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Botterill will look to instill structure, pride in Sabres organization

by Jourdon LaBarber @jourdonlabarber /

Jason Botterill Interview


Jason Botterill speaks with Brian Duff after being introduced as Sabres general manager

  • 07:38 •

When Terry Pegula set out to find a new general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, he mentioned three characteristics he'd look for in a candidate to instill into the organization: discipline, structure and communication. 

Pegula believes he's found those qualities in Jason Botterill, who was introduced as the eighth GM in franchise history on Thursday. The Sabres owner listed Botterill's accomplishments as evidence: three-time World Junior gold medalist, NCAA champion, Calder Cup champion as a player and two-time Stanley Cup champion as a member of Pittsburgh's front office

"He's pretty much done everything you can do in hockey, from being a player, being involved in evaluating, drafting, developing and then molding those players between two teams, the AHL and the NHL team," Pegula said. "That take a lot of discipline and a lot of structure. 

"… You can see he's well prepared. He's been through the wars with the Pittsburgh organization. It just shows by his track record, what he's accomplished."

For as lauded as he's been around the NHL for his cap expertise, and for as impressive as his resume may be, Botterill was sure to stress another quality he picked up during his seasons as a player in the Sabres organization: a respect for the logo, and for the fans he once saw fill KeyBank Center to watch him play when he was a member of the Rochester Americans during the lockout in 2004-05. 

READ: Facts about Botterill | GRAPHIC: Botterill's experience| READ: Announcement

"One of the main reasons why I accepted this role and wanted to take on this job is that I truly understand from my time as a player here in Western New York, both in Rochester and Buffalo, how passionate and loyal the fans in this region are towards the game of hockey," Botterill said.

"I know that they deserve success, and my job will be to try to bring them an organization that provides that to them. During my time in the organization here, I learned the importance of what the logo means to our fans. From my standpoint, my job will make sure that every player and every staff member understands the significance of wearing the Sabres logo and wearing the Rochester Americans logo."

Here's some more of what Botterill had to say during his first day on the job:


He's focused on creating a developmental structure

Video: Jason Botterill's Introductory Press Conference

In his opening remarks, Botterill made it clear that his job is to build not one, but two teams: the Sabres and the Amerks. He brings with him eight seasons of experience as the general manager of the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, and the club never missed the postseason under his watch.

Under Botterill, there will be no debate as to whether the purpose of the Amerks organization is for winning or development. In his eyes, winning is development.

"Our success story or what our model's been in Wilkes-Barre, what we'll try to implement in Rochester, is obviously having a strong coaching staff that's very tied to what goes on at the National Hockey League level," he said. 

"We have the veteran leadership there. We want to make sure that there's opportunities for our young players, but they also have to compete for jobs. They're going to have to compete for jobs at the National hockey league level, so they better go through the experience of competing for jobs at the American Hockey League level. It's also a scenario where you're making sure that there are opportunities for those players to get up to the National Hockey League, but in the right setting. If they're not ready in September or October, we have to have sort of more NHL depth players ready to take on those roles."

Botterill also made it clear that, whether it's one of his assistant general managers of a member of the development staff, someone will carry the title of Rochester general manager. 


He's equipped to handle Buffalo's upcoming salary cap situation

Botterill's time spent working at NHL Central Registry made him an expert on the salary cap, and he was a key figure in allowing the Penguins to retain stars such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang while still having room to field a competitive roster around them.

With young players like Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart on the verge of seeing their rookie contracts expire next summer, Botterill will have a similar challenge in Buffalo.

"I think when you look at the cap situation, we have to utilize that to our advantage over the next couple weeks here heading up to the expansion draft and even this year," he said. "But certainly from a cap standpoint, you look at a couple of the young players that we have, a year from now we'll be facing a little bit of a cap crunch. I think that's an area of strength for me.

 "It's great having players such as Crosby, Malkin and Letang. They certainly eat up a lot of your cap space, so it's imperative that you have these younger players coming through your organization. "We have young players and it's imperative now that we develop them, whether they're in junior, whether they're in Rochester, whether they're in the National Hockey League. They have to take the next step in their development."


He wants the Sabres to play an up-tempo style

Botterill certainly thinks highly of Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly, saying at one point that other teams "are craving for centermen" like them. He'll look for those two to facilitate an up-tempo, simple style of play. 

"What I like about the group right now is this is a league that thrives on centermen," he said. "The fortunate thing here is that we have a couple of amazing, high-end centermen. I also like the fact that we have some young defensemen that can handle some big minutes up there. 

"The type of team that I would like to create here, and it will be in conjunction with the head coach that we bring in, is a team that plays high temp. A lot of time people think 'high tempo, dump and chase.' No. It's a high-tempo, puck-possession game. I think we tried to, whether it's in Pittsburgh or whether it's in Wilkes-Barre where you have less skill, you can still have a high-intensity game. But I think some of the success in Pittsburgh is from the standpoint of simplicity, a north-south game."

In regards to Eichel specifically, Botterill said he was impressed not only with the talent, but also the resume. 

"For me, what is exciting about working with him is the drive that he has," Botterill said. "You look at his track record in college and in junior and even from a simple thing right now, that he's playing in the World Championships. Here's a player that's liking and wants to play in April and May. Those are the type of players we want in our organization. It's going to be a situation where I think just form being in the League, staying healthy, he's going to be able to continue to escalate."


He hopes to have a coach in place by the draft

Botterill said the process will be a bit delayed with responsibilities in amateur scouting and pro meetings coming up in the week ahead, but added that he hopes to have a coach in place by the time the draft is held in Chicago on June 23. 

Botterill said he intends to speak with several candidates, and will take the lead on the search before narrowing down the options and bringing them to Terry and Kim Pegula. As for what he'll look for in a coach, here's what he had to say:

"A developer, an educator, a communicator. I think in today's world, today's game, you have to have that strong communication with your players. And finally I think we need to have that presence in the locker room, making sure that the players understand that the head coach is in control and certainly leading the charge."


He'll expect improvement this season

With the nature of Buffalo's young roster, Botterill said it's only right to expect the team to make an improvement this season. He stopped short of predicting a window for making the playoffs or winning a Stanley Cup, however, and used his time in Pittsburgh as an example of why. 

Three years ago, he said, some people had written off the Cup window for the Crosby and Malkin-led Penguins, yet here they are now a mere eight wins away from making it two in a row. 

"The bottom line though is simple: We will be better," he said. "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. It will just be a competitive environment in that regard. It's the same as what the long-term goal needs to be. You can't predict, in my mind, 'Oh in three years or four years or five years, that's when we're going to be going for the Stanley Cup.' In this league of injuries and different things that come up, it's just difficult to predict form that standpoint.

"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."


He'll look to build a front office structure similar to what he had in Pittsburgh

Throughout his time in Pittsburgh, Botterill has worked alongside other assistant general managers or developmental figures a list that's included Tom Fitzgerald, Mark Recchi and Bill Guerin, among others. He'll look to create the same type of collaborative atmosphere in the Sabres' front office.

"It was great that [Penguins GM Jim Rutherford] gave me a lot of responsibility there, but I always had people such as Jason Karmanos, Bill Guerin, Mark Recchi around me to support me in that regard. That's what we'll hopefully develop here, is having a staff that is going to challenge me behind closed doors, making sure we have good opinions, and also empowering the people on our staff, whether they're in charge of amateur scouting, whether they're in charge of pro scouting, getting that information and making sure that information gets to me."

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