It has happened.
The thing that Pens fans and quite a few media members have wrung hands and worried about for years has come to pass. Long-time Pittsburgh Penguins assistant/associate/literally every title but General Manager Jason Botterill has been snapped up. It seemed like the kind of thing that was only a matter of time, barring a sudden retirement from current General Manager Jim Rutherford, and it has come to pass.
We had heard rumblings as early as a week ago and yesterday the news came out from a pretty credible source (though none of us paid any attention because of that little thing called Game 7 last night) that Botterill was going to be the new GM of the Buffalo Sabres.
Then, this morning it was made official:
Jason Botterill will no longer serve as capologist, developer, and a general all-around smart guy for the Penguins. Now, he will run his own team, a task that he’s likely been ready for since 2014. This is sad news, obviously, because part of the team that assembled the greatness that has been the Pittsburgh Penguins over the past 18 months is now gone. But, it’s not earth shattering.
It almost felt like the Penguins expected this. When they extended Jim Rutherford last summer Botterill began to get increasingly long looks by other teams looking for new GMs. He was close to getting the Las Vegas GM job. And now he’s gotten this one. So what’s next?
Well for now at least there isn’t too much next. Mostly because the Penguins are still playing. Hard to move on or look to the future when your team is actively still chasing the current season’s crown.
Rutherford has said he will work with his current staff members of Bill Guerin (Assistant General Manager), Jason Karmanos (Vice President of Hockey Operations), and Mark Recchi (Lead Player Development Coach) first. He wants to see what roles they may potentially be set to fill before hiring anyone else. Honestly, this is the best path. These three have seen and know what the organization wants. Remember too that Guerin had Recchi’s job before being promoted to Assistant GM so perhaps they promote Recchi and then bring in a new guy in player development.
This is also important because oftentimes in these situations former members of management will cherrypick. Botterill might already have the names of a few staff members he’d like to snag for Buffalo. What better way to keep them home than to offer them added responsibilities they get to help pick? Hard to think of one.
This does make one thing readily clear, if it wasn’t already – Bill Guerin is the new heir apparent. Rumblings of this being the case and ownership liking him and wanting to keep him around have been whispered around the NHL since 2014. His inclusion on the staff choosing the IIHF World Championship Team representing the USA also hinted at this. Guerin is working to being one of the next big names and don’t be surprised if Rutherford and Lemieux are already putting it in his ear that they think he’s their next guy.
Moving past the hiring itself there are other rumors surrounding the Penguins and Sabres this off-season. Word is Botterill already has his eyes on a few Penguins-affiliated coaching options. Rick Tocchet and Jacques Martin currently roam the Penguins bench alongside Mike Sullivan. But Botterill looks very interested in offering one of them his own bench soon. Tocchet makes more sense here when we consider it appears the new-look Sabres will be modeled after the Penguins with a possession and forward-moving approach. Besides, Tocchet would love to get another chance to helm his own team. Again, don’t lose too much sleep over this Pens fans, the sky isn’t falling.
Remember, while Tocchet and Sullivan had a history when they began work together – Sullivan didn’t invite his staff to the team. He had no hand in their hiring. They were already here when Sullivan was promoted. They have worked together well and have been wildly successful, but a man like Sullivan surely could choose a few deputies of his own quite readily and who doesn’t want to join a team with a guy making a name for himself as one of the premier NHL coaches in the game right now?
This is the end of an era in the Penguins organization. Botterill has been around since the Penguins first of three trips to the Stanley Cup Final in 2008. He’s been instrumental in tearing down, building up and rebuilding on the fly one of the best teams in the league, but he wasn’t the only one. I mean, maybe I’m crazy but the guy who is currently running the team that just secured it’s second consecutive trip to the Eastern Conference Final isn’t really bad, is he?