Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-23-2017
Jason Botterill needed a break. The first time GM came to the Sabres on May 11 right after the Pittsburgh Penguins just finished eliminating the Washington Capitals in Round-2 of the 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs. From there it was into the fire with his new club.
Botterill spent his first week on the job meeting with Sabres scouts to compare notes on the fast approaching NHL Entry Draft which was just six weeks away. And if that wasn't enough, he also had to prepare for the expansion draft as the Las Vegas Golden Knights were looking to build their roster with one player from every NHL team. Also on tap for Botterill was finding a head coach for his new team and building a management team to surround him which included finding an assistant general manager who could also serve as the GM of the Rochester Americans. The Amerks were also without a coach after Dan Lambert's contract wasn't re-upped.
The one reprieve from the huge pile of work that was in front of him was a on-ice Cup celebration with the victorious Penguins. Pittsburgh GM Jim Rutherford invited his former right-hand man to the celebration with Botterill gladly and rightfully accepting (he'll get a day with the Cup as well and said he's probably taking it to his hometown of Winnipeg.)
It was a nod to all the great work Botterill did with key role players that helped the Penguins to consecutive Stanley Cup wins. Even if his presence at the celebration seemed awkward, it was a fitting way to turn the page on a long and very successful tenure in Pittsburgh.
With the expansion draft a few days away, it was onward and Botterill worked out a deal with Golden Knights' GM George McPhee to keep young goalie Linus Ullmark. He sent a sixth-rounder to Vegas to keep McPhee from selecting the exposed Ullmark and watched as McPhee nabbed Will Carrier. Three days later he was huddled with his scouts in Chicago and lead his first NHL draft as GM. The Sabres, who had been dropped from fifth-overall to eighth at the draft lottery ended up with a player in center Casey Mittelstadt that most viewed as a top-five pick anyway.
Botterill said at his opening presser that he was focused upon revamping the Sabres defense and building a strong Amerks club. On June 17 he traded a 2017 third round pick for Montreal defenseman Nathan Beaulieu and less than two weeks later he sent Buffalo's longest-tenured players--Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno--to Minnesota for defenseman Marco Scandella and former Sabres captain Jason Pominville.
The two trades allowed Botterill to head into July 1 free agency without the need to overreach for an expensive free agent and allowed the new GM to follow through on his promise to fortify Rochester. Botterill and Co. had a busy start to free agency as they landed eight players. Three of them--goalie Chad Johnson and forwards Benoit Pouliot and Jacob Josefson--will be looked upon as contributors to the big club while the other five were of the depth variety that will add talent and experience at the AHL-level.
Weaving it's way through all the player moves was the hiring of coaches and front office personnel. On June 15, just four days after the conclusion of the Stanley Cup Finals, Botterill hired Nashville Predators assistant Phil Housley as the new head coach of the Sabres. On June 26 Botterill poached Randy Sexton from Pittsburgh to be his AGM and Rochester GM and on June 30, Chris Taylor was hired to be the new Ameks coach. Botterill retained Sabres goalie coach Andrew Allen on July 11 and he was bookended by the Housley hires of Davis Payne and Chris Hajt for his coaching staff.
Botterill downshifted a bit with a four-day Sabres Development Camp that ended on July 11 and now he's focused upon four restricted free agents to sign with two of them headed to arbitration--G, Robin Lehner and Beaulieu. Lehner's arb-date is this week, July 27, while Beaulieu's is August 4. Forward Johan Larsson had filed for arbitration but he and the Sabres settled while forwards Zemgus Girgensons and Evan Rodrigues remained unsigned.
After packing all of that into a two-month span, it's not surprising that all's quiet on the Sabres front right now. The additions of Beaulieu and Scandella certainly fortified the defense-corps for new head coach Housley and the Day-1 free agent signings will go a long way in stabilizing Rochester. Sexton is a very competent GM for the Amerks and Botterill hired Ryan Jankowski, who was director of player personnel for Hockey Canada, to head his amateur scouting department.
However, bubbling under the surface are contract extension talks with franchise center Jack Eichel as the history-making Connor McDavid contract (eight years and an NHL-record $12.5 million/season) serves as a backdrop. Botterill has already said that he'll wait on extending fellow second-overall pick Sam Reinhart and there's still the question of if or how Evander Kane fits into the grand scheme of things. All three players are in the final year of their respective contracts.
The Sabres are in a good place right now, which is a good thing after an extremely disappointing 2016-17 season. Perhaps Botterill took a little time to smash a brat and relax with a frosty adult beverage this summer. With his phone right by his side, no doubt. He got a lot accomplished, but there's still plenty to be done.