With Jason Botterill officially leaving the Pittsburgh Penguins organization to assume the GM duties in Buffalo, the rookie manager faces the tall task of turning a Sabres team that has failed to qualify for the postseason since 2010-11 into a legitimate Stanley Cup threat. His job is a little easier given the presence of franchise center Jack Eichel and a talented blue liner in Rasmus Ristolainen, who has the potential to be a top-pair defender for many years. However, the challenge that confronts Botterill is still daunting. Along those lines, Sportsnet’s Luke Fox identifies six high priority items he believes the new GM must tackle in his quest to build a winning organization.
First, and perhaps most obvious, the Sabres will have to hire a coach and given the reportedly tumultuous relationship former head coach Dan Bylsma had with many of his charges, getting the right guy behind the bench is critical to Buffalo’s future. Fox lists several names that have been floated in the media, with current Pittsburgh assistants Rich Tocchet and Jacques Martin standing out due to their prior working relationship with Botterill. Both men have prior head coaching experience and given the recent success each has enjoyed as members of the Penguins staff, either would be able to bring a winning mentality to Buffalo.
Additionally, Fox points out that Botterill will have to fix a defense corps that was a glaring weakness last season and is slated to see two regulars, Cody Franson and Dmitry Kulikov, depart as free agents. There will be options available this summer in free agency, Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Trevor Daley are among those specifically mentioned by the scribe, but likely won’t come cheap. Given the team’s salary cap situation – less than $23MM in projected space – and with Eichel and Sam Reinhart each needing new deals ahead of 2018-19, Botterill will have to be judicious with his cap dollars in the offseason.
All told, it’s an interesting take on Botterill’s situation with the Sabres, and well worth a full read.
In other Sabres news:
- Ryan Kennedy of The Hockey News also has a suggestion for Botterill’s head coaching search, identifying Washington assistant coach Todd Reirden as “the perfect fit,” for the Sabres. Kennedy references that prior to joining the Capitals, Reirden served on Dan Bylsma’s coaching staff in Pittsburgh where Botterill would have had a chance to get to know the former NHL defenseman. Additionally, the first-time GM is on record as saying he wants Buffalo to play an up-tempo brand of hockey that focuses on puck possession. As Kennedy points out, Reirden’s former employer, Washington, has been one of the league’s top teams in terms of possession in recent seasons. Reirden also guided one of the NHL’s top defense corps, with the Capitals allowing the fewest goals in the league in 2016-17. Botterill also said he is looking for a teacher and as Kennedy points out, Reirden has earned rave reviews in Washington with his help developing Nate Schmidt and Dmitry Orlov into quality defenseman. It’s also worth noting that with Buffalo believed to be in the market for blue liners, hiring Reirden might give them a leg up on the competition should they pursue pending Washington UFA defenders Karl Alzner and/or Kevin Shattenkirk.
- Lastly, Bill Hoppe of Buffalo Hockey Beat writes that Botterill intends to prioritize icing a competitive team in Rochester, believing that success in the AHL is a great tool in developing young talent. Botterill was a key figure for three seasons with Rochester and played with future Sabres Ryan Miller, Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad with the Amerks. Those players would help guide the Sabres to back-to-back appearances in the Conference Final after the 2006-07 and 2007-08 campaigns. That was the last time Buffalo won even a playoff round, and they’ve made the postseason just twice in the 10 years since. Botterill also saw a strong feeder team payoff while in Pittsburgh, with young players like Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel, just to name a few, coming up from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and making an immediate impact with the big club. Sheary and Rust won a Stanley Cup last season with Pittsburgh and the Penguins have a chance to repeat that feat as they begin their Eastern Conference final match against Ottawa later today.