January 28, 2020
The Instigators (10 a.m.)
Andrew Peters: When you open a radio show, TV show, you got to talk about – set the table for everybody at 10 a.m. right out the gate. We’re going have General Manager Jason Botterill on and he joins us now. So, what’s up Botts, we’re talking James Bond.
Jason Botterill: Wow. You guys got the hot items right off the bat today, that’s good to hear.
AP: You know what’s funny, is we get you on now, I think about it. I was going to say well, are you a Bond fan, but you know what, Ralph Krueger would make one hell of a James Bond.
JB: I completely agree with you. He’s got that international flair to him and stuff, I agree with you on that one for sure.
AP: I think he would be a good James Bond candidate. You just see how he looks behind the bench, just dialed right in and dapper as can be.
Craig Rivet: He looks perfect in his suits. His tie — I don’t even know how he ties his tie so perfectly.
JB: [laughs] I need — in the offseason, he’ll have to sit down with me and help me out in that category, for sure.
AP: Hard hitting analysis here, Botts. That’s where we watch our games; we worry about the ties the coaches are wearing and everything. We don’t worry about the plays that were made. How are you? How was the All-Star break?
JB: It was good. I think it’s a great break, actually, for our players and everyone. You look at the Christmas break you get, it’s so short and the holidays are so chaotic. This allows players to get away, get refocused, re-energized for the last part of the season here. And what I’ve seen is just the development of the players, too. Now, back in your day, Petey or Craig, you take seven days off, guys would be terrible. But I think guys take care of themselves so much better nowadays and Ralph and myself have been very impressed with the effort in practice the last couple of days. I think our execution took a big jump from [day one to day two] and that will be the challenge here tonight against Ottawa. I think we’ll be, obviously, the fresher team than Ottawa, with Ottawa playing last night, but I think Ottawa’s execution will probably be a little better with getting that first game out of the way. It will be important for us to bring energy right off the bat, starting the game here tonight, but really trying to focus on our execution.
AP: Why us?! Why did you have center us out?
CR: I think he knows us pretty well, is what he’s trying say.
AP: How did you feel after a week off, Botts?
JB: Look, I’ll throw myself in that same boat. If I took seven days off in the middle of the year from skating, oh it would take…
CR: Three weeks it takes you. Three weeks it takes you to get back.
JB: For sure. Or hey, you get back the first day and you have a groin pull or a hip issue and you’re out for a month. But these guys, the way they take care of their bodies now, just the workouts. They came back in, I thought, great spirits and did a great job with the last couple days in practice. So looking forward to finally getting back into game situations here.
CR: Well, by no means, do I want to make this interview about me, but I will tell you that, looking back at what you just said, I can tell you that the reason why I felt so terribly when I came back — it wasn’t seven days off, it was what I did during the seven days. And that’s exactly where I feel the game has changed the most — before we get into some more in-depth stuff — is and are the athletes that these players have become just even in the last 15 years.
JB: 100 percent. They’re always looking for the edge. They’re always looking for something that can help them. They’re continually asking us, they’re continuing to ask other players in the league whenever someone has success. What are they doing? What training methods are there? They’re becoming extremely proactive in their development and I think our group, in general over the last couple of years, has taken a big step in that direction and you bring in someone like Michael Frolik; he’s just a conssumate pro. He’s played in Stanley Cup Finals, he’s played in World Championships; just how he handles himself day-in, day-out as a veteran player. I think those things are great sort of, learning experiences for our players and they’re bringing that into their own routine.
CR: Speaking of development, you know, we’ve got some young players on this team. A player like Casey Mittelstadt, making the decision to put him down in the minors for a little while to allow him to play more minutes, get into some different situations that he may not have gotten up here in the NHL. Guys like Rasmus Dahlin, [Henri] Jokiharju, where do you feel the development of some of these young guys are right now?
JB: Well, I think, especially you look at someone like Casey, we certainly talked a lot about what to do with his development. He can certainly play in the National Hockey League right now. But I think it’s more along the lines of just surviving in the league. We have high expectations for Casey and I know Casey has high expectations for his own career. I think just getting him in an environment where he has opportunities to make a few more plays, continue to work on his game and the thing that allowed us to have the confidence in making this move, too, was just the relationship that Chris Taylor developed with Ralph while being up here earlier in the year. Chris knows exactly what Ralph is looking for from Casey. I think Chris also saw Casey in some of his best games of the year, whether it was the first game of the season against Pittsburgh or another strong game against LA at the start of the season, and then he also saw him when he struggled and he knows the differences there. I think that knowledge has helped Chris interact with Casey very well in Rochester and we’ve been happy with his development over the last couple of weeks down there.
AP: What’s the mission — we’re joined right now on the line with Jason Botterill, general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, game night tonight, 7 p.m. at home. Ottawa in Buffalo, here — coming out of the break here, what is your mission between now and the end of the year?
JB: Well, our mission for our team is to win tonight against Ottawa. That has to be the focus. I think Ralph’s talked a lot about — ever since the disappointing loss to Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve — just getting our group re-focused from a standpoint of trying to win two out of three games. You know, that’s not dictating whether you’re automatically going to be in the playoffs or what, but it’s going to at least give you a chance. And that’s what Ralph is focusing on the players from that element. The biggest thing is you try to look — we certainly have to look, from a management standpoint of a bigger picture, and so there will be decisions we’ll have to make by the end of the month from that standpoint. But from our team focus, and our individual day-to-day focus right now it’s, “Hey, what’s the next game up?” And we all know that we have, I believe it’s eight of the next nine games at home. We’ve also known that we’ve enjoyed — one of our challenges we set to our team at the start of the year was to have a home-ice presence and I think, overall, we’ve done a pretty good job with that and it’s important that we continue that over the next couple of weeks here. But I think when our team has played extremely well throughout the year, it’s because they’ve kept things small. They’ve looked at the small picture here. And Ralph has done a very good job with the group from that standpoint.
AP: You’ve said in a couple media scrums that you’re actively looking to make some moves. Does that ever stop? Is that ongoing? I guess, with the trade deadline coming up, how soon in advance do deals start to be made for the trade deadline, or how far in advance, may be another way to ask?
JB: Well, look, I think here’s always dialogue going on with different teams. It’s just, you’re talking with a team, you feel you’re close and they run into a couple strings of injuries during games. I think during the break, GMs get away from their teams a little bit, have opportunities to go through scouting meetings with their group and really see what they’re looking for the stretch run. And look, you just look at some GMs in the past, they’re certainly aggressive trying to get their deals done in January or the start of February. Others want to wait straight to the deadline, or close to the deadline. You also have to understand the GM you’re working with and what his background is from that standpoint. But we’re continuing to have dialogue from that standpoint. We did make the trade to bring in Frolik; we’ve been very happy with what he’s added to our penalty kill situation and we’re excited to see now, with Jeff Skinner coming back to our lineup tonight, just that line of Skinner-Johansson-Frolik, to see what kind of chemistry they can develop as a group there and we’ll see what materializes.
CR: What is your main area of need? What in particular — what type of player are you looking for? Or is there one?
JB: Well, I think we’ve been very honest, continuing to try and look at our forward group to try and improve that group. We feel we have some young players, but when you lose [Valdimir] Sobotka, when you lose Tage Thompson for the year, you’re looking to try to add to that mix, for sure. The development — we talked earlier a little bit just about the development of some of our younger defensemen. When we were sitting here in the summer making the trade for Henri Jokiharju, we didn’t have him, “Oh, this guy’s going to be on our team for sure.” And he stepped up from that standpoint and that’s allowed us to have more depth from a defensive standpoint. And the same thing with a player like Lawrence Pilut. You know, it’s a situation where he’s accomplished what we wanted him to accomplish in the American Hockey League. He’s come up and played well; he deserves the opportunity to stay here right now. When these players come into the mix, it gives us more optionshere on defense. But what we’re looking for, from a forward standpoint, I continue to think finding more offensive skill, but also, too, just speed. The way Ralph wants our players to play on the forecheck and tracking back, if we continue to improve our speed. But that’s something that’s going to be ongoing, whether it’s before the deadline, the summer, that’s something we’re going to continue to work at.
AP: Jason Botterill joining us here on the line. Botts, feel free, I know you’re busy, I know you have a game day, so just tell us when you got to go. Otherwise, we’ll keep you on until noon. That’s up to you. But one player I want to ask you about, obviously, we’d like to ask you if there’s any kind of preliminary talks with Sam Reinhart. But another player I’d like to ask you about, and I kind of feel like he was a free acquisition in the offseason, is Curtis Lazar. I know he’s not like the saving grace, a lot of people might say, but I’ve really liked his game. I’ve really liked his style of play and I’m wondering if he’s a guy that might be around for a while.
JB: Well, your first question in regards to Sam is, look, obviously Sam is represented by Newport Sports. We have quite a few clients from Newport, and it keeps those dialogues going very well. But we’ve sort of believed, hey, let’s have things continue to go here. Sam’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year, he’s having a very strong year, let’s keep the focus on just his play and moving from that standpoint. In regards to Curtis, we were excited about signing him, I believe we signed on July 1 last year and brought him in the mix. What I like a lot about Curtis is just it shows what we’re trying to strive for from a development standpoint here. When you talk about development, everyone talks about your young players such as Rasmus Dahlin or a Casey Mittelstadt. But it’s also about a player like Curtis. Former first-round pick, who sort of bounced through the league a little bit. I thought he had a very strong training camp for us, and then came up for our western road trip, got some feedback on what he can really improve on his game and I thought he really worked on those elements in Rochester. So when he came back up, I thought his penalty killing was that much better. I thought his assertiveness around the net was that much better. I thought his work on faceoffs were that much better and that allowed him to get into the lineup and, more importantly, gain Ralph’s trust in those situations there. I think he took that feedback to heart and really worked on his game, and he’s certainly added an element to a specific need there.
CR: Going back to the cap situation, I’m certainly not a capologist by any stretch of the imagination and I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are very much like myself. I hear a lot about, you know, we’re over the cap kind of right now and how that effects us for next year, the cap recapture. Can you explain, how you’re going to try and work the cap to finish the end of the season or how that works?
JB: Well right now, obviously, with some of the players that we have on long-term injury, the Pegulas have given us the opportunity to go above the cap. It’s great that you have that ability to go above, through long-term injury, whether it was Matt Hunwick at the start of the season or Vladimir Sobotka. But you also have to have your ownership agree to take on extra salary from that standpoint. It allows you to go over the cap during the season and stay compliant from that standpoint. It’s just where could be an overage for next year is if performance bonuses are earned. So we have players such as Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju and, before, Casey Mittelstadt, that could achieve performance bonuses. If they achieve those performance bonuses, then that will come out of our cap for next year. So that’s just something that we certainly have our eye on. We just want to have as much flexibility from year-to-year from a cap situation.
AP: Well, Botts, I think we’ve long overdone our time with you. So, appreciate your time. Did you do any scouting over the break?
JB: Did a little bit of scouting over the break. Also had — you always try to find the balance here with my family, too. So spent a couple days with my family, which I certainly enjoyed. What has excited me is just, you know, the energy of our coaches coming back after the break and just how re-energized our players have been. Now it’s for us to go out there and get results. Overall, I think we’ve played fairly well since the Christmas break, but there’s still the element of now getting results. And that’s what I’m excited about what this group could entail over the next couple of weeks here, starting here tonight against Ottawa.