The Sabres announced their hire of Penguins Associate GM Jason Botterill today, ending week-long speculation that he had the job sewed up. All the Sabres were waiting for was the wrap up of Pittsburgh’s second round series, which ended last night with the Penguins casually ripping out Washington’s hearts yet again in a Game Seven. Here are some quick hits on Tim Murray’s replacement atop the Sabres:
He’s a former Sabre
Botterill was picked 20th overall in the 1994 draft, but never really took off as an NHLer, eventually settling as an above average AHLer. He spent his last three seasons in the league in Buffalo’s organization, mostly with the Rochester Americans, but did manage to get 36 games with the big club. His familiarity with the area likely helped him in the interview process, and it might portend good things for the Amerks, a team that has struggled in the past decade.
Terry Likes Pennsylvania
Botterill has spent the last ten years working for the Penguins, rising through the ranks from wonky salary cap and contracts work to a full-on associate GM with scouting responsibilities. While his business acumen – he got an MBA from the “Ivy of the Big Ten,” Michigan – may have swayed businessman Pegula, Botterill’s work with a premier organization from Terry’s home state also seems like another key factor. Anyone applying for a job with Pegula ought to put Pennsylvania as their home address, just in case.
Tim Murray was a Goner, and Russ is Meddling
The Buffalo News is reporting that the Penguins were asked about releasing Botterill for an interview before the team met with Tim Murray and officially fired him. Who made the call to the Penguins? None other than (*shaking my fist at the sky*) Team President Russ Brandon! So it seems that the firing of Murray wasn’t something that Pegula decided during his meeting with Murray, and that the wheels were in motion right after the season ended. Another great business-only move from the business-only team president Russ Brandon!
Despite All That, It’s a Good Hire
If Botterill were a more successful Sabre, this would seem like a fan-placating “bring a former player back” move. If the Penguins weren’t so good, Pegula’s Pennsylvania fixation would seem weird. And the Russ Brandon thing, well, that makes me uneasy no matter what. But Botterill is highly regarded in hockey circles and was one of the better candidates out there.
To anyone saying that anyone could win Stanley Cups with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a bunch of plugs, well, no, they couldn’t – the team underwent a significant transformation over the past couple of seasons, committing to speed and emphasizing quality up and down the roster. This seems to be the way the league is moving, so it’s good to get one of the architects of one of the more successful teams of this era.
Tim Murray seemed to want to build an LA Kings East, a team that surrounded skill with big, “tough to play against” guys in the bottom six. That made the Sabres a by and large slow team, especially when combined with Dan Bylsma’s breakout system. I think Botterill will swing the other way, prioritizing speed and skill across the roster, which, if it doesn’t work immediately, will at least be exciting.
The To-Do List
Get some defensemen. That’s really going to be the most important thing for Botterill to tackle as he takes the reins. The Penguins have been able to build up a pretty good D-corps, even if they’re struggling a bit this postseason with the absence of Kris Letang. If Botterill targets the same type of defensemen that the Penguins have collected – mobile guys who can make a tape-to-tape breakout pass or lead the rush on their own – the Sabres will be in good shape. Otherwise, Botterill will have to decide if he wants to keep Robin Lehner, Murray’s pet project, in goal, and find some more depth for the forward group.
Two seasons ago, the Penguins had Crosby and Malkin and decided to trade for Phil Kessel, which gave them three scary scoring lines come playoff time. The Sabres have 5 solid forwards in Eichel, O’Reilly, Kane, Reinhart and, if healthy, Okposo. Either Alex Nylander steps up, Tyler Ennis returns to form (as we say every offseason) or the Sabres go and get another top-end forward. When you can spread those guys around the lineup and surround them with cheap, fast, and oftentimes young talent, you’re in business.
The draft is coming up soon; that, along with some early free-agent / entry level contract signings, will be our first indication of the direction Botterill wants to take this franchise as it attempts to make the step to playoff contender.