BUFFALO -- The Buffalo Sabres hired Jason Botterill as their general manager on Thursday, and for the 40-year-old, it's an opportunity that's been a long time coming.
"The bottom line, though, is simple: We will be better," Botterill said at his introductory press conference. "But on the same token, I have a lot of respect for this league, and there are some teams that didn't make the playoffs this year that will be better next year. ...
"To me, the goal of the organization needs to be year in and year out, competing at a high level, and one of those years you break through."
Botterill, a former NHL forward, was an associate GM with the Pittsburgh Penguins for the past three seasons after joining their front office in 2007. He was promoted from director of hockey administration to assistant GM in 2009.
Video: The guys talk about the Sabres new GM Jason Botterill
Botterill was general manager of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League and hired Mike Sullivan as coach prior to last season. Sullivan was promoted to Pittsburgh on Dec. 12, 2015 and won the Stanley Cup.
Botterill has to hire a Sabres coach to replace Dan Bylsma, who was fired along with general manager Tim Murray on April 20. Botterill said he'd like to have someone in place before the 2017 NHL Draft on June 23-24.
"The type of team that I would like to create here will be, in conjunction with the head coach that we bring in, is a team that plays a high tempo," Botterill said. "A lot of times people think high-tempo, dump-and-chase. No, it's a high-tempo, puck-possession game. We tried to, whether it was in Pittsburgh or whether it was in Wilkes-Barre where you have less skill, you can still play a high-percentage, high-intensity game, but I think some of the success in Pittsburgh is from the standpoint of simplicity, a north-south game. But if you're asking me what exactly we're doing, it's up-tempo, puck-possession, north-south game."
The Sabres, 33-37-12 this season, have not reached the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2011. When they fired Bylsma and Murray, owner Terry Pegula stressed a need for better communication between the players and coaches. There were reports that center Jack Eichel said he wouldn't sign a new contract with the Sabres if Bylsma remained. That story was refuted by Eichel and Pegula, but the underlying issue is something Botterill said has to be worked on.
"I have some opinions on what happened here from afar, but it'll be imperative that I talk to a lot of the players," Botterill said. "What are we doing well here, and let's continue in that aspect, but what do we have to improve on and just get a better feel from that perspective."
Botterill played in the NHL from 1997-04, including 36 games over two seasons with the Sabres (2002-04). Selected No. 20 in the 1994 NHL Draft by the Dallas Stars, the left wing had 14 points (five goals, nine assists) and 89 penalty minutes in 88 NHL games with the Stars, Sabres, Atlanta Thrashers and Calgary Flames.
The Sabres also reportedly interviewed or considered Craig Conroy (Calgary Flames assistant GM), Paul Fenton (Nashville Predators assistant GM), Tom Fitzgerald (New Jersey Devils assistant GM), Michael Futa (Los Angeles Kings assistant GM), Bill Guerin (Penguins assistant GM) and Bill Zito (Columbus Blue Jackets assistant GM).
Martin Brodeur (St. Louis Blues assistant GM) reportedly declined an opportunity to interview, and Chris Drury (New York Rangers assistant GM) reportedly was denied permission.
"We are very happy to welcome Jason Botterill to the Buffalo Sabres family," Pegula said in a statement. "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."
Botterill was GM of the Penguins from May 16-June 6, 2014, after Ray Shero was fired and prior to Jim Rutherford being hired. Rutherford named Botterill associate GM. Shero is GM of the New Jersey Devils.
"I was a Ray Shero guy. Ray Shero brought me into the hockey world; I will always be indebted to him," Botterill said. "I still bounce a lot off of him, and he still is a true mentor to me. With the change to Jim Rutherford, it couldn't have gone more smoothly over the last three years. It was a scenario where we had no relationship prior, we developed a strong relationship, he trusted what I was trying do with the staff, trusted our staff, and because of that I think now I took the best from Ray Shero as a manager and took the best from Jim Rutherford as a manager."