OTTAWA, CANADA - APRIL 5: Bobby Butler #16 of the Ottawa Senators celebrates his second period goal against the Philadelphia Flyers with teamates Jason Spezza #19 and David Hale #36 against the Philadelphia Flyers at Scotiabank Place on April 5, 2011 in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Francois Laplante/Freestyle Photography/Getty Images)
In the 2010-2011 season, Bobby Butler made a pretty good first impression during his 36 games. Playing with Jason Spezza on the top line, he posted 10 goals and 21 points in just 36 games. On an offensively-starved team, he was second on the team in goals per game and third in points per game. The Senators then signed him to a two-year, one-way contract, and expectations were that he would take his place in the top-six when the new season began.
For the Senators' first game of the season, Butler played on the fourth line and had the lowest time on ice of any Ottawa Senator. For the team's second game, he was a healthy scratch to make room for Zenon Konopka. What gives?
It all comes down to Paul MacLean's coaching philosophy. MacLean has preached since his hiring that he wanted his players to skate the full 200 feet of the ice, and quite frankly, Bobby Butler doesn't do that. As fantastic as Butler's offensive numbers were last season, his defensive numbers were just as poor.
Using standard plus/minus, in his 36 games with the Senators, Butler was -16. For comparison, Erik Condra and Colin Greening were -1 and +2 respectively. Butler's linemate, Jason Spezza, was a -7. Plus/minus is far from a perfect stat, but it's still telling.
Using advanced metrics, Butler doesn't fare much better. The team's plus/minus per 60 minutes when he was on the ice was -1.66, the worst for any player with more than 10 games. When he'd step off the ice, the team's plus/minus per 60 minutes improved to -0.05. The team gave up 4.09 goals against per 60 minutes when he was on the ice, again, the worst on the team for anyone with more than 10 games. That's more than .5 goals per 60 minutes worse than the next lowest player on the team (Filip Kuba, for those curious).
Using alliteration, Bobby Butler better backcheck.
There has been much speculation that Butler's poor play can be blamed on Butler getting cocky, and assuming he'd get to play top-line minutes without having to earn it. In MacLean's pre-game scrum on Saturday, the coach dismissed this notion, and said that Butler was very diligent and working hard. You can see MacLean talk about Butler's performance in this video, about 30 seconds in:
The great part of what MacLean says here is that it reiterates why MacLean got the job: communication. He doesn't just say Butler's lazy, or say he doesn't deserve to play. He specifically outlines what Butler's problem is (he has to correct his game and be better defensively), notes a second problem this has created (Bobby's doing better defensively, but now isn't playing as well with the puck), and expresses his confidence that Butler will make the adjustments and be ready to play shortly.
Listening to MacLean, I don't think Butler's lack of playing time stems from MacLean disliking him, or because he took his spot for granted. I think it's exactly as MacLean spelled it out -- Butler simply needs time to adjust. He's spent most of his career focused on putting up points and cheating defensively to give him an offensive advantage, but MacLean won't allow for that. This is a considerable adjustment, so Butler needs a bit of time to adjust. As long as he does change his game, he should be able to work his way back into a regular roster spot -- and perhaps top six minutes -- in the coming weeks.