Published by hockeybuzz.com, 5-11-2017
The Buffalo Sabres officially announced Jason Botterill as their eighth general manager this morning. And in other news, the sun rose today and the Washington Capitals are out of the playoffs early once again.
Although it wasn't 100% definitive that Botterill had the job, only an act of God or the retirement of Pittsburgh Penguins GM Jim Rutherford seemingly could have kept Botterill out of Buffalo. Rutherford and associate manager Botterill played Batman and Robin in Pittsburgh bringing that team back to prominence after five-plus years of Caps-like playoff disappointment. Botterill was an integral part of the Penguins 2009 Stanley Cup victory under former GM Ray Shero (now with the NJ Devils) and was a big part in putting together this present Pittsburgh team that heads to the Eastern Conference Final as reigning Stanley Cup Champions.
As has been well documented, Botterill has the credentials after his steady climb upwards in the front office with a GM position about the only thing missing from his impressive resume. For a background piece on him click here.
The Buffalo Sabres have been without a GM since Tim Murray was fired on April 10, along with his head coach, Dan Bylsma. From all indications, Botterill inherits a team that has some very strong pieces up front, a weak blueline, solid goaltending and a farm system that's been depleted but is slowly being filled as numerous draft picks from the previous three drafts. He'll have decisions to make on a handful of draft picks, 20 free agents and extensions for some important players entering the last year of their contracts. He'll also be faced with some dead weight contracts that put a 26th-place team close to the cap.
And those are just the tangibles.
In addition, Botterill will need to bring together a fractured group where some were at odds with the former coach as well as with each other in the dressing room.
Welcome to the Buffalo Sabres, Jason Botterill.
There will be a press conference today at 4 pm where Botterill will be introduced and he'll be forced to use broad generalizations to specific questions, some of which may have nothing to do with him but are loaded in a way to chastise the previous regime and/or owner. And, no doubt the Sabres six-year playoff drought will be referenced as well as the Buffalo Bills 17-year playoff drought along with suffering Buffalo fans. Once presser is over he'll make his token rounds with the media where he'll do much the same and after an evening filled with interviews and eventually sleep, tomorrow will represent his first full day as the general manager of his own team.
Here are some of the things he will/should do in the near future beginning tomorrow:
Fire up the Pegula jet and head over to Europe for the IIHF World Championships
Botterill needs to visit Team USA where he'll try to convince franchise center Jack Eichel that Bylsma is now in the firmly in the past and that the new GM is accustomed to working with superstars, just ask Sidney Crosby. He'll hopefully say he's been in touch with Jack's agent and as soon as the World's are done they can start hammering out an extension.
Botterill will also have the opportunity to talk with Eichel's USA teammate, Notre Dame goalie Cal Petersen, a 2013 fifth-round pick of Buffalo's that has yet to declare his future intentions. Botterill might also want to mention that he's the new sheriff in town and will want to remind Petersen that he has no ties to present No. 1 Sabres goalie, Robin Lehner (while maybe whispering Chicago's on the decline, the Olympics are overrated and that the team he helped build is in the conference finals again.)
Then it's over to Team Canada to talk with Sabres center Ryan O'Reilly to tell him everything's cool with Jack and that he's very cool with O'Reilly but there will be no promises of who the new captain will be.
After that it's time for Team Latvia where restricted free agent Zemgus Girgensons is on a surprising Latvia team that presently sits atop Group-A. He'll also remind "The Latvian Locomotive" that Bylsma's no longer around and that if Girgensons wants to endear himself to the new GM, there will be no plastering of Eichel to the boards like he did with Sam Reinhart in the D-Camp scrimmage a few years ago.
Finally he might want to drop in on Team Russia and have a visit with defenseman Viktor Antipin, whom the Sabres are said to be ready to sign, and remind him that the defense-corps in Buffalo will get overhauled soon and that he could/should be a part of it.
On Saturday Botterill and whatever scouts he brought along can hook up with their European head scout, Anders Forsberg, and take in USA/Latvia in Germany followed by Russia/Slovakia and then off to France for Canada/Switzerland before heading back to the States.
Sunday's a chill day of time-zone adjustment, making calls and lining up coaching prospects
There will be no day of rest for Botterill on Sunday but he can chill a bit while battling jet-lag while on the phone. He needs to get on the horn to Las Vegas Knights GM George McPhee about the upcoming expansion draft. Former Sabres GM Murray supposedly had a deal in the works for the Knights to return a favor, but with him gone that deal is probably nixed.
Botterill will need to convince McPhee that he's an upstanding guy who could use a little help. The Sabres have some unruly contracts and if McPhee can take on one of them, it would be greatly appreciated with the favor being returned in the form of a draft pick and/or through future considerations.
Get the coaching search going
With the Pittsburgh still in the playoffs, the coaching search may be pushed back a little bit as one of the potential candidates rumored to be on the list is Penguins assistant coach, Rick Tocchet. Another assistant who'd be a prime candidate for Buffalo's opening is Nashville's Phil Housley. His Predators team is also still in the playoffs and there's a good possibility that they could meet the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final.
One of the coaches he might want to start the process with is Jim Montgomery, the Denver Pioneers coach who lead that team to the 2017 NCAA Championship. Botterill may also want to pick Montgomery's brain concerning Girgensons whom he coached for one year while at Dubuque with the Fighting Saints.
All things Entry Draft need to get going next week
Botterill has an extensive scouting department to work with but one that's without two key cogs of the previous regime. The Sabres scouting department right now is headed by Assistant Director of Scouting Jerry Forton and they still have long-time Sabres scout and personnel guy, Kevin Devine to help smooth the transition.
The scouts have their reports for the upcoming draft and next week is usually when they sit down and compare notes. After that's done it's time to get ready for the NHL Combine which hits Buffalo on May 28. There will be 114 player invites to the combine and at it's conclusion there will only be a few weeks to prepare for the 2017 NHL Entry Draft in Chicago which begins June 23.
Still need to keep an eye on the expansion draft
For as important as the Entry Draft is, the Expansion Draft is just as important short-term.
Teams must submit their protected list by 5 pm June 17. Las Vegas is required to make their selections by 5 pm June 20 with the announcement of their selections the following day.
Once again, welcome aboard, Jason.
Here's the press release concerning Botterill's hiring from sabres.com:
"We are very happy to welcome Jason Botterill to the Buffalo Sabres family," Owner Terry Pegula said. "Jason's hockey knowledge, experience drafting and developing players, and his approach to management stood out to us during our interview process. Jason has built a solid reputation as a leader that connects strongly with players and staff around him. We are confident he will have a positive impact within our organization and will help us get to our ultimate goal."