For the past month, Chris Butler and Andrej Sekera have been rotating in every other game as the Buffalo Sabres' sixth defenseman. Both players are young, and have potential, but are still trying to figure out how to put it all together at the NHL level (I suppose not every young player can be like Tyler Myers). Butler and Sekera had their ups and downs during the first half of the season, with Sekera seeing some time at forward as well. However, neither of them played well enough to secure the final spot on the blue line, and so master motivator Lindy Ruff decided to rotate them in and out, and let their play on the ice do the talking.
Unfortunately, neither player really put a stranglehold on the sixth spot, but that's OK because this would have been a more boring article if they had. Both players have had their good moments and bad moments over the past few weeks, so let's debate: who should it be come playoff time - Butler or Sekera? After the break, we'll examine the stats for both guys, the arguments for and against, talk about how they're playing recently in preparation for the playoffs, and look at their playoff/big game experience to decide once and for all who should be Buffalo's sixth defenseman in the postseason.
#34 / Defenseman / Buffalo Sabres
Oct 27, 1986
|2009 - Chris Butler||58||1||20||21||-15||22||0||0||0||0||1.6|
Strengths: Usually in good defensive position, has power play and penalty kill experience, good passer, doesn't take many penalties, official photo looks kind of like Andy Samberg.
Weaknesses: Not strong enough to out-muscle opponents, and gets outworked for the puck occasionally (more than a guy playing for a job should), average skater, is a -15, has only one goal and a shooting % of 1.6. Check out Rafal's article on Butler from a month ago if you want more in depth stats about how the team performs when he's on the ice versus off - let's just say it's not a stat Butler's agent wants Darcy Regier finding.
Last 10 Games: 2 assists (both secondary), minus-5, 4 PIM, averaging a little over 16:00 of ice time, down from about 22:00 at the start of the season.
Career Playoff Experience: Since 2005, Butler has only played in 4 playoff games, with Portland, earning 0 points. If we go back to 2003-05, then Butler's stats rise to 8 career points in 24 games played between the USHL and the AHL, good for .33 ppg, which would be higher than his .28 ppg average in the NHL. You decide whether it's worth caring about games from 7 years ago in the USHL.
#44 / Defenseman / Buffalo Sabres
Jun 08, 1986
|2009 - Andrej Sekera||48||4||6||10||-2||6||0||0||0||0||7.3|
Strengths: Very good skater, (usually) excellent passer, doesn't take any penalties, has experience at forward and on the PP, good offensive creativity, official photo looks kind of like Will Forte.
Weaknesses: Not very strong or physical, little PK experience, poor defensive positioning at times, makes one really dumb pass every game, hasn't played as many games at D as Butler this year.
Last 10 Games: 1 assist (primary), minus-4, 2 PIM, averaging just under 16:00 per game, a bit under his average of about 18:00 per game for the season.
Career Playoff Experience: I'm throwing the 2010 Winter Olympics in here, in which Sekera had a goal and was a minus-1 for Slovakia. He also has a very encouraging 17 points in 17 games from his 2005 and 2006 playoff runs in the OHL, and has played well for Slovakia in the World Championships over the past four years, with 9 points in 23 games, and a plus-3 rating in 2009.
So, who should win the sixth spot?
Like D.O. and Zach talked about on the most recent podcast, the 6th defenseman probably won't get significant playing time in the playoffs, as the coaching staff will look to shorten the bench at the first sign of trouble. However, even if a guy's only getting 10-12 minutes, you want your best players on the ice. As recently as two weeks ago I was vocally campaigning for Chris Butler to get the nod over Sekera, mostly due to Butler's superior defensive play and Sekera's propensity for gift-wrapping breakaways to the other team. However, after mulling it over for two weeks and watching the recent play of both blue liners, I'm switching my vote to Andrej Sekera.
Butler has looked very poor in the past two weeks, logging a minus-5 and getting badly outworked on two recent goals against that should have been prevented. Sekera isn't exactly setting the world on fire right now, but he has been in better position as of late and has recently seemed to cut down on those throw-the-remote-through-the-television type turnovers.
The thing that cemented my new-found opinion was Sekera's big game experience. While Butler has only played in four high-pressure games since 2003, Sekera has been playing for Slovakia in the World Championships for the past 4 years, has two years of OHL playoff experience, and of course competed admirably in the 2010 Winter Olympics. Lindy Ruff recently said that come playoff time he would play the players who give the team the best chance to win a series, not just the veterans who've been there before. Luckily for Ruff, Andrej Sekera is both.