Saturday, May 13, 2017

A Botterill bolstering of the Sabres blueline will admittedly be a challenge

Published by, 5-12-2017

New Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill had himself a very successful introductory press conference yesterday and came off as being well prepared for his first crack at running a National Hockey League team. He seemed rather forthright with his vision of what kind of teams--which includes the Rochester Americans as well--he plans on building, which endeared him to the media and fanbase. But he certainly has his work cut out for him when he gets into the nuts and bolts of this franchise.

Botterill wisely stayed away from any expected timelines for success at his presser saying, "you can't predict, in my mind, in three years or five years we'll be going for the Stanley Cup" (unlike the owner had done and the former GM had intimated.) What he did guarantee was that the Sabres "will be better." Yet maintained a solid grasp of where his team was along with a "respect for this league" noting that some teams that didn't make the playoffs this year and will be better next year thus creating "a more competitive environment in that regard."

It's a realism, perhaps borne of his executive background that eschews bold proclamations for a more well thought out, structured approach, which is exactly what Sabres ownership wanted. Botterill said as much on WGR550's Schopp and the Bulldog yesterday evening when talking about what to look for from his GM style. "I think I have more of a patient, systematic approach to making decisions," he told the hosts.

Botterill has some core pieces in place as in two "amazing and high-end centermen" up-front but a big part of the "we will be better" process will be focused upon fixing the blueline which was generally considered a disaster last season. The jury's still out on whether a majority of the blame goes to the GM for lack of talent or to the head coach who's system didn't seem to jibe with the players (more likely a combination of both,) but regardless, the defense-corps needs some serious work.

Two players, it would seem, had already caught Botterill's eye haing seemingly made it through last season virtually unscathed--Rasmus Ristolainen and Jake McCabe.

Ristolainen logged the fifth-most average time on ice in the league last year and was referenced by Botterill. "I like the fact that we have some young defensemen that can handle some big minutes up there," he said at his presser, then later on GR he referenced "players who can eat up some big minutes." Botterill also brought up McCabe directly telling the GR hosts, "you [also] have players like McCabe who I think can help from a puck-movement standpoint."

To no one's surprise, those two are the "elements" whom he noticed and whom he seems to like in the defense corps right now.
Although Botterill has scouted the Sabres, he doesn't know what he has, nor can he say for sure whether or not any will fit into his future plans. What he did say on WGR550 is that this team not onl needs more on the back-end, but that they need to keep the pipeline full. "If you look at the success of most teams in the playoffs right now, it's continually adding to the blueline."

The Sabres right now have Ristolainen and McCabe along with three veteran defensemen in Josh Gorges, Zack Bogosian and Justin Falk under contract and one of those three could be on their way to Las Vegas in the expansion draft. Buffalo has a highly regarded prospect in Brendan Guhle who seems poised for a potential Sabres roster spot and rumor has it that an as of yet unsigned KHL player in Viktor Antipin may also be in the mix. Anyone in the AHL--like Casey Nelson, Brady Austin and Brycen Martin--will probably remain there to further their development, which is a big part of the Botterill program, leaving Buffalo to look outside the organization to find suitable top-six defensemen.

Going outside the organization for help is no surprise to Sabres fans as they've seen what the Sabres have and what's in (or not in) the pipeline. However bolstering the blueline will be easier said than done and Botterill is well aware of that. He told the GR hosts that he thinks "85 percent or 90 percent of the teams in the NHL are looking for more defensemen or looking to improve their defense.

"That may be a goal of ours," he continued, "but finding partners and trying to do it will certainly be a challenge."

In so many words, patience will once again be a virtue in Sabreland when it comes to the mini reclamation project Botterill's set to embark upon. Fixing that defense looks to be a top priority but it will take time. Although the team isn't completely devoid of d-prospects, solid prospects like Guhle and Devante Stephens need time to grow and mature.

And that's as much of a challenge as finding NHL-ready d-men to plug into the lineup right now.

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