Paul Gaustad has been skating with the Nashville Predators the last two days and is due to come back from his upper-body injury soon, possibly in time for tomorrow’s game against the Phoenix Coyotes. That means the team is going to have to make another roster move – and when they do, they need to move somebody other than forward Bobby Butler.
The Nashville Predators originally acquired Butler on waivers from the New Jersey Devils on March 4th. He didn’t play in that night’s 5-1 loss to the Los Angeles Kings, but he has played in every single game for the Preds since then. The offense had struggled up to that point, averaging just 2.04 goals per game. In the nine contests since Butler’s arrival, the team has averaged 3.67 goals per game.
Obviously, not all of that jump in production is directly due to Bobby Butler himself. He averages about 12:15 TOI per game playing on the third line, and he didn’t leave a mark on the scoresheet until his sixth game with the team. Even now he has just four assists. To say that he’s responsible for the sudden hop in the Predators’ step would be misleading at best.
What Butler has done, though, is provide something the Predators have been lacking in the bottom six for some time: a combination of defensive responsibility and the ability to create space. Perhaps most importantly to the defensively-minded Nashville game plan, he plays bigger than his 6’0” frame. “His game is really growing on us,” Preds associate coach Peter Horachek recently told the Tennessean. “He competes. He’s not a big guy, but he competes in a real strong way.”
That “compete level” was on display when he notched his first point with the Nashville Predators on a late goal by Roman Josi that gave the Preds a lifeline in their March 17th loss to the Edmonton Oilers:
Butler also slots in on the power play. He made the Columbus penalty killers look terrible over the weekend on this Shea Weber goal:
Both of these replays show how Butler’s penchant for drawing the opposing defense to him gives Nashville’s offensive-minded blueliners valuable time to set up further back in the zone. Given how important goals by defensemen have historically been for Nashville’s bottom line, that’s a highly valuable trait to have in a lower-line forward.
As one of the last players added, Bobby Butler is one of the more likely to be moved as injured players return to the team simply because he hasn’t been with the team that long. That would require placing him on waivers, though, and the chances that he would clear are pretty low. Moving another player would be a lower-risk now that Butler proven he has some value to the organization. (For instance, Chris Mueller, who’s been playing Gaustad’s fourth-line center role, could be sent to Milwaukee without being exposed to waivers.) Keeping Butler in the mix would give the Predators a little bit more depth, allowing some of the younger talent in Milwaukee more time to develop before being called upon to help the big club.