Jason Botterill Interview – The Howard Simon Show (5/17/19)

The Howard Simon Show (9:30 a.m.)
WGR 550

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/05-17-sabres-general-manager-jason-botterill-howard-and-jeremy (18:05)

Jeremy White: You mentioned in your press conference that Ralph Krueger would meet soon in Slovakia, maybe, with Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] over at the World Championship.

Jason Botterill: Yeah, it’s just going to be a situation where I head back over on Sunday to continue my duties with Team Canada. Obviously, when we get there, just going to sit down with Ralph for about four or five days, go over different things, get things prepared for the summer here. Also, it’ll be a great opportunity to sit down with both Jack and Sam. It would have been Brandon [Montour] also, being over there, but unfortunately, Brandon sustained an injury and had to come back.

JW: You know those players at this point a little bit better than [Krueger] does. Did you have conversations with them before the hire, you know, maybe exit interviews? You’re mentioning those two are going to meet and talk with the coach. Maybe you know what to expect from them. What have they said to you about the state of the franchise, about what maybe needs to be different, that you might expect them to impart on Ralph?

JB: Well we always go through exit meetings at the end of the year, but most of our exit meetings are discussing their own individual play, and what needs to change from their standpoint moving forward, what they felt was good. Both those players, specifically, I thought had outstanding seasons and they did change things last summer in their training and their thought process and preparation for the season, which I thought was outstanding. When we did go through the process of changing the coach, that was more of a management situation. That was a discussion with Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself. But there’s been a little bit of feedback from our players and they’re certainly excited from what they’ve heard from their fellow colleagues throughout the National Hockey League that played under Ralph in Edmonton. I think, as I said in my press conference, from day one, these players are going to realize the passion that Ralph has right off the bat, the enthusiasm he has for the game and just how focused he is on helping their development and our team’s development.

JW: When you think about the job that’s ahead of Ralph Krueger and you, I think there’s something interesting about the way the season played out. Back in the win streak, I think a lot of people knew you guys weren’t as good as that win streak, and down the stretch, when it was going poorly, I think there were a lot of numbers that indicated that you weren’t as bad as that — the save percentage, the PDO — it was so bad that it almost seemed like you couldn’t catch a break. I know things went poorly down the stretch, but did you have a similar evaluation of how it finished? The results were not good, but it was almost the reverse of the win streak. It ended up looking a lot worse than it was.

JB: I think you’re right. We were on a roller coaster through the year. As an organization, we have to have a lot more consistency to our game. I think when things are going really well, we have to continue to improve on different things. I think we got caught up a little bit in the emotion, the excitement of what was going around it, and not working on some of the holes that we did have in our game. Later on in the year, we needed more players, staff members — everyone in the organization needed to find a better way to stand up and when some of the losing streaks were at two or three games, we have to end it there. And we didn’t do a good enough job from that standpoint. As I’ve said before numerous times, winning in the second half in the National Hockey League, it’s a change, and I think we saw that right off the bat. We came out of the All-Star Break, played a game in Columbus, which was fine, but then we played Dallas in our second game and you could just see the physical nature of it. They really went after some of our good, young players in Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt from a physical standpoint. I think it really taught our guys a lesson that this is how you have to win, and these are going to be the type of games you’re going to play in the second half. I think, as disappointed as our players were at the end of the season, they’ve learned a lot from what they went through the entire year, and now it’s important that we don’t make those same mistakes next year.

JW: The answer to this might be “both.” Is it on those players, individually, to bulk up and become more mature, as they might just naturally, or is it about putting together a roster that maybe can withstand that kind of thing a little bit better?

JB: I think it’s a little bit of both, but it’s also…it’s not about size at all, it’s about compete. It’s about battle. You look at the playoffs in the National Hockey League, there are certainly strong, physical players, but it’s about getting to the front of the net. It’s about winning the battles in the front of the net in your own [defensive] zone. We have players that have enough size; it’s now just understanding how do you go into the corner and win battles. I go back to my own experiences being part of teams in Pittsburgh that played in 2008 and 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg would always come out of the corners with pucks. You have to find a way, whether it’s physical strength or using your skill, to win those one-on-one battles, and I think that’s something we have to continue to improve on as a team.

Howard Simon: On that note, what have you identified in terms of areas where you need to improve? You talked about “compete” and “battle.” As you do an overall breakdown of what this roster was, whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, whether it’s speed, whether it’s toughness, or any of the stuff you can go through on the list; what have you identified as areas where, “I need to make this roster better in these particular areas”?

JB: Well I think you just look at our depth scoring that’s been talked a lot about up front; we just relied too much on Jeff [Skinner], Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] for scoring this year. We have to look to bring in more talent from that end, and then we also have to continue to develop our own talent, whether it’s Casey Mittelstadt, whether it’s bringing up [Victor] Olofsson or [Alexander] Nylander. It’s Tage Thompson taking a step in his development. It’s Conor Sheary, who we think there’s more offense that he can provide there. But I think the areas that I mentioned before; in front of the net, we gave up way too many chances in our own defensive end. We have to learn to protect that area better. We have to learn to win our one-on-one battles in there a little bit more. And the same thing in the offensive zone. I thought we didn’t have enough shots right from that “red zone” area right in front of the net. You look at the playoffs, how tight it is, there’s always traffic out there…the goalies are that good. You’re going to have to get players to go there more and have more success there.

HS: Can you convince guys who didn’t do it enough to do it, or do you have to go out and get guys that do that?

JB: I think with young players you can always convince them. I think you see players evolve and learn from their experiences, and understand a little bit what it takes to have success in the league. So yeah, you can certainly teach that trait.

HS: You mentioned Casey Mittelstadt a moment ago. I’d love to get your thoughts; that’s a guy that everybody, I think, we look at and go, “Down the road at some point, hopefully [he’s] a top-two center with Eichel, and ‘boom’ you’re all set on your top two lines.” What did you see from him last season? Do you think he is — I don’t know how to phrase this — can you project him as a number-two [center], or it’s still too early and you’ve got to go find someone else to handle that role?

JB:  We continue to have high expectations for Casey. The great thing is that I know Casey does too. And I think sometimes you come in at the end of a year and you have a little bit of success offensively, like you did the year before, you sort of assume that that’s going to happen and carry over, and then you realize how difficult it is to sustain success over 82 games in the National Hockey League. What I did like a lot about Casey was his compete, his battle. He didn’t shy away from those difficult areas. But I did think he wore down as the season progressed. Especially in back-to-back situations; you look in February, March, April…I think he struggled there. Some of his best hockey, I thought, came after breaks, when there was a day off or something. So I think he still can take his conditioning to another level, and I think he’s focused on that this summer. I think his offensive creativity that he can bring will allow him to eventually go into that top-six role.

JW: The latest on Jeff Skinner; without negotiating in the media, how are you feeling, how should Sabres fans feel about it? And just as a natural off-shoot of that, do you and other people in the front office, as you try to chart the offseason and make plans, is there a contingency plan if he does not want to sign? Do you have a Plan A, do you have a Plan B, knowing there are multiple ways this thing could go?

JB: You always have to have different plans. The way this game operates, you have to have plans. We didn’t expect to have some of our defensemen such as Lawrence Pilut or [Zach] Bogosian to go down with injuries. You have to have different plans in place in case those situations arise. A contract is never done until you get it signed. But our discussions with Jeff have been extremely positive. I think it’s been a relationship that’s worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres and I think it’s a relationship that’s worked out very well for Jeff. Just as we went through the coaching search here, sometimes people get a little impatient, well we wanted to make sure we went through the process correctly. I think what’s going on with Jeff and ourselves right now is there was never going to be an extension announced before the coach was hired. The coach is now hired; we’ll continue our discussions there and get the chance to sit down with Jeff and go over things on how we see him fitting in and how Ralph is going to coach this team and how he’s going to interact with his players and his structure moving forward. And then hopefully we’ll find a way to get a deal done. But from our standpoint, our discussions with both Jeff and Newport Sports have been extremely positive.

HS: I know you said you don’t want to negotiate in the media, but let me ask you this: After he talks to Ralph Krueger and hopefully things go well on that, do you think you could still sign him before free agency or can you tell us at all if they’ve give you an indication, “Hey listen, he still wants to play there, he’s still interested in re-signing, but as long as we’re this close, we would at least like to see what’s going on in the market”?

JB: Look, I can’t mind-read them. All I can say is we’ll sit down with them. I think Ralph getting to know Jeff, and Jeff getting to know Ralph, is going to be an important part of the equation here moving forward.

JW: What about Johan Larsson? There was a conflicting report that he may be leaving. Do you have any update on what’s going on with Johan Larsson?

JB: No, from everything in our discussions with both Johan and his agency, with Newport Sports, there’s nothing to that report last week.

HS: One name who always sparks an interesting debate in Sabres Nation, if you will, is Rasmus Ristolainen. I’m not going to ask you, “Are you going to trade him?” because you wouldn’t answer my question anyway, but give me your evaluation. You’ve had two years to watch him play. Is he a guy that you think, “You know what, guys. He’s a top-two [defenseman]”? Or, “He’s a three-to-four [defenseman]. He’s not a 25-minute guy, he’s a 20-minute guy.” What is your honest evaluation of Rasmus Ristolainen and what you believe his value is to your team at this time?

JB: I think in today’s game, we put too much value on it. You talked a little bit about, “Where do you see Casey moving forward, top-six, top-nine, whatever it is.” I think what we’re trying to create here is a situation where we have four lines that can score. And I think the same thing is, from a defensive standpoint, you’re looking for sort of the top four. Whether they’re top-pairing or second-pairing guys, to me you’re looking for top-four guys that can handle different roles for you and play the bulk of the minutes on the back end. We certainly view [Ristolainen] in that category there. [Ristolainen’s] like anyone else; he has his faults, he has to continue to improve his game, just like so many of our other players. But what we’ve loved seeing him in action is when he’s in that matchup situation. I think about in the end of February, we played back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and Washington. He had the specific role of playing against [Nikita] Kucherov and playing against [Alex] Ovechkin. I think when he has that specific matchup, he does an amazing job with that. You’ve seen in the playoffs how the physical game is escalated. You think of what [Ristolainen] can do over a seven-game series; I think it can be very effective. It’s now our job to surround him with enough talent and enough skill to make sure we get into the playoffs.

HS: A follow-up on [Ristolainen]: You mentioned a moment ago, like every player, he has his flaws. He’s got 424 games in the NHL. When you reach 400-plus games, do you believe a player is who he is, and if he can get better, what do you think Ralph Krueger can do to help Ristolainen?

JB: I think players continually develop. Game played is not the big factor; to me, it’s age. Especially with [Ristolainen] in his mid-20s right now, there’s plenty of development still going on there. You look at — and these are elite defensemen — but you look at Nicklas Lidstrom, you look at Kris Letang, all these defensemen, it’s more in their late-20s, early-30s where they really, I think, come into their prime. There’s always an injury factor that you have to play into, but I think with most young players, there’s always an opportunity for growth, and certainly for defensemen. With Ralph coming into the equation, the biggest thing I think that he needs to continue to work with [Ristolainen] on is picking his sports and when to jump up in the rush, when to move the puck a little bit quicker in different scenarios, because I think at times he plays so many minutes, one of his assets of being able to support the rush and get up there, he just doesn’t have the energy to do it. So I’m going to continue to — as a whole with Ralph coming in, bringing a different structure and hopefully a little bit more of a structure — making it a little bit easier on our reads for some of our defense will hopefully help our entire group [of defensemen].

JW: Finally, before we let you go, are you allowed to tell us who you think is going to win the Cup? Do you have a prediction or just any thought, maybe, on these playoffs? You’ve had all four division winners get knocked out. Some would say it’s wide open, and it’s one of those years; [ESPN’s] Greg Wyshynski [on the Schopp and the Bulldog show] called it “a glitch.” This year’s just a wacky kind of year, so I don’t know if there’s anything you’ve got from the playoffs.

JB: I would just say it just goes to show the importance of finding a way to get in. If you get in, you have an opportunity — you have a chance. Maybe you don’t have the best team on paper, maybe throughout the course of 82 games, you weren’t the better team, but come a seven-game series, you have a chance. You look at a team like Boston, who are now in the Stanley Cup Final after last night, they have a great balance of veteran players and young players. They sustained some injuries on defense and they have the depth and they’re not the “Big Bad Bruins” on defense. They’re the active, mobile defensemen that they have back there. I do think you get to these situations with how physical the games have been, how emotional the games are. I do think the fact that they were able to finish it off in four games and give them a little bit of rest — whereas I do believe that St. Louis-San Jose series is going to go right down to the wire and both of those teams are coming off seven-game series from the previous round — I think a fresh Boston team is going to be very difficult to beat.

HS: The one thing I’m really curious, as a general manager, there have been two high-profile missed calls/apologies in the playoffs. The hand pass last night and the high stick in the San Jose-Vegas series. The next time the general managers get together, do you think there will be — or even should be — an expansion or something with video review to cover what’s happened?

JB: It’s a very, very difficult decision, because I agree you need to get it right. We need to find a way to get it right. Especially with the magnitude of these games — and we’ve talked already about the parity that’s in our league — these little plays have a huge impact on games and series. But you also look at what NCAA hockey did these past couple years with some of the reviews of hits to the head or hits from behind; it really slows down the games.

HS: Frozen Four games were stopping every five minutes, it felt like, at times.

JB: Exactly. I know people have strong opinions right now because of the emotions of the games, and teams’ seasons are ending over some of these calls, but if you go the other way and do everything and have all these delays, one of the best parts of our game is the speed of our game. The pace of our game. We don’t want to lose sight of that. I certainly believe there will be a lot of discussions, but to say that I have, “This is what we need to do moving forward,” I don’t have that perfect answer right now.

Jason Botterill Press Conference – Hiring of Ralph Krueger (5/15/19)

KeyBank Center (11 a.m.)

Jason Botterill Press Conference (20:22)

Opening Statement:

Good morning everyone, thank you very much for coming down. Before we begin, I just want to congratulate our Buffalo Bandits on an outstanding season, and certainly wish them all the best in Game 1 on Saturday night. As was released earlier this morning, we are extremely proud to announce Ralph Krueger as the 19th head coach in Buffalo Sabres history. Ralph is a great communicator and has a history of being a strong leader. He’s had the opportunity to be a head coach in the National Hockey League, World Championships, World Cup and Olympics. I think his past has shown that he has a great ability to interact with players and get the most of a group. As we went through this process, we felt Ralph was going to be a great fit to be the next head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Ralph would like to be here today. Obviously, he’s taking care of a personal matter in Europe right now. He’ll be with me next week when I return to Slovakia for the World Championship and he’ll have the opportunity to sit down and meet with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) over there. And probably after the combine, he’ll be coming in to Buffalo. He’ll be working with me through most of the month of June leading up to the Draft and free agency. Open to taking your questions here right now.

Q: Jason, what, I mean obviously it’s a different kind of experience than maybe what would be viewed as a conventional hire that he brings to the table, and you touched on it a little bit, but what makes him the best fit given his background? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: Well, I think when Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to start going over names on who we wanted to interview, who we wanted to do some background information, sort of checks on, we talked a lot about experience, we talked about NHL experience, but we also wanted to make sure we opened it up. Through this process, maybe it wasn’t always out in the media, but we looked at a lot of coaches that had NHL experience but also up-and-coming young coaches. We wanted to make sure that we just got the right person to come in here. And as we sat down with Ralph, we like what he has from an NHL background. The fact that he worked with Carolina as a consultant for five or six years while he was the head coach with Team Switzerland. We like the fact that he was on the bench for three years in Edmonton. But we also put a lot of stock into his experience at the World Championships, World Cup and at the Olympics. Those are high-pressure situations where you have to make adjustments, you have to make quick decisions. And he got results in those situations. And that’s what’s impressive from our standpoint. And when we did the follow up talking to different players who had worked under Ralph, they felt he was very good communicating with them, so that ability to get the most out of a group and communicate with a group, we felt was a very good fit for our situation here in Buffalo.

Q: In 2016, when you guys hired Phil (Housley), there were reports out there that you guys had talked with Ralph. What led to not going with Ralph then and what makes him the right fit to turn this franchise around now two years later? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: Well, it’s a situation where I did have some conversations with him back when I first got the job, but those conversations didn’t lead very far just because Ralph had the commitment to Southampton. It became evident that it wasn’t a situation where he could leave Southampton at that time. When we made the coaching change here in April, I did reach out to him again, and he remained interested in the situation and that’s where we began our discussions.

Q: Jason, with the experience Ralph’s had with Southampton, you know, being in the upper echelon of an organization, will you lean on him more than maybe you would have other coachea when you and Randy and Steve are making decisions? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Yes and no, Paul. I’m going to lean on him for sure, but I’ve done that as a general manager all the time. Same thing when I worked with Phil. I think the general manager and the coach need to talk about everything that goes on in the organization. There needs to be that communication daily of what are we looking at? What type of players are we looking to bring in to the organization? What players do we need to make adjustments on? To keep that communication going there. And when I sit down with Ralph, going through this process, I felt at ease and that’s part of why I felt very comfortable making him the head coach. I think our level of communication is going to be very strong.

Q: There were reports that Ralph, if he returned to the NHL, he wanted be in management. Did you have to do any convincing? Did you go in knowing that he might not even want to be a coach anymore? How did that work out when you first approached him? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: In all our discussions, it was always about coaching. Certainly with Ralph’s resume, I know he had other opportunities. And that’s what gets us excited is that he wanted to come here. And he wanted to be part of our group here. And as much as he has a unique resume, you look at it, he is a kid from Manitoba who loves the game of hockey. And I think he’ll talk to you a little bit here later, is that he loves coaching. He has a passion about being a teacher.

Q: Ralph has some NHL experience, but he’s probably not a name that the casual hockey fan is super familiar with. What does he bring to the table from a strictly coaching standpoint? What are the things that he does well that made him such an intriguing candidate for you guys? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: I think the ability to get he most out of his group. You look at, going back, I was at the 2006 Olympics in Torino watching my sister actually play, and I was in the building when Team Switzerland knocked off Team Canada. That was a shocking upset. And I think the biggest sign of respect is eight years later, when Team Canada was putting together their 2014 Olympic team, they wanted Ralph to be a part of that. They wanted to utilize him as a resource. You look at the coaches that were on that staff, that’s a very impressive staff. I think that’s a huge sign of respect right there. And I think that’s also going to allow Ralph to make this adjustment back to the National Hockey League that much quicker. Because he’s kept those relationships with all those coaches. You look at that team back in 2014, you look at the coaches that he’s interacted with with Team Europe, he’s kept that dialogue going with them. And sometimes when you’re not working in the National Hockey League, people actually talk to you a lot more and give you more advice. I think Ralph has actually learned a lot from all those interactions over the last couple of years.

Q: Ralph has obviously not been a head coach for an entire 82-game NHL schedule. How do you sort of strike that balance where you like the skill set but how is it going to translate to an NHL season? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: I think the fact that he’s at least been on a staff in Edmonton for a couple of years that have been through an entire 82 games is certainly something that he learned a lot from. And that’s something that he brought up a lot. I also think that it’s important that we surround him with a good coaching staff that can help him out through those processes. But the thing that we kept on coming back to were those high-pressure situations that he’s been involved with and he’s excelled in those environments. Trying to figure out different ways to motivate your team over 82 games, there’s certainly something there. The fact that he can bring a group together, the fact that he can motivate a team in high-pressure situations was very intriguing for us.

Q: How would you describe his style? You mentioned that he gets the most out of players. How does he do that? Because that can be tricky for a lot of coaches with the modern player as the league is now. What does he bring to the table in that regard? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I think you look at what he accomplished in Edmonton there with a young group, trying to play more offensive, he had success implementing a more up-tempo style that’s going to be aggressive all over. And that’s what we’ve talked a lot about, with using our main asset, which is young players who have speed. That’s what we’re going to try to do, whether it’s on the forecheck, backcheck, pressure all over the ice. I brought it up a little bit about his interactions with Team Switzerland, pulling off upsets. I think he also adapts to the group. So once he gets in here, once he relates to players and understands, he has an ability to see, hey, what he can get the most out of, what type of style he can play that’s eventually going to give the best results for the Buffalo Sabres.

Q: You mentioned he’s a great teacher and a great communicator. How pivotal was that knowing that this is still, I guess, relatively a young group age-wise, not necessarily games-wise, that they’ve played, but how pivotal was that to get a guy who could maybe relate to players and communicate maybe a little more effectively with the younger players? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: When Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to sort of put together a list of the qualities of the coach and sort of put together a coaching list, those attributes were right at the very top. We understand that where we want to go as an organization, allowing some of our young players to make that jump from Rochester to Buffalo is going to be key. But as I’ve sat up here before and talked to you, a big part of our success is going to be the development of Rasmus Dahlin. The development of Jack Eichel. The development of Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt. Players who are already at the National Hockey League level. We’re going to expect Ralph to communicate well with them, expect Ralph to help their development to move along here for our organization to get to the next step.

Q: His international experience is pretty well-known. How important was it to have a coach to have that sort of knowledge given the make up of a lot of your organization having guys from all across the world?  (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: I think it helps, but it gets back to the previous question. Our main focus was just trying someone that can communicate with our young players, that can get the most out of our young players moving forward here. Is it an added benefit that he’s been in the international scene a little bit and understands a little bit more, whether it’s his time coaching in Austria, coaching in Switzerland, being in England? Certainly. That’s a benefit that he can maybe get and build a stronger personal relationship with some of our European players. We think that’s an important element to get that relationship with our players no matter whether they’re from Europe or they’re from North America.

Q: Jason, as you move forward this summer, first I’d like to ask you what happened to Brandon Montour and how’s he doing? But in conjunction with that, you’ve got two defensemen who may or may not be ready by opening night, we don’t know. As you now talk trades or as you build this team, do you keep that in mind or are you more focused on the long term, that hey, the trade might help us long term. It may in the month of October hurt us, as we’re getting healthier, so how do you view it as you move forward now and I wanted to ask about Brandon. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: Brandon obviously sustained an injury in Team Canada’s last game, which was very disappointing. It was the first time that Brandon had the opportunity to wear the maple leaf and represent his country and I know he had a lot of excitement being over there and a lot of pride. He’s on his way back to Buffalo here actually right now, will see our doctors. We don’t believe it’s long term, but it will be something that we can give you a better idea and a more accurate description later on this week. From the standpoint of (Zach) Bogosian and (Lawrence) Pilut both having offseason surgery, you have to make sure you have a plan to at least start the season off, because it will be important, as any season is, to have a good start. But we’re looking long term here. If something comes up that helps our team throughout the course of the second half next year or even beyond that, we’ll certainly look at that. We like how some of our young defensemen this past year, like a Will Borgen. We have Jacob Bryson and we have Casey Fitzgerald joining our organization. We think that there is a situation where they could possible push for jobs at the start of the year. Does it mean that they’re going to be able to help us over the course of 82 games? That’s a big step for young players. But we certainly think they can help us at the start of the year.

Q: As you mentioned, you talked to quite a few people and interviewed people. When in the process did he really rise to the top? And as you mentioned he communicates well with players. What in your personal communication stood out? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: I went back to two years ago, just the ease that our dialogue went through and how we sort of viewed how the game should be played, how you should go about, how the interaction between the general manager and head coach should be. And how that should then go on to the players. Ralph did come in to Buffalo at the end of April. He actually spent a weekend here and went to a lot of different establishments and I guess was a little bit undercover. I don’t think that will be able to happen as he moves on here. But no, he was very excited about the city, about our dialogues and then also getting to know the Pegulas too. It was a situation where within the last week, just going through a timeframe here, last week we furthered our discussions and we came to sort of a verbal agreement last week. I did notify the other candidates last week too that we were going to go in another direction. And then obviously made the announcement here today.

Q: What traits, specifically, about Ralph, make him a great communicator? You’ve referenced as one of his strongest traits. What specifically makes him a strong communicator? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News)

A: I think you’ll sit down with him and you’ll get a feel for it. There’s an energy to him right off the bat. And I think players are going to feel a comfort with him. I think he does find out, gets to know players on a personal level, understands when a player needs some positive reinforcement and when someone needs a little push. And when we talked to some of the players that had worked under Ralph, some star players in the National Hockey League that have worked under Ralph there, that was some of the things that they talked about, and just, they felt that, whether it was practice drills, looking through video, he was looking for innovative ways to help them improve as players. And there was a real buy-in from the players that this guy cared about them and that this guy wanted the best, not only for them individually, but for the team. And I think when players feel that, it’s a buy-in from both sides.

Q: Jason, the Jeff Skinner situation obviously continues. You guys have done that mostly behind the scenes, but how much of that kind of had to grind to a halt here until you had a coach, and how much now is it imperative for Ralph to quickly build a relationship with him maybe before anyone else on the roster if you want to be able to keep him on this club? (Mike Harrington – Buffalo News)

A: Well, understandably, I think anyone, if you’re going to sign a long-term contract with an organization, you kind of want to know who the head coach is. So we’ve kept in dialogue with Jeff, and certainly made him aware of who we were going to name here as a head coach today, just as we did with a lot of our leadership group. But yeah, just as it’s important next week for Ralph to touch base with Jack and Sam over a the World Championship, it’s going to be very important for him to build the relationship with Jeff and make sure that he feels comfortable of what our plan is moving forward here, both as a team and an organization but where we see Jeff fitting into the mix.

Q: How far back does your relationship date with Ralph, Jason, and I guess how much did that relationship sort of, that familiarity kind of help? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: So there are some unique touch points, but to be honest that we’re long-lost friends or anything, no. Not at all. There’s a private school in Winnipeg, St. John’s Ravenscourt, and my father was a teacher there and I believe was Ralph’s fifth-grade teacher way back in the early ’70s. But over the years, I didn’t know Ralph. There wasn’t that personal relationship there. When I did get the job, obviously I had heard about Ralph’s name, just in the hockey ranks. When I did get this job, Jim Rutherford certainly recommended that I speak with him and spoke very highly of his interaction with Ralph during the time that he was a consultant in Carolina. That sort of led to my initial discussion with him a couple of years ago.

Q: Did you guys ever speak with Joel Quenneville? (Frank Wolf – From the 300 Level)

A: I’m not going to go through individual guys that we went through, just out of sheer respect. What I would like to say just is that we started the process off, Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself, and we tried to go through an extensive list. I really appreciate a lot of teams, that I never had one team that didn’t allow me to speak with their employee. I respect the fact that a lot of these teams kept it very quiet from that aspect, so that’s why I’m not going to get into each individual that we talked to just from that standpoint. But certainly we really appreciate how some teams kept things quiet as we moved forward here.

Q: I just wanted to ask you about Chris Taylor as far as if he’s ready to become maybe an assistant in the NHL? Obviously he’s not your head coach, so he may still need some development coaching. Would you rather see him still be in Rochester developing your youngsters or would you maybe like to see him as an assistant on your big club? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: That’s a good question. I think those are questions we’ll continue to talk to Chris about. I think right now he’s really enjoying being the head coach and getting that experience. And I think that’s probably best for his development moving forward here. He had the opportunity to be an assistant coach in both Rochester and Wilkes Barre for a good period of time and now is really relishing being the head guy down there. We certainly talked about Chris through this process. What we have going on in Rochester right now, what Chris and Randy are developing down there is one of the strengths of our organization. When we hired Chris, we were excited about it and we think he’s done an excellent job down there the last couple of years.

Q: Jason, it’s probably fair to say recent years have tested fans patience around here, and obviously a lot of pieces still have to come into place. Where are you, as general manager, setting the bar in terms of results in the immediate future? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: Look, no team every comes in going we’re going to work hard this year and we’re building towards next year. You always want to win. And in a lot of our exit interviews with our players this year, we realized that. They got a taste of it. Just like our fans got a taste of it in November and December, our players got a taste of it and they want more of it. And that’s what we are right now. You see the parity that’s in the National Hockey League right now, there’s no reason why we cant be in that discussion. We should be in the discussion for playoffs. And once you get in the playoffs, as you see what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, you always have an opportunity. Now, are we there? Certainly not. Our results speak for itself the last couple years. But we believe hiring Ralph, development of some of our young players, the adjustments and changes we’re going to make to the team this summer, will put us in a position where we’re in that discussion next year.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Schopp & The Bulldog (5/15/19)

Schopp & the Bulldog (3:30 p.m.)
WGR 550

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/5-15-ralph-krueger-schopp-bulldog (12:09)

 

Bulldog: It’s interesting to both of us that you were speaking to the fan base in public, not in public like on the radio like you have been today and again with us now, but when you were here a few weeks ago. The first thought I had when hearing about that was what those people are thinking now. Like, if thinking back on it they’re like, “Boy, I think I talked to the new Sabre coach last week.” Tell me about your motivation for wanting to do that and what you were seeking and what you found.

Ralph Krueger: Well, most importantly for me was to feel the heartbeat of the city. I’ve been following the Sabres since I was a kid growing up in Manitoba, and I’ve been to the city a few times when I was with Edmonton coaching, and I understand the passion and the history that’s there. But I wanted to feel a little bit what the market was saying, so I went two nights in a row I had some free time and watched two NHL playoff games in six different locations. So between periods, I’d walk around, sit beside somebody at a bar or in a booth, and chat about the Buffalo Sabres. I just wanted to hear a little bit what the public is saying. But overall, you could feel the passion and you could feel the belief in the core of the team. It was just part of walking up all the way through Allentown and Elmwood and everything and just seeing what the city’s like and the different personalities and the different hot spots. It was good; it was a good feel and I enjoyed the adventure.

Mike Schopp: What stage of your negotiations with the Sabres were you at at that point. Did they know you were doing that?

RK: Yes, they did. I had a meeting with Kim and Terry Pegula one of the mornings after, and Jason [Botterill] and I had a couple of days of meetings and that was near the end of April. It was a good way for me — they gave me some free space and some free time, and you know, walk along the water — just to look at the architecture in the city and some of the history. I love the size of the city. It’s the kind of environment my wife and I feel comfortable in. We’re not — I  mentioned it today to the media already — we’re not really “big city” people. It’s got a good feel and a good size. I like the artsy development that’s going on and the renovations of a lot of the areas. So that’s a side — I think it’s really important as a balancer. The hockey is, of course the number one magnet. The facilities that are in and around KeyBank Center are outstanding and that’s the place where you want to spend your time, but you need to have balance as a coach and you need to know that there’s a good spot for your wife to be in. I feel good about that.

BD: When your name came up two years ago, it seemed like an intriguing idea, but I sort of lost hope about it right away because you sounded — and it read like — you had unfinished business with Southampton. So when it came up again this year, I was thinking of the Pierre LeBrun piece [in The Athletic], where you talked about maybe more of a president-type, an executive-type role, as opposed to coaching. What changed over the course of –I think that interview was from early April — what changed from then to now?

RK: Well Pierre spoke to me about three or four days after I made the decision public to end my time in the Premier League in Southampton. Quite honestly, I really opened up the viewfinder after that. There were opportunities, of course, in Europe of many sorts. There were a few approaches quite quickly out of the National Hockey League, and the one that interested me and intrigued me was the conversations with Jason. And I have to tell you that Jason Botterill very quickly woke the coach in me again. I’ve been a head coach for 25 years on many different platforms. I could feel the passion and probably having been away from being a coach a few years has refreshed me. And truly, I was quite clear. I remember one meal with my wife shortly after where I just said to her, “This is what’s exciting me the most. This is where my heart’s beating the highest.” So I pursued the conversations with Jason and all the boxes were ticked back-to-back-to-back and we have this end result, which I’m looking forward to stepping into that role beginning today.

MS: So the connection between yourself and Jason Botterill and his father became known here in the last few days, and then again it was brought out more today. To what extent did that maybe manifest during the season, or as Botterill is running the Sabres the last two years? Were you in contact with him about the Sabres through that, or is this really more just once the opening came to be that you sort of re-connected with him, which is closer to the reality?

RK: The only context we had was really on a personal level to congratulate each other whenever something good was happening with our teams. Otherwise, the contact did not pick up until Jason had made the decision here to go with a new head coach this season. Then everything just happened organically and naturally after that. Our communication is really open. I can feel the common culture and I can feel the vision that is in the club already and the culture that has been instilled by Jason here, which I embrace and only want to build on. It happened quickly, it’s happened instinctively and naturally, and I think that’s the best way for something like this to happen.

BD: I have a feeling what I’m about to ask is something that you could probably write a long, maybe even a book about; maybe you already have. But as best we can in just a few minutes, as far as coaching goes, there’s motivating, there’s extracting the best out of each member of the team that you’re working with, and then there’s systems, and there’s X’s and O’s and tactics. How much of a balance do you feel you have in that? Do you have a strength in one area versus the other and a weakness?

RK: Well, first of all, I definitely build a coaching team. So the coaches will all have a voice at all times. Ultimately, I have to make the final decisions and I’m fine with that. I love the coaching on the bench and enjoy being spontaneous and adaptable according to the performance of players. But I definitely love to use my staff and strengthen the game that we can offer the players through that personnel. But myself, I believe that every single thing has it’s time and every single thing has its importance, so I believe that motivation and structure of getting the group connected off the ice is first and foremost as we build our tactics, which should then show the same unity on the ice. The physicality is something I’ve learned a lot more about being in the Premier League these last six years, and the sports science that we’ve been doing there, I look forward to bringing more of it into our physical preparation. The technical side of a hockey player needs to be worked on continuously. I don’t think there’s ever a time when a player’s finished with his development. One of the challenges I like to do is spend time on technical development on a daily basis. So it’s every component, really, that I like to focus on, but I will use my personnel to help me in putting it into play. Even the physical fitness guys, the fitness coaches, the physiotherapist will be involved with the pre-activation. More than just the coaches will have a role pre-, post- and within training. I think you’re getting a feel –I can probably write a book — but I don’t believe that any head coach is 100 percent expert on anything. Putting those pieces together in the right balance at the write time is what, in the end, will define you as a winning or a losing coach. My job will be to try my very best to get that right.

MS: Well, I mean, in Western New York you’ve certainly got, in the spirit of these comments, Scotty Bowman, for starters. There are a lot of wins in the area, with him or John Muckler. It’s part of Buffalo’s proud history with hockey. The Sabres have asked us to keep this to 10 minutes and we’re there; I just want to tell you quickly, I was out last night and I ran into Nate Oates, the departing University at Buffalo men’s basketball coach, who lives on Grand Island, where I do. Not because we knew you were about to be hired, but he did just happen to tell me, “My house is for sale.” It’s nice, by the way. It’s about as good as you can do, if that interests you.

RK: [Laughs] I think I’m going to probably end up somewhere in the heart of the city. I’m a walking guy, too. Tell him thanks for the offer.

RK: I look forward to meeting you live and I also send my very best wishes to the fans of the Sabres. I look forward to communicating very openly with them about what we’re all up to and how we’re going to build the team into a squad that they’re going to enjoy looking at.

Ralph Krueger Interview – The Instigators (5/15/19)

The Instigators (11:45 a.m.)
WGR 550

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/05-15-new-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-instigators (14:18)

Andrew Peters: Welcome to Buffalo, welcome to The Instigators Mr. Krueger. What’s the first order of business?

Ralph Krueger: The first order of business was to do your program. No, it’s good to hear you and it’s always excellent to begin a coaching job with players on the other end of the phone. That’s a nice start.

Martin Biron: Well one of the players that you coached and you’ve known for a long time is Thomas Vanek and we had him right away at the top of the show and he had nothing but good things to say about you. Tell us a little bit about your experience through your hockey world and coaching and your playing days as well.

RK: Well more than anything I’ve been living in Europe most of my adult life but I began my career in hockey as a three-year-old walking onto an outdoor rink just outside of Winnipeg. Hockey has always remained my love and I’ve just been able to grow and develop as a human being through all different stages of playing as a professional, coaching, even had a player-coaching gig at the beginning for a couple of years. I’ve definitely gone the multiple destination route all over the map in hockey but always staying close to the game and trying to get better every day as a leader and as a coach. I’m excited now to put all that experience into play in Buffalo.

Craig Rivet: How long is it going to take before you start to reach out to the players on the team? I’m sure that they’re extremely excited with a new coach coming aboard. How long before you start reaching out to each guy on the team? 

RK: Well I’ll be meeting with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) in Slovakia next week. Our season just ended in the U.K. last weekend so I have some things to clean up but I’ll be in Slovakia and be able to watch Sam and Jack and speak to them. Sadly, Brandon (Montour) got hurt and won’t be there anymore, but in the weeks that follow I’ll be reaching out to each individual player and begin that process of understanding what their motivations are, how we can maximize their abilities and their potential. That’s going to be my job and I really look forward to picking up with the players in the next few weeks here.

AP: What does that conversation sound like, look like when you talk to players like Jack and Sam?

RK: Well, first of all I’m going to do a lot of listening. Jack is now an experienced National Hockey League player, Sam has been there a few years now too and I think it’s important to listen first and foremost and then to process. I need to make sure that the staff, the coaching staff is ready to go when we blow the whistle for our first training camp practice and we’ve got four months to get all the information that we need to be able to do that. Of course I’ll be letting them know what’s important to me, but I want to feel what’s been working for them. I want to feel where they see our assets as an organization, as a hockey club. And I’ll be tapping into that experience first and foremost before I formulate the final plan that the players will then be feeling when we go to training camp.

MB: How much attention were you paying to the National Hockey League in the last three years here since we saw you last on the bench at the World Cup for Team Europe? How close have you been paying attention and how much work will it take for you to get up to speed with what’s going on around the whole National Hockey league? 

RK: Well the good thing, Marty, is  my experience, especially in the last decade, took me very close to a lot of NHL head coaches and that relationship has stayed on a permanent communication basis. So I’ve got friends all over the league, quite a few actually in our division, which is a good thing. They’ve been quite open with me. I take the example of the Olympic Games in 2014, where we had Babcock leading a group of (Ken) Hitchcock, Lindy Ruff, Claude Julien and myself. The communication that went on there for one year where everybody put everything out on the table and the discussions were really open. Discussions of that nature have stayed on. I had Paul Maurice and Brad Shaw at the World Cup in 2016. We’ve become very close friends and are permanently communicating with each other. So all over the league I’ve got people, Jon Cooper down in Tampa and so on, who really are friends through my experience and it’s been helpful. I have to tell you the truth, even while I was in the Premier League, my startup site, every single morning, was  NHL.com and always watching games, highlights in my free time. So the connection has been tight. My son is a professional hockey player too now, playing in Switzerland. Whether internationally or in the National Hockey League, it’s remained my passion. It’s remained the favorite place for me to go and so my connections have been deep. But that’s a good question and I need to work really hard through the summer to make sure I’m completely up to speed on the personnel of our opposition.

AP: We talk a lot on this show about team identity. Do you have an idea of what kind of identity you want your team to have?

RK: Well, first and foremost, I’m the head coach of the Buffalo Sabres because Jason Botterill has been reaching out to me of late and especially when I made it clear that it was time for me to get back into hockey, our conversations just flowed so naturally and were so strong. The culture that Jason wants his organization, his players, his team to look like completely is in line with what I believe in. And then when I met Terry and Kim Pegula, I have to tell you the Pegulas are really, really clearly the people that finalized my decision to come here when I look at the culture that they want to see in the club. So those things are really important and then my job will be to drive that culture into the dressing room, into the players. And people should feel it when we play Buffalo Sabres hockey that there’s an identity there that people respect and that we are competitive every single night. And I look forward to bringing into the front, that will be my job.

CR: I had the opportunity to play under nine different NHL coaches in my time and when I look back to those coaches, you spoke of Claude Julien, you spoke of Lindy Ruff. I had a lot of other great coaches and one thing I realized is that in each and every coach, those guys were only as good as the guys that they surrounded themselves with. And that’s talking about the assistant coaches and guys that the head coach speaks with and build game plans and environment and everything else. Have you had an opportunity or do you have anybody in mind of who you plan on bringing on to your staff?

RK: I can’t really bring any names on the table. I will be contacting the assistants that were with the Sabres this year and will be reaching out to some candidates that I have had experience with. Again, I’m the type of leader that also likes to surround myself with people that are ready to ask hard questions and challenge me on a daily basis. That’s going to be important as we go forward, that we have a real, honest staff environment where everybody is involved and everybody has a voice. The important thing for me will be to find a group that has different strengths that brings assets to the table that are unique and not just one tone through the coaching staff. So that search will begin and Jason and I will be working very tight on building that team. We’re not in a big rush; I think if we have it set by the development camp it would be a good goal to have, to have your entire coaching staff in place. So we’re going to take our time and get it right rather than get it quick.

AP: You had Steve Smith in Edmonton; how influential was he, if at all, with your decision to come here?

RK: Steve, I’m sure, gave an opinion to Jason which didn’t hurt, because I’m here.

AP: I didn’t know if maybe you had any dialogue with him at all or anything.

RK: No, I’m the kind of person, I didn’t make a lot of calls. I like to make my own impression, to tell you the truth. I didn’t reach out to a lot of people. I came into Buffalo undercover a few weeks ago and walked the streets for five, six hours on one day and three hours the next. I enjoyed the passion of the people. I asked people about hockey, I watched two playoff games. I’m not going to mention the pubs I was in, but it was really interesting. I asked people about the Sabres, I asked them how they were feeling about the potential of the group and what I felt was a passion for the game. I really like the size of the market. I’m more a smaller-city person than a big-city person personally, but also, I know the history of the Sabres. I grew up loving to watch the way they played and I can feel the passion for the fan base and the hunger for something good to happen here. I’d love to see that happening when I think of those people who now won’t be able to talk to me in the pub anymore. It’s certainly the right time to go to a fabulous hockey market.

MB: The last few years here in Buffalo, the fans have been patient. Obviously Jason Botterill has talked about progression and wanting to see this group progress, play meaningful games in March and April. But everything really, it comes down to playoffs. What is your goal, realistically, for this group moving forward right from the first year?

RK: Well it’s a little early to make big promises, but no question that I have taken this job with the belief that we can become a contender very quickly and that we need to be in the mix. I know Jason and I have spoken about that a lot. I was part of a rebuild in Edmonton and this is not a rebuild. This team is ready to go to another level of competitiveness and we need to get into that mode really quickly. I think that my life as a coach really predominately was at World Championships, Olympics, World Cups and I coached over 17 tournaments at that level, 18 actually all together. Every game in those tournaments was like a playoff game, every game was important and mattered and I think that’s what we want to be. A club that very quickly is playing hockey in games that matter right through the season into April and then beyond. I can tell you that a defined goal, it would be too early to speak about, but the general feeling is let’s become competitive quickly and let’s become a contender quickly.

Ralph Krueger Introductory Conference Call (5/15/19)

Ralph Krueger Introductory Conference Call (12:30 p.m.)

https://sabresdigitalpressbox.com/2019/05/15/ralph-krueger-introductory-conference-call/ (24:42)

 

Q: Talk about the factors, from your perspective, the main ones that led to your decision to accept this job. (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: First and foremost was the very natural communication together with Jason Boterill. I think when you look at this point in my career, it’s extremely important the people I’m going to be working with and for. When Jason and I began the conversation a couple of years ago, it just had a natural flow to it. When we picked it up at that point, when I was deciding to move back to the game of hockey, he really embodied a lot of the things I care about. His culture that he’s driving into the Sabres was important. When I then met Terry and Kim Pegula a few weeks ago, the culture at the top was confirmed; the path that they would like to go down, the way people are treated and the passion they have for the city of Buffalo, but also for the game of hockey through the Sabres. The key reasons would be those three people that really made me feel passionate about taking this responsibility.

Q: What is that culture that you speak of? What kind of things do you want to see — and I’ll say that you and Jason want to see? What are you trying to develop in the locker room and with this team? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: First and foremost, we want to earn respect and be difficult to play against every night. I think that Buffalo is a market — first of all, it’s passion and the history are clear to me — but it’s a market that respects hard work. The unity that I will be working on putting together not only off, but on the ice, it builds from off the ice onto the way we play, that you feel us connected when we’re out there. It’s certainly a hard-working culture. It’s a culture that treats people right with giving everybody a voice, but quite clear who has the responsibility in the end. I think that it’s an open and honest culture, but one that strives to find out what everybody’s made of. First as individuals and then finally us as a group. Those are driving elements for me in the culture we’d like to build in Buffalo.

Q: One of the things that seemed to be a problem under the Pegulas when they made the change in hiring Jason and eventually Phil Housley was a lack of communication, a lack of character. They talked about those things back two years ago and Phil kind of even noted that he underestimated how much the culture needed to be changed in Buffalo. How do you go about addressing that? What have you seen from the team and how much can you not underestimate how important that factor is? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: First and foremost, the most important communication for me here early on will be to listen. To communicate with the players and the staff and to learn about what has been going on and where the opportunity lies to take the club to another level. I know that I’m a good listener and I like to process that. Before we draw up our final plan, which we will kick off with training camp in September, we have four months of communication in all directions. I definitely like to keep those lines of communication open all the time. They never get shut down in good times or in bad. Let’s make sure that we’re continuing to strive for an environment where everybody knows what the expectations are. That’s what communication does: It clears what we expect from each other and what we expect from the way we want to play, eventually, on the ice. The only way that works is if we permanently work on clearing those paths. I find that’s certainly one of the strengths that I have that I’m going to be bringing to this job.

Q: You wanted to come back, you said, in more of a management portfolio, whether that was team president or whatever. Why did you decide, then, that you would come back to coaching? There are some people (who) probably say you haven’t been around the NHL for so long, how can you step back in when you’ve been running a soccer team? (Jim Matheson – Edmonton Journal)

A: I think it’s a really valid question that I would be asking too. I have to tell you first and foremost that when it was clear that I was stepping away from Southampton and that I wanted to come back into hockey, I opened up my viewfinder and a lot of opportunities started coming in my direction, which was nice, but there was nothing that lit a fire as much as my conversations with Jason. I could just feel the coaching magnet pulling me back. I believe that I’m very fresh, is certainly the case, but I’ve stayed very close to the game. All the friendships that I’ve built over the years are warm and I’ve been in contact with multiple head coaches over these last years. It’s always been my start-up site, NHL.com, and watching games or observing the way the league is operating has always been important to me. So I feel that in these next four months, I need to work hard to get up to speed. I need to build an outstanding assistant coaching staff around me to help in that process and to also add value to our leadership group from the coaching standpoint. I know there’s going to be some hard work ahead, but I personally look for opportunities where I’m going to be challenged and where I can continue to grow as a leader. I know this one will be one of those and I will build a team around me to help in the process.

Did you know Jason, then, from when you turned down the Pittsburgh job a couple years ago?

Well that was Jimmy Rutherford that was my primary contact.

Because Jason was working there then.

Yeah. I know Jason was in the background. He mentioned to me that that was the first time he was really aware of me. So I’m grateful to Jim Rutherford. We spent five years together; I was a consultant for him in Carolina (with the Hurricanes) until 2010 and it was the beginning. But our first good conversation one-on-one really happened in the summer of 2017.

[Botterill] wanted you to coach his team then?

We just had conversations. There was no way I was leaving Southampton at that time. We got to know each other at that point. My commitment — I’m a project person and that one wasn’t finished there, and now it is. So at that point, I wasn’t available to coach.

Q: What did you learn from your one lockout-shortened season as a head coach in Edmonton that you’re going to apply going into this job? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: Well first of all, it was interesting to be an assistant coach for a couple of years, because moving from the international scene and my 18 tournaments and Olympics/World Championships/World Cups into the National Hockey League was definitely a learning curve. The head coaching year was the lockout year, which we all know was a difficult one for everybody involved, but I thought that it gave me a platform to understand better what I needed to develop, as far as a plan was concerned, if I was going to be a head coach. The partnerships that I then developed through the Olympic full year that I spent together with Lindy Ruff, Mike Babcock, Claude Julien and Ken Hitchcock, that was really an interesting year of growth and development. Adding the experience with Brad Shaw and Paul Maurice at the (2016) World Cup — all of those have helped me. You basically come out of that one year understanding what you need as a plan from beginning to end, and I’m ready to do that and put it into play now.

Q: As you look at the Sabres’ roster, and I understand you want to get here and obviously delve in much more deeply as you move forward, but what do you see and how far away is this team from — you know, they have the 10-game win streak this year, then things went south after that — how far away are they from true competitiveness and what do you think you need from a roster standpoint? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: Well one of the things, in my experience, when I was in Edmonton, that was a rebuild phase completely with nothing but youth. This is a really good mix; if you look at the young core, with some experience now, if you look at Jack (Eichel), Sam (Reinhart) and Casey (Mittelstadt) up front. The two Rasmuses, Dahlin and Ristolainen [on defense], Brandon Montour that’s been added now. Especially the younger players, there’s some good experience also in and around that group and I think that, above all, this group is ready to become a contender and to compete with anybody on any given night. I’m confident that we can become that kind of a team quite quickly. I like the way Jason has been putting this group together and they way he thinks. He understands the necessity of being strong with and without the puck and developing a team game that’s dynamic and allows this core group of players to develop and show their skill, but at the same time, find the discipline as a group to defend properly. That’ll be high on our agendas to put that game plan into place quite quickly to become a contender and competitor right into April. That’s where we want to be hanging around and I’m confident we can get there.

Q: I know “analytics” is a buzzword, especially these days, with coaching hires and I was just curious [about] your viewpoint on analytics and how you think they can help you learn more about the game, and what your stance is, just in general. (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: Well I think it’s just another tool in our kit today and it’s one of the things in our box. It’s something also on the sports science level and the analytics level in these last few years at Southampton I’ve been able to learn many, many, many things that I’d like to put into play here in the National Hockey League and in Buffalo. We had quite a lot of opportunity to develop that area and I believe it’s an important part. But above all, it’ll come down to not overusing the analytics. I believe you need to create a space where the players have certain guidelines and a framework, but within that space, I like them to be able to be creative and also to let their instincts play. Finding that balance is the challenge that we have as a head coach. But I, again, will say that the analytics will play a role. Most of it will stay with the coaches and we’ll put it into play without handcuffing the players.

Q: Could you talk about, I guess you were able to come into Buffalo a couple weeks back, walk the streets, you popped into some bars, you were kind of doing your own reconnaissance work. Tell us that story. (Leo Roth – Rochester Democrat & Chronicle)

A: Well first and foremost, my wife and I are not “huge city” people. We love the type of city that Buffalo is. It’s very real; there’s a warmth there, and a passion for especially hockey that is important to me. There’s a history there that I, as a coach, have always found important to be working in an environment where there’s a responsibility; we matter in Buffalo. And that matters to me (as) the head coach. I want that pressure. I want that responsibility if I’m going to work in an environment, where an important part of what Buffalo is all about. When I went for my walk, I was able to tap in; I watched two NHL playoff games a few weeks ago and I changed bars every period, so I didn’t stay too long, but it was quite interesting. I’d sit beside Sabres fans and have conversations that I won’t be able to have with them now, but it was very enlightening. I certainly could feel the spirit of the city. I loved the history, the architecture and just the size. I could feel it’s a hard-working community and it’s a place that my wife and I feel very comfortable coming to live there. But, of course above all, the environment that I’ll be working in will be a match to what I was looking for.

Q: You spent six years in Southampton and had an interesting start there. Your owner was Katharina Liebherr. What was it like working for her? How was she as an owner and was her selling the team two years ago a reason for you to depart? (Michael Pachla – Hockeybuzz)

A: First and foremost, it was very refreshing to work for a woman. I enjoyed the dialogue. I enjoyed the priorities (which were) often different, in a good way. It brought a healthy balance to the club and that’s why I actually went there. The goal was definitely to sell the club and to allow it to develop at another level. Quite certainly, there was a commitment there for two more years when the owners took over, that I would remain and hand over in a proper way, and that’s happened now. But certainly, when I met Kim and Terry, the Pegulas, we had our conversation; it was outstanding in the balance that they bring as owners. I just felt very comfortable with them; extremely positive and passionate people, and I could feel that we’re going to have a very constructive journey together here, which is important for the fans to hear in the end, that it’s all about getting this group back on track and winning.

Q: When you think back — we’ve all seen the reports of how your job ended in Edmonton via, apparently, a Skype call. Do you have any, I’m not saying any bitterness toward the Oilers, but is there any feelings that you never got to finish what you began and just how abruptly things ended, do you know how much more you have to prove in some ways? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: That’s a really good question, because it’s part of the energy and the passion that I have for this role right now. I have no hard feelings from my time in Edmonton. I never did. I was grateful for the opportunity, I was grateful for the experience that I had, and I moved on quickly after that. But now, to be able to re-enter, where I feel I’m walking into an environment that is ready to go to the next level, and not in a building-from-scratch phase. It’s certainly a reason why this became so interesting so quickly and why I feel a really high energy level here to throw myself into this job.

Q: What did the World Cup experience almost three years ago do for your career? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: Well that definitely confirmed that in my heart of hearts I’m a coach. My kids have been telling me ever since that that’s the happiest I’ve looked in the last six years, was when I was coaching in hockey at the World Cup. It was also having a group, at that level, very many top-level star NHL players with experience in one environment. If you look at (Marian) Hossa,  and (Zdeno) Chara and (Anze) Kopitar, the players and the team that we had at that point, with (Roman) Josi back on [defense] and so on — I can go through the whole lineup — it was quite a surprising group, but it also confirmed the way I’d like to operate as a coach in the National Hockey League. I think when I was in Edmonton I was still searching for the proper style and it was an opportunity, at the highest level against the best players in the world, to test a system of play which will be the core of what we will be implementing here. I’ve seen no reason to adjust that core plan of wanting to have a team that is aggressive in regards to the way it pressures the puck and uses speed in the attack as a balance to that. I think that the World Cup was an important experience also from a building standpoint. We built an organization there from scratch over one year. There was no federation or team in place. We had to think of all the different roles that you need within a group to have a chance to be successful. Making it up against Canada in the final really confirmed our process. So it certainly helped me a lot to have that experiment.

Q: Earlier in this call, you talked about the team being ready to be a contender. This team was last in the NHL after January 1, has not made the playoffs in eight years — the longest stretch in the league right now. The fan base is frustrated. Most people are disbelieving this team has what it takes. What makes you think the team as is can be a contender, and how do you approach the cultural problem with this club and this organization? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Well the parity in the National Hockey League is what makes the league so great. Where Buffalo has been and where we’re going to go, it’s percentage points that make the difference. It’s getting those percentage points right. I believe that all great players and developing players need some pain to understand the complete game that’s necessary to be a success in the National Hockey League. I think the players I mentioned before, especially the young ones, have had that experience, whether it was last year or over the last few years. I’m at heart, of course, an optimistic coach and an optimistic person, but I don’t believe I’m a dreamer. I believe I’m a realist and I’m looking at what I see here. I know we’re going to work hard through the summer to add some pieces and to make some adjustments in the roster. Only time will tell; I don’t want to make any big promises here. There’s only one that I will make, and that is that I will do everything within my power to find out what this group is made of very quickly and to get us into that competitive space for much longer than the team was able to get into last season. Again, I looked at this roster very deeply and I’m going to begin by meeting Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) next week (at the IIHF World Championship) in Slovakia and continue the process of getting to know the players through the summer. It’s up to me to figure out how I can help them to add percentage points to their individual games. If we get those right, I think the next step will be there for us.

Q: I have two questions. What approaches and ideas which could be useful in the NHL have you picked up through your years in English football? And the second question is that you were maybe the only NHL coach who had a positive experience with Nail Yakupov in Edmonton. He had a good season last season in Russia and now he’s a free agent in both the NHL and KHL. Would you be interested in signing him? (Igor Eronko – Sport Express)

A: The biggest thing, internationally, that’s interesting is when you look at World Cups, and Olympics and World Championships is that your competition is forever changing in the way it plays. So every night, you have a completely different opponent with a different playing style. So you need to be really good in-game to be successful and you need to be able to adjust and adapt quickly, and I think that’s something that I’ll be able to bring from the international tournaments that I was a part of. Overall, from Southampton, my experience would be off the ice, I’ve already mentioned the sports science. The way the athletes work, the opportunities we have there to tap into will be quite a few. With Nail, I enjoyed my season with him. He was our top scorer that season in Edmonton. But the player personnel decisions, we’re only into our first day here and Jason will drive that process and we’ll be having discussions as we move forward on anybody who’s available.