Welcome to another Buffalo Sabres mailbag. I had to break this down into two parts because of all the responses I received on Twitter and this site. I appreciate everyone sending in questions, it makes this a lot more fun.
Part one will be focused on the Sabres management team. I’ll answer some questions on Ralph Krueger, Jason Botterill, and the front office in general. Part two will be more of a look at the draft, free agency, and other questions about the team.
Let’s get started!
Botterill status – a lot of people
We’ll start with perhaps the biggest question heading into the offseason, the future of Jason Botterill. As I tweeted last week, my understanding from conversations I’ve had is that it’s more likely than not that we will see a change at general manager at the end of the season.
Nothing has been 100% decided to this point, but internal expectations have not been met and it’s likely it’ll result in a change at the top of the hockey department.
Do you see the Sabres waiting until the end of the season to fire Botterill or could you see that happening sooner? (@a_coulterhockey)
This is where things start to get interesting. A week ago, I would have been certain Botterill finishes the season with the Sabres. Now, after just snapping a six-game losing streak and another embarrassing end to the season, I wouldn’t be shocked if they make a move before the end of the season.
I’m not predicting it, but it would make sense if they want to get a head start on their search for a new general manager. I still anticipate Botterill finishing the season with the Sabres.
Do we still believe the narrative is “success in Rochester = success in Buffalo”? - (@digitalgeist)
In theory, this mantra by Jason Botterill made sense when he first took over. The catch is that for that to be true they need players in the AHL that can come up to the NHL. Under Botterill, how many players have they graduated from the AHL to the NHL successfully? The only players that comes to mind are Victor Olofsson and Linus Ullmark.
This year, the only players with promise down with the Amerks are Casey Mittelstadt, Jacob Bryson, Lawrence Pilut, and to a lesser extent Will Borgen and Andrew Oglevie.
Is it fair to say botts has made some bad moves to go with good moves but also inherited a bare prospect pool while also having some bad luck? – (@JustinGerardi35)
Botterill has made some good moves with the Sabres. You can’t deny that fact. The problem is more of his moves have missed than hit. While Tim Murray left him with a bare prospect pool, what has Botterill done to improve it?
The only impact forward the Sabres have in their system is Dylan Cozens. Mittelstadt is a question mark at this point and everyone else is a bottom-six ceiling type player. He drafted low-ceiling defensemen in back to back drafts in the top 32 (Mattias Samuelsson and Ryan Johnson) when the team was screaming for forward help.
Don’t go look at how the handful of players drafted after Johnson and Samuelsson are performing in their post-draft years.
3 main GM targets in the offseason. And when Botterill is fired, does his whole staff go as well? – (@JakobBickle)
I’m not sure what would happen to Botterill’s staff if he is let go. I do know that Steve Greeley is highly thought of within the organization, but not sure if that means he would remain with a new general manager. It’s still early, but I do have a few candidates that I feel the Sabres should consider if they need to find a new GM.
At the top of the list is former Vancouver Canucks general manager Mike Gillis. He’s spent the last few years studying the game, which includes analytics and their importance in building a team.
Other names to consider are Tom Fitzgerald, the acting interim-general manager of the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets associate general manager Bill Zito. We’ll see what other names come up if the situation presents itself at the end of the season.
Do you think low event hockey is how Kruger likes his teams to play or is it a reflection of the roster? – (@RossClark12)
I believe that it is a little of both. Krueger rightfully looks at his team and realizes there is not a lot of firepower offensively outside of a few players. Therefore, establishing a system that relies on suppressing the opponent’s chances was the best path to winning games, similar to the New York Islanders style.
On the flip side, I believe Krueger wants to play a system that focuses on the defense first. We’ve seen defensemen like Brandon Montour and Rasmus Dahlin do not carry the puck through the neutral zone and into the offensive zone as much as last year. This really goes for all of the defensemen on the roster.
I guess we would have to see if he alters his system if he’s given better forwards with more offensive ability.
Assuming Krueger stays, what would be one coaching staff/member change you’d make to improve the Sabres? – (@Dowling841)
From a human standpoint, you never want to see someone lose a job. Having said that, I’m not sure how the Sabres can retain Steve Smith after this season. The defensemen themselves have not seen any drastic change in their performance from previous years and he’s in charge of the worst penalty kill, not only in the league but in franchise history.
Elliotte Friedman on @spittinchiclets said that the big question (Re: Ralph Krueger) - is his future in the Buffalo organization going to be coaching or is he going to be managing or President of Hockey Ops? Have you heard anything about this? (@JonathanPapz)
If Botterill is out, what happens with Krueger is a mystery. Does he stay on as coach or would a new general manager want to bring in their own coach? Does he move into the front office?
I’ll preface this by saying it’s 100% speculation, but during my conversations on Botterill, the idea of Krueger moving into the role as President of the team was brought up as a possible solution. He would take the role currently occupied by Kim Pegula and she would remain, President of the Buffalo Bills, allowing her to focus on that side of the PSE business.
Again, that was only speculation of a possible solution.
What is your dream front office/coaching situation? - (@UncleOrtonBlog)
This is simple for me:
GM: Mike Gillis – with that comes an increased analytics department with player tracking on its way
Coach: Bruce BoudreauIn this situation, Krueger would move into a role in the front office.
What’s wrong with this team off the ice? Not arena stuff, but management issues. We see player turnover, not as much as we would like, but they have been stuck in the mud for years. – (@mrpotter)
The organization has embarrassed itself on numerous occasions this season. The on-ice product is bad again, the 50th-anniversary festivities have been underwhelming, and they’ve come up short on social initiatives as well.
It feels like something new happens every week with the team that screams disorganization. The Pegulas have a lot of fences to mend with fans.
Thanks again for the questions and look for part in the next day or so.