KeyBank Center (11 a.m.)
Jason Botterill Press Conference (20:22)
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.