The last time I wrote about Bobby Butler was back on March 27th, when I made a plea for him to stay with the Nashville Predators when its injured players returned to action. At the time Butler was a fringe player with the Predators, the last player to be added from waivers and therefore the most likely to be given walking papers. He added something that the team was lacking at the time:
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.
His job hasn’t been imperiled thanks to a new rash of injuries that has taken some of the team’s key players out for the season. But his contract is up in the off-season, and I still think the team needs to make sure they re-sign him.
Let me be the first to say that yes, Butler made one very high-profile defensive error that led to a breakaway goal for Nashville’s opponent – one which ended up being the entire difference in the game. But that’s essentially his only defensive play that sticks out, which to me says he’s doing plenty right. The same can’t be said of several players whose main job is playing defense.
Since that last article he’s also demonstrated an ability to be a tenacious forechecker. Scroll back through the Predlines Twitter feed for the last week and you’ll find several references to Butler harassing opponents in their own zone, trying to make something happen for a team that desperately needs scoring chances. That kind of forechecking used to be a strength of Nashville’s years ago, but it’s not often seen these days.
But last night, in yet another blowout loss by the Preds, Butler demonstrated how the second thing I praised him for back in March is probably the most valuable of all:
Butler created his own space there, patiently waiting for defenseman Aaron Rome to cover the passing lane. Once Rome opened the shooting lane, Butler did something that very few players on the Nashville roster have an impulse to do unless they’re right on top of the goalie: he pulled the trigger.
The Nashville Predators have a few players capable of scoring on shots like this. Sergei Kostitsyn in particular comes to mind. But their first impulse is always to go with the pass and be the team player. Butler can do that when it’s what’s called for, but he also has the sense to read the situation on the fly and realize that there are times where taking the shot is actually the best team play. In other markets this is probably the kind of sense that’s taken for granted. Around here it’s a valuable commodity.
Bobby Butler will be a restricted free agent at the end of this season. He’s currently making $525,000, the lowest salary on the team – even lower than Rich Clune and Brandon Yip. In order to retain his rights the team would only have tender a qualifying offer of $577,500. A one-year contract at that rate would give him a chance to prove himself over the course of a full season and fill a hole in the lineup on the cheap. If David Poile opts not to keep Butler from going elsewhere, I’ll be disappointed.