Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (11/27/19)

November 27, 2019

Jason Botterill
Schopp & Bulldog (5:30 p.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/11-27-jason-botterill-with-schopp-the-bulldog (16:37)

Mike Schopp: You’re home. I think last year maybe was the same? I don’t know. But you’re home so maybe you’ll get to enjoy tomorrow with family and stuff.

Jason Botterill: Little bit of family, watch a little Bills action. Should be a good day.

MS: What do you think about [the Bills] right now? They’re interesting right now, Bills. I don’t mean your family. They might be too.

JB: Well, you look at over the next four games, it’s certainly going to be a challenge for them and I think, especially coming off such a short week, traveling down to Dallas will be very interesting for them. Obviously, a little drama in Dallas too after their tough loss against the Pats. But to me, it’s been great. It’s been fun watching. They continue to improve, especially on offense. I think they’re going to have a great effort tomorrow.

MS: What was playing hockey in Dallas like? Pretty anonymous?

JB: It was anonymous, but there was an excitement around there. They were passionate. And it was at that time, when I played, it was at the old Reunion Arena. Played on some excellent teams, obviously, there that were battling for Stanley Cups and they were exciting. Players like Mike Modano, [Sergei] Zubov, who just went into the Hall of Fame. They had a great crowd, great atmosphere. They weren’t exactly the most knowledgeable hockey fans at that time, but they were passionate. They wanted to cheer on their team. I think you take a step back, players are now coming out of Dallas and stuff, like what the Stars did a great job [of] when they moved from Minnesota there is they built up youth hockey. They did a great job with their high school program, their youth program and they really developed hockey families.

Chris Parker: There’s a lot going on with your team. There’s a lot going on in the league. There’s a lot going on with your opponent tonight, so there’s a lot to unpack here. I’d like to start here if we could with you on the play [Rasmus] Dahlin is injured on. You’ve spent your life in the sport, you came up in the sport when it was a very different game; physically, retribution, things like that. I wonder how you see how it’s changed and as a manager watching your team and seeing no one really take charge of the situation when Dahlin got hit with a cheap shot. How do you balance that? Because I know the game has changed, right? And I like the changes for the most part. But at the same time there’s a frustration when your 19-year-old superstar’s laying in the ice bleeding and you sort of want a little, you want a little payback. How do you deal with that?

JB: Well I think, first of all, you’re extremely disappointed about the actual action and the fact that one of our top players is down with an injury. I think what Ralph [Krueger] alluded to in his press conference this morning, you look at both at what happened to [Vladimir] Sobotka and also with what happened to Dahlin, it’s a situation where there is a little bit of uncertainty right off the bat. I’ve liked our response when people know what’s going on, when people truly understand. You look at the game in Anaheim earlier this year, Victor Olofsson got hit from behind [and] went into the boards, there was five of our guys in there for the scrum right away and I think that’s what you’re looking for. You’re looking for a team toughness element and you want to make sure that when there’s something everyone sees and everything’s on the ice, they’re there and they’re battling.

CP: So was it conspicuous that that didn’t happen either in the moment when the hit was made and you got a competitive game, 3-2 and then you’re on the power play, I think anyone can understand not wanting to sacrifice that. You might have been expecting another penalty because Dahlin is on his knees bleeding. It didn’t come. Later in the game, nothing happened. Is that disappointing at all to you?

JB: No, I think it’s the game. I guess my question to you is, so what do you want from the response?

CP: I suppose someone going and challenging [Erik] Cernak and letting him know that that’s not okay that you just elbowed Rasmus Dahlin in the face.

JB: I like where our team’s at from a camaraderie standpoint about respecting each other, about protecting each other. I can’t tell you sitting here right now why something didn’t happen, but I know that there was certain concern for Rasmus. There’s certainly a lot of respect for Rasmus and I appreciate where our toughness on our team has been. I think our guys have protected each other from that standpoint. It’s something that we’ll continue to look at and work out.

MS: Just as a P.S. I guess, I’m thinking of [Brandon] Montour’s comment after [Jack] Eichel’s fight. How he was surprised or disappointed, did he say disappointed? Maybe he didn’t. He noted that there was little or no reaction to that on his team. Is that mean anything to you that comment?

JB: In what regards to the comment?

MS: That he felt that the bench didn’t react to Eichel’s fight, which game was that?

JB: That was against Minnesota.

CP: A week ago Tuesday.

JB: And that’s where there should’ve been, we should have gotten more of a jump off of that without a doubt. When guys are stepping up and doing things sort of outside their realm, trying to ignite the team, there needs to be a bigger reaction.

MS: It’s kind of the point, right?

JB: Yeah, it’s kind of the point that it’s something Jack’s not usually comfortable. You saw when Jimmy [Vesey] scored in the Tampa Bay game, the excitement from the bench, the reaction, that’s great to see. You’ve seen it when we’ve done well early in the year on the penalty kill with a blocked shot type of thing. There’s that challenge, they’re bringing something. That’s where we have to do a better job. I don’t have an answer for on what happened in the Minnesota game. Overall it wasn’t a very good game from our part. If you look back on the last month or so, it was certainly one of the more disappointing games. Our captain tried to lead us in that result. We should’ve had a better response following that.

MS: Okay, we’ve talked about a particular area here for a few minutes. What do you think your team is missing or needs right now, you know? Like you’re in the middle of the standings, it’s not like anything’s over yet. What does it need that it doesn’t have, more than anything else, would you say?

JB: Well right now our special teams is certainly hurting us at times. You look at the game against Tampa Bay — overall I really like the way we played. Even go back to the game against Boston, I thought we played extremely well there too. But special teams is hurting us. I think at the start of the year, especially our power play, gave us a lift and when your power-play guys aren’t clicking, they take that frustration over to even strength and don’t have that same confidence in and around the net. You look at the game against Tampa Bay, second period, we have an opportunity, we actually had a good power play, went 2-1 that could’ve made it 3-1. We don’t score. They go back on the power play and score a goal to make it 2-2, bit momentum change in the game. So I think our power play and our penalty kill has to improve on. I think having Zach Bogosian back in the lineup, he’s one of our better penalty killers, I think that’ll certainly help us out. I think having Marcus Johansson come back to help out either the second (power play) unit or first unit just with his zone entries will certainly help our group, and that’s what we have to find a better chemistry up there.

CP: How many things schematically can, like, there’s only so much room on the ice and so many people, just how creative can you get about trying to change that up? Because we’ve all seen the triangle of Dahlin and Jack on his off wing and Victor on his off wing and that was really clicking when the season began and you guys were cruising at like a 45 percent conversion rate, which is, of course, unrealistic to maintain, but still it was great. It seems like teams like when, “Oh, yeah, this Olofsson guy can shoot the lights out. Let’s try to take that away.” So you’ve got to find another way in.

JB: I think you look at the players that we have on the unit, they have hockey sticks, they have creativity and they have to just continue to utilize that more. Teams are taking away Olofsson a little bit more, that should leave other guys open for the opportunity. You look at whether Jack’s on it, we all know where Jack likes to be, but he has that versatility. Sam [Reinhart’s] versatility, to me he’s the new-age sort of net-front guy. The guy who has the size to be the screen but also the hands to make plays in and around the net. We have to utilize those guys more.

MS: Jason, fans, are just sort of waiting for a trade here, I think a lot of fans are. Bulldog and I, if I may, are both kind of shocked, maybe, that there wasn’t something else to come in the summer with all the defensemen you had and this idea of a defenseman for a forward — that if, I’m sure, is easier said than done. What would it take — I recognize, too, there are not trade in the league, you know? What would it take? I mean, would you need to see a certain number of games without moving up the standings or a losing streak or just like what? I think I speak for many, many Sabres fans just wondering what the thing would need to have — what would need to be to get something like that to occur?

JB: Well, I think we always look at, we’re always looking to improve our team. And people always ask me that question and look: I have to have an answer. I have to talk to him about, hey, what discussions we have going on. Bottom line is, I don’t feel really comfortable about it until we get a deal done and there’s something there. I’ve been asked: ‘Do you feel close on something?’ Doesn’t matter if you’re close on something. You get a deal done and you move on. Look, we knew that we were having some injuries, even right now, we have a player coming back in Zach Bogosian. I think he has done an excellent job through two games. But coming off major hip surgery, you don’t know how he’s going to respond. We wanted to — we’ve had so many questions on our defense over the last couple years, we wanted to make sure we added some depth there. We’ve been, I’ve been open to it. We’re looking to help our forward group right now with injuries that we’ve sustained, we’re trying to find help there. And if something materializes there, we’ll certainly jump on it.

MS: Yeah, I don’t want to ask you if you’re close because I agree, I sort of feel that way, I understand. And you know, Bulldog and I and everybody out here, never gets to know what is being talked about. Sometimes we’ll see these little stories on Twitter, like, ‘so and so is rumored to be available in a trade,’ any sport. Like, well, I think, why is that even news? Why wouldn’t every team be open to trading anybody? You want to be open to ideas.

JB: Yep, you want to be open to ideas. And that’s certainly where there’s general managers in the league that you trust and communicate with and you’re open to different ideas. Hey, you may think you’re close on something, then a game happens and that team loses two forwards or that team loses two defensemen, and it doesn’t materialize. Second part of it, right now you’re dealing with, is on any given day you look at it, you have 12 — anywhere from 10 to 12 teams — in LTI, long-term injury. So there’s just not the cap space to make that as flexible. And we made a trade, I won’t tell you which one, but we made a trade in the past year, that literally took 14 months to consummate. So, we’ve been talking to the team for over 14 months to get something done and it wasn’t a fit until it finally materialized. So, look, we’re trying to, we see adding more depth at our forward group, add more to our mix there, to either help our offense or help our PK would certainly help out our group and we’re continuing to try and find a solution.

CP: Not to get hung up on one word you just said there, but trust, you mentioned ‘trust other GMs.’ I wonder, if, do you worry that if you are talking too many people about too many guys that stuff will get out? That like, all of the sudden the big-name reporters are going to be saying, ‘Jason Botterill is shopping so-and-so?’

JB: Well, look, there’s always that worry. You always wish that all of your conversations become, are confidential. To me, that’s how you get a deal done eventually. You’re throwing out different ideas out that you may not be comfortable with, but you’re at least seeing if there’s a fit from that standpoint. And I think there’s just some general managers, you feel a little bit more of a trust from that standpoint, and that’s where as a younger general manager in the league, I’m trying to build those relationships with different guys who have been here longer than myself.

MS: Yeah, I think that’s a thing, like, right? You don’t, nobody, everybody is sort of in the same place there, I would think, as a GM. We don’t want —  I’m going to tell you I have a guy that I’m looking to move, but we’re never going to speak about this again, and like we don’t want anybody knowing it, that kind of thing. There’s certainly a lot to talk about here and there’d be more, but I want to ask about the thing with [Calgary head coach] Bill Peters. And I think the question being asked in hockey right now is, is this the beginning of something, where people who know, and have had experiences over the years, are going to feel empowered to speak, I think is the essence of this maybe, or where we might be headed. What do you see coming?

JB: Well, I can’t predict that, all I can know right now is talking within people in the Calgary Flames organization, they’re certainly taking it very serious. I think you’re seeing it how with their actions over the last 48 hours and as Ralph [Krueger] talked about, we don’t have the information to know exactly what materialized, but you have to look internally in your own situation and making sure that we’re trying to have an environment where players, there is respect and players feel open to communicate with myself, with Ralph and with our staff. And, hey, we’re not going to sit on that pedestal saying, ‘Oh, we’re perfect’ by any means. But that’s what you’re trying to accomplish. You’re trying to make sure that your environment where people understand that as a coach you’re going to challenge players at certain times and try to get the most out of players. But also, in an environment where the players feel very comfortable talking to the management staff and the coaching staff.

MS: I think if I asked you, or maybe anybody who has been in the game for as long, ‘Jason, is it a lot different now coaching than it used to be, or playing for a coach than it used to be?’ I would think they would almost all laugh, like of course it’s different. Things that might have seemed just like, this is motivation, now might border on abuse. And you’ve had that life.

JB: And look, the stakes are so much higher now. You look at the salaries, what’s happened in the last decade to two decades, there’s a lot riding on players becoming National Hockey League players and having successful careers. You’re also looking at every player that seems to come in, they have their own group, they have their own team. They have skill coaches, development coaches, each individual player has a mental skills coach, an agent, family members talking to them. So there’s a lot going on with these different players and, you know, it’s just a situation where coaches sit down, talk to players and go there. They want to know why. They want to know how it fits into the whole group of things. So, I think you see players in the summer, you know, 20-30 years ago, guys just are working out. They’re now working on their game every day. They’re looking for information and knowledge to improve themselves and that’s what they’re looking for from the coaching staff, too.

CP: The story is still relatively young, I mean, we’ll see what sorts of twists and turns it takes. I’m wondering, as you’re talking and replying to Mike’s question there, if it’s the sort of thing that has the potential to have you go through your organization and ask all the people that are working for you, like ‘Is there anything I need to know that might have happened in Peoria,’ or in wherever that could pop up so you could be ready for something, if it should come?

JB: Well, look, we feel we do a very good job of that before, before we bring people into our organization. We hope that — it’s not as if we sit down, talk with them and hey, we’re offering you a job and bringing you in. We feel we do a lot from a background check and making sure that the people that we’re bringing in to interact with our players, to interact with our employees, certainly have a high standard. Now, hey, can we continue to improve on that? Without a doubt. And how I interact with my coaches, my training staff, how I interact with people within my office, you always have to look and re-evaluate the situation.

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