Buffalo Sabres general manager Jason Botterill spoke with reporters inside KeyBank Center on Tuesday morning with the team returning from its bye week and the trade deadline less than a month away.
Botterill reiterated that the Sabres are exploring options to add to their forward group and looked ahead to the opportunity to remain in the playoff mix with nine of the team's next 10 games at home.
The Sabres are currently 10 points out of both third place in the Atlantic Division and the second wild card in the Eastern Conference. They have at least one game in hand on each of the four teams ahead of them in the wild card race.
Botterill echoed coach Ralph Krueger in his positive assessment of the Sabres' run before the break, which saw them win three straight games before dropping a one-goal contest in Nashville. With a 14-5-3 record at KeyBank Center this season, he said the team remains in contention.
"It's important with a young group that we continue to develop but it's important that in crucial situations like we have coming up here to earn points," Botterill.
"What Ralph and myself are excited [about] the last couple days is how the group has come back here. Now we've got to obviously go out there and perform that in the game, but I think guys are re-energized, guys are excited."
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Krueger has instilled a "small picture" mentality in the Sabres dressing room since the start of training camp in September. Players have lauded his ability to turn the page following wins or losses, an approach Botterill has bought into as well.
Krueger explained how that attitude fits in a playoff race.
"Whether you're 10 points up or 10 points down in the standings from a playoff spot, you're not 100 percent in the playoffs or you're not 100 percent out of the playoffs," Krueger said. "It's just trusting that what we're doing, if we are a group that is continuing to control the things we can control, continue to look for growth every day with a passion, we have to trust that the results will follow.
"So far, that's worked in the environments I've been able to be in and I believe it's going to happen here. All that noise and all those analytics, they need to happen. That's part of the excitement of the National Hockey League and the fans love it and the media needs to feed that. But we, within our working environment, need to continually just bring it in on the things we can change and all we can change right now is to improve on our game from Nashville into the Ottawa game tonight. That's what we need to be doing when we step on the ice tonight and that's what we're going to continue to do every day."
Of course, what happens during the upcoming stretch could impact the team's strategy at the trade deadline on Feb. 24. The Sabres already added to their forward depth with the acquisition of Michael Frolik on Jan. 2, though Botterill reiterated that he's continuing to pursue options up front.
"I think we've been very honest from that standpoint," he said. "… That's what we're trying to do. We're trying to add to our group there, and I think if we can add more to our offensive mix, we're certainly looking for it. I think also, whenever you can add to our speed team up front that's another thing we want to add."
Here are a few more topics the general manager covered Tuesday.
Tage Thompson's injury
After scoring 12 points in 16 games to start the season in Rochester, the 22-year-old Thompson was injured during his season debut in Buffalo. He underwent successful surgery to repair his right shoulder on Jan. 14 with an expected recovery time of five to six months.
Botterill admitted it was "extremely disappointing" to have Thompson sidelined, particularly with the other injuries to the team's forward group that might have opened the door for him to contribute in Buffalo.
"It's disappointing he didn't get that experience," Botterill said. "That being said, just like he did last summer, he's been a beast in the weight room, and that's what he's going to have to do coming off the surgery. The good thing about the time [the surgery] happened is he's going to be able to have a good summer of training and be ready to go at the start of training camp."
Casey Mittelstadt's development
The Sabres assigned Mittelstadt to Rochester for the first time in his young career on Dec. 15. He's tallied 10 points (5+5) in 15 games with the Amerks and, according to Botterill, has embraced the opportunity to play in a larger role.
"I've said it before, I believe that Casey can play in the National Hockey League right now," Botterill said. "But we want him to not just survive, we want him to excel. We have high expectations for Casey, and Casey does for himself, too. What we've really liked about his attitude in Rochester is he's being very proactive in what he needs to work on with the coaching staff, his new teammates there. Overall, it's been a good experience for him."
Playing time for Zach Bogosian and Evan Rodrigues
Botterill addressed media reports citing that Rodrigues and Bogosian have requested the team to explore trade options.
"If a player does go to the media, it's not going to change how we're going to dictate things," he said. "If something materializes that improves our team, we'll certainly make that move from that standpoint."
Bogosian and Rodrigues have both appeared in the lineup since their respective reports, which Botterill said has been the result of day-by-day evaluations made by the coaching staff.
"Those players, too, have worked hard behind the scenes and they've understood, they've had conversations with myself and more importantly with Ralph on just where their status is on our team now and how we felt about some of their comments," he said.
"To their credit, they've worked hard and tried to find a role on this team. That's where it goes from a day-to-day standpoint of seeing what's best for our group here and how they're performing in practice, just like there is with so much other [players] with the competition we have within our group."