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On Will Butcher, Ty Smith, and optimizing the defense

June 13, 2019, 10:22 AM ET [74 Comments]
Todd Cordell
New Jersey Devils Blogger • RSSArchiveCONTACT
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I've often been asked about the possibility of the New Jersey Devils trading Will Butcher this summer.

Not just because they'll likely need to include an established defender in any potential deal for a marquee name, but due to concern about breaking in Ty Smith (5'11') or Jeremy Davies (5'11') while the team already has an offensively inclined, undersized defender on the roster in Butcher (5'10'). Personally, I don't think it is an issue at all.

The Boston Bruins dressed two 5'9' defensemen – Torey Krug and Matt Grzelcyk – every night and they came up one win shy of a Stanley Cup. Playing your best players regardless of stature seems to work out fine.

While I probably wouldn't pair the two together, especially when Smith is just getting his feet wet in the NHL, it's easy to split them up and find something that could work.

As currently constructed, I think this would be the optimal way to go:

P1: Andy Greene - Damon Severson
P2: Will Butcher - Sami Vatanen
P3: Mirco Mueller - Ty Smith (he played *a lot* of RD in the WHL)

Admittedly, I do have concerns about 36-year-old Andy Greene helping anchor the top pairing. I think the bottom-4 is fairly competent, though.

In ~300 minutes together, Butcher and Vatanen have helped the Devils control 54.88% of the shot attempts, 55.64% of the scoring chances, and 51.82% of the goals at 5v5. They were given plenty of offensive zone starts, however, it's worth noting they dealt with horrendous goaltending (.869 on-ice SV%) and still held their heads above water in the goal department. They're a competent duo.

On the 3rd pairing, Mueller could nicely compliment Smith. Though he is limited with the puck on his stick, he is useful without it. Mueller is arguably the best shot and chance suppressor on the roster and is not someone who will take chances and put his partner in vulnerable spots. Smith would be free to roam without worrying about Mueller having his back.

To me, that's the best way to deploy the defenders the Devils do have. That top-6 could be *OK* provided there is an above average forward group in front of them, which isn't unrealistic to expect with Jack Hughes, Jesper Boqvist, and others joining the fray.

In saying that, adding another defenseman regardless of hand (Vatanen can shift to LD if they acquire a RD) would certainly be ideal.

I'd expect GM Ray Shero to be pretty aggressive chasing after one in the coming weeks.

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