pursuit of Butcher. It could come down, therefore, to the simple question of where Butcher most wants to play – assuming he gets similar offers from multiple teams.
It could still be the case that Butcher decides to sign with the Avs club that drafted him 123rd overall in 2013. But it hasn’t happened yet, and there isn’t much the Avs can do in terms of sweetening the pot financially, based on the entry-level rules.
All of which leads to a reasonable conclusion: Butcher might not be Avs property much longer.