Red Wings among suitors for FA defenseman Will Butcher

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News
Free agent defenseman Will Butcher will have a number of NHL teams looking to sign him.

Detroit — The hockey world will likely hear a lot about defenseman Will Butcher this week.

Butcher becomes an unrestricted free agent today after not signing a contract with the Colorado Avalanche (2013, fifth-round draft pick).

And the Red Wings, despite a crowded roster and salary cap problems galore, are hoping to snare the young defenseman.

Butcher, 23, progressed through his college year to the point he was last season’s Hobey Baker Award winner (hockey’s Heisman Trophy) while playing with University of Denver.

Butcher had 7 goals and 30 assists (37 points) in 43 games with a plus-27 plus-minus-rating.

Definitely on the smallish side, (5-foot-10, 186 pounds), which gives some scouts pause, Butcher is still regarded as a responsible two-way defenseman who also has outstanding leadership qualities.

There’s speculation Butcher wanted to turn pro after his junior season, but the Avalanche didn’t feel Butcher was ready, leading to bad feelings on the players’ side.

Butcher will have plenty of teams calling him beginning today, likely with better opportunities than what the Red Wings can offer.

RED WINGS SCHEDULE

Two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh, Chicago and Minnesota (both close to home for the Wisconsin native), Buffalo, Toronto and New Jersey have been linked to Butcher, and in most cases, can offer immediate playing time.

The Red Wings have eight defensemen on the roster (Trevor Daley, Danny DeKeyser, Jonathan Ericsson, Mike Green, Nick Jensen, Niklas Kronwall, Xavier Ouellet, Ryan Sproul) and are approximately $2.5 million over the $75 million salary cap limit.

Butcher can only be offered a two-year entry level contract at $925,000 a season, which teams can sweeten with bonuses.

Athanasiou update

The lone unsigned restricted free agent on the roster is forward Andreas Athanasiou. And it’s likely to stay that way for a little while, as the Red Wings deal with the salary cap issues.

General manager Ken Holland said he’s exchanged offers with Athanasiou’s representatives as talks continue.

The Red Wings will get $3.95 million of salary-cap relief with Johan Franzen gets placed on long-term injured reserve (LTIR), but that will only leave approximately $1.4 million for signing Athanasiou (likely not enough money) and recalling a player from Grand Rapids during the season if someone goes on short-term IR.

The Red Wings are likely to waive or trade a player — or maybe someone like Sproul (knee surgery) might not be ready to start the season — to get comfortably under the salary cap ceiling.

The junior route

Defenseman Dennis Cholowski has signed with Prince George (WHL), and will likely start the season with the Cougars in junior hockey.

Cholowski, the Wings’ 2016 1st-round draft pick, signed last spring, ending his college career at St. Cloud (Minn.) State.

Cholowski (6-foot, 170 pounds), had 1 goal and 11 assists (12 points) in 36 games at St. Cloud State, before signing and spending most of the spring in Grand Rapids as a practice player for the Griffins during their Calder Cup championship run.

Cholowski will attend training camp with the Wings in September.