When a pro sports team hires a new head coach, they often choose a person with a different style than his predecessor. A player’s coach leads to a disciplinarian leads back to a nice guy and so on.
The Sabres haven’t found their new coach yet, but if you listen to their new general manager’s first press conference, it seems like the pendulum has indeed swung the other way in Buffalo, only this time in the front office.
Jason Botterill made a solid first impression today at the KeyBank Center. He comes highly recommended from just about everyone from the folks in Pittsburgh to the national media, and it’s easy to see why. Botterill gave smart, prepared answers for all the questions thrown his way without making too many boasts or promises on his first day as GM.
Let’s run down the most important details from today’s press conference.
Structure and Communication
Botterill: "I'm looking forward to building a hockey operations department here that challenges me and creates a collaborative environment."— WGR 550 (@WGR550) May 11, 2017
With the way the previous regime in Buffalo ended (and with the way the search for the new Buffalo Bills GM mirrored that of the Sabres) you knew that the Pegulas wanted someone who could straighten things out behind the scenes, get everyone on the same page, and make sure the expectations for players and management alike were clear.
Botterill comes from a model organization in Pittsburgh, and spoke as to how mentors like Ray Shero and Jim Rutherford prepared him to take on the challenge here in Buffalo.
Much bigger focus on development and success in Rochester
However, it’s not just the Sabres that Botterill wants to focus on. He made more mentions of the Rochester Americans this afternoon than I think Tim Murray did during his entire tenure here in Buffalo.
Botterill pointed to the success of the Scranton Wilkes-Barre Penguins as not only a direct pipeline that supplied the Penguins with key young contributors, but as a place that those young players could not only hone their skills, but learn how to win, something the Amerks haven’t done nearly enough of over the past decade.
"Winning is a part of development"— Paul Hamilton (@pham1717) May 11, 2017
While Botterill himself will be heavily involved in Rochester, judging from his comments, he will also bring on someone to act as GM for the Amerks, mirroring the structure in Wilkes-Barre. Once again, development, structure, and winning were at the core of his Amerks comments, and he wants the teams at both the NHL and AHL level to have the same goals.
"We want two build two teams. One in Buffalo & one in Rochester" - Botterill— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 11, 2017
That has to be music to Amerks fans' ears.
High tempo, puck possession, north-south game
When asked about how he envisioned his Sabres team playing, Botterill answered with those three phrases, which again sound like a departure from the Dan Bylsma-led team and music to the ears of most Sabres fans.
Botterill: "This is a league that thrives on centermen. We have a couple amazing, high end centermen."— WGR 550 (@WGR550) May 11, 2017
When pressed further, he praised the fact that Buffalo has two top centermen in Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly, but it’s worthy to note that he also praised the multiple young defensemen (yes, plural) that can eat up big minutes. We all know Ristolainen is a minutes machine, but presumably Botterill thinks the team can get more out of Jake McCabe in that regard, as other players like Guhle or Casey Nelson aren’t ready to step in to that role yet.
He also mentioned again the need for development, and for development that continues during the year, pointing out how playoff hero Jake Guentzel wasn’t ready to help the Penguins in October, but he was in December. Could this mean that some younger players like Bailey, Baptiste, Rodrigues, and Nylander spend more time in Rochester than we thought?
On a coach and a cap crunch
As expected, Botterill didn’t name any coaching candidates, but again went with the anti-Bylsma option, saying the team needed a communicator and a teacher who could build relationships with his players.
Botterill on head coach: "A developer, an educator is going to be very important. A communicator."— WGR 550 (@WGR550) May 11, 2017
Botterill said he’d like to get someone in “before the draft”, which means we’ll probably see more of a measured approach to hiring a new coach - perhaps someone still in the playoffs?
Botterill says managing cap is imperative, especially when you see some of the players who will need to be signed down the road.— Matthew Bové (@Matt_Bove) May 11, 2017
The new Sabres GM seems well aware of the Sabres cap situation, which will bare a striking resemblance to the cap he managed in Pittsburgh, with Eichel, Reinhart, and Ristolainen taking the place of Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. Botterill was masterful at balancing those big contracts with cheap, young, productive players (see: importance on development and winning at AHL level) and he’ll be tasked with doing the same in Buffalo.
And in case you were still wondering about the possibility of a president of hockey ops, it sounds more like Botterill is bringing the Pittsburgh management structure with him (as if there aren’t already enough ties between Pittsburgh and Buffalo already).
What stood out to you? Did we miss anything important? Let us know what you think of the new Sabres GM in the comments.