Jason Botterill spoke briefly after practice at KeyBank Center on Thursday afternoon and addressed the current state of the organization both in Buffalo and Rochester, as well as his own experience now two months into his first season as general manager of the Sabres.
Here's some of what Botterill had to say in his chat with the media.
On the state of the organization
The records in Buffalo and Rochester tell two different stories so far this season, with the Sabres off to a 6-15-4 start and the Amerks sitting in second in the North Division at 11-5-3. What connects the two, Botterill said, has been the level of communication shown between coaches and players at both levels.
"The bottom line is our record's our record,' Botterill said. "We're looking for players to help us out of this situation here and players who want to improve and want to become a part of the solution. That's where I like the communication with our coaching staff and our players, trying to find results. Like I said before, there is a frustration level but there's communication on what we have to do to improve.
" … We're very excited about the steps a team like Rochester has made. Are we where we want to be? No. But at least, especially at forward down in Rochester, I think there's a lot of internal competition for the call ups. It's something that we have to do more throughout our entire organization, have more internal competition for spots up here in Buffalo, more internal competition for our prospects, guys we want to sign, and guys from a call-up [standpoint]."
On the atmosphere in Rochester
Players who have been recalled from Rochester to Buffalo this season, from Justin Bailey and Nicholas Baptiste to Casey Nelson and Linus Ullmark, have raved about the night-and-day culture change that's occurred in Rochester under coach Chris Taylor.
Botterill and Amerks general manager Randy Sexton both stressed the importance of creating a winning culture in Rochester before the season began, and so far the hiring of Taylor as coach as well as the influx of leadership in players like Kevin Porter and Nathan Paetsch has paid off.
"It's what we've tried to accomplish down there. We understand that players in the American Hockey League don't want to be in the American Hockey League, they want to be up in the National Hockey League. But what we've been able to do or what I think Chris Taylor and his staff have done an excellent job of down there is getting guys to buy into the system, getting guys to buy into working on their games to get up to the National Hockey League," Botterill said.
"We've tried to give them, myself and [coach Phil Housley] whenever they have been sent down, whether it's in training camp or regular season, specific things for them to work on in order to get back up to the National Hockey League. I think the players down there have specific things they need to work on to get back up."
On Evander Kane
Kane has been Buffalo's most productive player this season with team-leading totals in both goals (12) and points (23), but his impending status as an unrestricted free agent this season has made him the subject of trade rumors.
A recent report from TSN's Pierre LeBrun stated that the Sabres had not yet made a decision on whether or not to trade Kane, which Botterill confirmed on Thursday.
"That's accurate," he said. "It's been a situation where you look specifically, Evander's done a great job for us. We're a team that's looking for more goals and he's scored goals. I think Phil deserves a lot of the credit with Evander. It was one of the situations where he reached out to develop a relationship early in the season and Evander's come in here and from day one of training camp has performed very well for us."
On what he's learned about Phil Housley
Botterill said that Housley's ability to communicate with players is part of what made him an attractive coaching candidate during the offseason, and so far the general manager has been impressed with the coach's personal skills.
"One of the reasons we tried to bring him in here was that I thought he could build relationships with players," Botterill said. "It's an ongoing thing, but he's done a very good job of communicating with the players what we're trying to improve on and trying to ask for.
"What I've really liked to see is he's an emotional guy, he keeps guys accountable … There's frustrations with the results on the ice, but the next day instead of just being disappointed about it's, 'These are things we need to do to improve so the results do get better moving forward here."
On trade talks
We've seen two blockbuster trades made in the NHL since the start of November, first with the three-way deal between Colorado, Nashville and Ottawa that landed Matt Duchene with the Senators and then again on Thursday when Anaheim traded Sami Vatanen to New Jersey for Adam Henrique, Joseph Blandisi and a third-round pick.
Botterill said he has been engaging with fellow general managers in discussions about potential trades while trying to establish himself as a first-year GM.
"I'm trying to build relationships with other general managers now, but it's a scenario where I think it's good for the game when trades like Duchene's goes down or trades like today," he said. "I think it's a trade that helps out both teams and it's a scenario where our conversations have been positive for sure."