Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Botterill continues to shape organization with busy July 1 start to free agency

Published by hockeybuzz.com, 7-2-2017

At his first presser in Buffalo, GM Jason Botterill said the defense would a main area of focus for him and true to his word he's been making moves to revamp the d-corps. He also said that Rochester would not be forgotten, and after a pretty busy day to the start of NHL Free Agency, the Amerks rebuild is well on it's way.

Botterill and the Sabres ended the day by signing eight players for the organization, in contrast to the prior regime who had only one July 1 FA signing in both 2016 (D, Justin Falk) and 2015 (F, Jason Akeson.)

The first signing of the day was former Sabres goalie Chad Johnson (1yr./$2.5M) who comes in as starter Robin Lehner's back-up but will also provide stiff competition. Johnson was Lehner's backup for the 2015-16 season and assumed the starters role when Lehner went down with a high-ankle sprain in the first game of the season. He feels that career-high 45-game season provided him with plenty of confidence in his abilities to be a legit NHL starting goalie.

Although competition is a great source of inspiration to take players, especially goalies, to another level, in the very least the Botterill likes where his goalie sitatuation is right now. "Having Robin and Chad, and [Linus] Ullmark in the three-hole," he said, "makes it a strength for our organization."

Botterill also said that Ullmark is "a very important piece" for the team and that he didn't want the 23 yr. old sitting on the bench for two, three weeks at a time. "He could probably handle the back-up role this upcoming year, but as a young goalie, I'm a big believer in he needs to be playing."

The new Sabres GM, who came over from a deep and talented Pittsburgh Penguins organization, is a firm believer in proper seasoning for players. Yesterday he added a player in winger Beniot Pouliot (1yr./$1.15M) who he said "can play anywhere in that No. 2, 3 or 4 hole [on the left side]." Prior to that signing the Sabres had Evander Kane in the top-six on that side and Matt Moulson, who landed in the bottom-six last season. Botterill just traded away F,Tyler Ennis who'd spent a majority of his time in Buffalo at left wing and LW, Marcus Foligno, a bottom-sixer who spent time in the top-six last season.

Pouliot played in Edmonton last season and had a down year to the point where the Oilers bought out the final two years of a contract that averaged $4 million per season. Botterill said yesterday that Pouliot had bounced back before from difficult seasons and said that he was looking for in Buffalo. "You look at his size, his ability to get in on the forecheck," said Botterill, "we just felt he was a guy who could complement our centers well and be a guy that sort of gets his career back on track."

For those who'd hoped, or thought that Alexander Nylander would be the answer in a top-six, left wing role, it doesn't look as if that will be the case. Nor should it. Botterill is big on development and Nylander needs more time to fill out his frame and acclimate himself more to how the pro game is played.

Botterill said he was "very happy with what we've accomplished on the back-end" yet he continued to add depth with the signing of defenseman Matt Tennyson to a two year deal ($650K/yr.) that's a two-way in year-one and a one-way in year-two. The 27 yr. old Minneapolis, MN native is a tweener who has played in 105 NHL games over the course of his six pro seasons.

He played 45 games for the Carolina Hurricanes last season and Botterill said Tennyson plays "a strong two-way game" and "we view him as one of the guys who can step in right off the bat in training came and really fight for a position."

Competition is the name of the game going forward under Botterill and he wants that stretching all the way down to Rochester. He said there's always a scenario where there will be completion for spots but there will also be openings. Botterill also stated that the team isn't done and that they will continue to look at fits for the organization whether it's through free agency or via trades. "There is going to be competition for spots," he said, before changing that to, "there has to be competition for spots.

It's important that young players learn how to fight for their position so when they get to the NHL-level, they're comfortable with that and know how to handle that situation."

The Sabres do have some youth making there way into the pro ranks, but as they begin their journey in Rochester, they'll need vets to help guide them along. Forwards Kevin Porter (2yrs./$650K) and Kyle Criscuolo (2 yrs./$650K,) who were both signed to two-way contracts, will help that along.

The 31 yr. old Porter returns to the Sabres organization after stints in the Detroit and Pittsburgh organizations. Botterill has seen a lot of Porter the last two season. Porter he played in 85 games for Wilkes-Barre Scranton with Botterill as the team's GM. "He's a player I'm very familiar with," said Botterill. "[He] was a strong leader for Wilkes-Barre over the past couple of years, but also was a player, especially two years ago, that (Penguins head coach) Mike Sullivan really trusted at the National Hockey League level."

It's something we saw from Porter during his two-year stint with Buffalo and Rochester.

Criscoulo comes over from the Detroit organization where he helped the Grand Rapid Griffins bring home the Calder Cup this season. Botterill points out he's a Harvard grad who was on an AHL deal last year. The 5'8" 165 lb. forward "can play center," said Botterill while also adding that the 25 year old Criscoulo "plays with a lot of pace, with a high compete [level] and can play the type of pace that Phil (Housley) wants to play."

Botterill continued to add goaltending depth even after signing Johnson when he inked Adam Wilcox to a one-year, two-way deal ($650K.) The 24 yr. old product of the University of Minnesota has spent the last three season in the AHL playing for the Syracuse Crunch (TBL) and Springfield Thunderbirds (FLA) compiling a combined 34-27-15 record with a cumulative 2.90 GAA and .900 Sv%.

"We wanted to strengthen our goaltending situation throughout our organization," said Botterill, "and Wilcox is a player who is still in his mid-20's who was traded to Springfield and had a really strong end to the season (7-4-0, 2.02 GAA, .932 Sv%.)

Wilcox will be in a battle with recently signed Sabres draft pick Jonas Johansson (2014, 61st-overall) for back-up duty behind Ullmark in Rochester. Buffalo also has Jason Kasdorf signed for one more season and one of the three will be in Cincinnati with the ECHL's Cyclones.

Seth Griffith (1yr./$650K) had some pretty big numbers during his junior career with the OHL's London Knights. In 207 games with London he scored 102 goals and added 129 assists and he continued to contribute at the AHL-level for the Providence Bruins (BOS) and Toronto Marlies (TOR) with 202 points (66+136) in 203 games.

"Griffith is a player we think has an extremely high offensive upside," said Botterill. "We think in the right situation, he can provide scoring at the National Hockey League level in the future.

The 5'9"192 lb. right-winger has played in 58 NHL games scoring six goals while adding 10 assists.

The Sabres final signing was former first round pick (NJD, 2009) Jacob Josefson, whom they signed to a one-year, $700k contract.

Josefson played in 247 games for the Devils over the course of seven NHL seasons with a high of 62 games played in one season. The 26 yr. old center was called "an enigma" by Amanda Rosko of The Hockey Writers back in November, 2015. "Fans wondered what they were getting with the Stockholm, Sweden native and six years later some fans are still asking the same question.

"Just when people think they have his capabilities figured out something changes."

Rosko goes on to write that Josefson "exhibits a solid skill-set" but lacks "physicality and finish." She goes on to perpetuate the curious case of Jacob Josefson when she writes, "the mystery continues when a person examines Josefson’s shootout record and ability. When number 16 takes the ice for the Devils, it is almost automatically assumed that he will beat the oppositional goaltender regardless of whom it is when the game goes beyond 65-minutes. He excels and stands out in the skills competition."

Over the past five seasons Josefson has gone 11/20 (55%) in shootout attempts and is tops in the league over that period for players with 20 or more shootout attempts. The Sabres were 25th in the league scoring at a 22% rate (6/27.)

With New Jersey in the same division as the Penguins, Botterill has had plenty of exposure to what he has to offer and perhaps he thinks they can turn Josefson into a reclamation project, but that shootout performance certainly sticks out.

Like he said, he isn't done. Botterill is still looking to upgrade the forward group. "Do we still want to change things around from an offensive standpoint up at the forwards? Yeah, we'll continue to talk to people to see if there are some fits that can make us better, maybe make us a little quicker up front," he said.

Overall, when you consider the expansion draft, the trade with Montreal for defenseman Nathan Beaulieu, the trade with Minnesota for defenseman Marco Scandella, the NHL Entry Draft and Day-1 of free agency, Botterill said that they were happy with what they were able to accomplish and that "it's been a good week for our organization."

Botterill finished yesterday's conference call by continuing to espouse the virtues of a strong Rochester Amerks club and saying that "it's going to be a philosophy of making sure it's a priority for us."

"Whether it's through our players or coaches," he continued, "[it's] making sure that the two teams are certainly in unison with each other. [For] the long-term success of our organization, it's imperative that there's a winning culture, winning environment down in Rochester."


One final note on from the call, Botterill admitted that he lost individual toughness when he traded Marcus Foligno to the Wild in the Scandella trade. "It's part of the reason we didn't want to lose Marcus because he does brings that element," he said.

Botterill shifted the focus saying that he was "a big believer in a scenario of trying to have more of a team toughness mentality," he said.

"We have players such as Evander Kane, [Rasmus] Ristolainen, [Zach] Bogosian and Scandella who have a lot of size to them and certainly can finish checks and play a very physical game out there." Botterill concluded, "So we do think we have some team toughness, but it is one of the aspects that we will continue to look at to see if there's a fit to our organization."

Thanks to CapFriendly for some of the contract numbers.

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