January 28, 2020
Media availability (10:50 a.m.)
How much [is] this next stretch here going to determine, maybe, your direction at the deadline? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
Jason Botterill: Well, look, I think ever since the game against Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve — which was certainly a disappointing game, from you look at where we were at the mid-point of that game — I think Ralph has really focused a lot with our group about short-term goals. And that’s great for our internal group. From our standpoint, from a manager’s perspective, we do have to take a little bit more from a longer-range perspective from that standpoint and we’ll certainly see how things progress here. I think, you know, it’s exciting to have, what is it, eight of the next nine here at home? At the start of the year, that was a challenge to our group here, to have a strong home-ice presence. For the most part, I think, we’ve done a good job with that. And I think you’d really look at our group from the Christmas break on, we’ve played fairly well, but maybe haven’t got the results that we’ve wanted all the time. Now it’s important to — starting here tonight against Ottawa — to try get the results but continue to improve as a group.
You’re 10 points out of a playoff spot, but does it feel strange that it feels like you’re still in it because of all the home games and they way you’ve played here this year? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Without a doubt. And look, we understood that. It’s an interesting dynamic. You go last week with not playing games and other teams are going to be winning and they move up in the standings from you, and sort of pull away. But then you have to take a step back and realize — I believe we’ve won three of the last four and I thought, especially against Vegas, Dallas, Nashville, three strong Western Conference teams, we played fairly well in those games and could have come away with six points; didn’t, but that’s what we have to work on. You know, it’s important, with a young group, to continue to build, but it’s important that in crucial situations like we have coming up here, to earn points. It’s what Ralph and myself have certainly discussed the last couple days, is just how the group has come back here. Now we got to, obviously, go out there and perform that in the game, but I think guys are re-energized, guys are excited. I think our execution certainly was a lot better in day two of practice than day one of practice, but, hey, now let’s go out there and see what we can do.
When it comes to adding to this group, is forward probably the focus that you’re maybe looking for at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
JB: I think we’ve been very honest from that standpoint. From 1) Some of the injuries: [Vladimir] Sobotka, Tage Thompson; 2) Just the development some of our younger players, such as [Henri] Jokiharju or Lawrence Pilut. That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to add to our group there. I think if we can add more to sort of our offensive mix, we would certainly look for it. I think, also, too, whenever you can add just our team speed up front, it’s another thing we can look at. But we are excited tonight to obviously get Jeff back in the lineup; that’s going to be a huge addition. And now see, for the first time, that sort of mix of Skinner-Johansson-Frolik, do they have chemistry as a line there?
How do you feel about the guys from Rochester? Do they feel like, to you — do you have the guys that you can plug in if need be? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)
JB: Well, we certainly think they can come up and you look at a player like Curtis Lazar, has come up and I think found a — with Curtis we gave him specific things to work on with his game when he got sent down, I think, the second time to Rochester. Talk about faceoffs, talk about PK, assertiveness getting to the net, things that we’re trying to work on up here. And I think he took it to heart and he sort of found a role from that standpoint. I think our players in Rochester, there’s roles they certainly can fit. As a group down there, they’ve dealt with some injuries at forward. I thought Remi Elie just earlier last week was playing extremely well, then had another setback from an injury standpoint. But we understand that we sort of have a good mix down there of younger players, but also players with veteran NHL experience that can come in and help our group if need be.
How disappointing was it to lose Tage [Thompson], considering his development, and you lose him on his shift at the end of his first game, and so forth. (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
JB: Yeah, to put it bluntly, it was extremely disappointing. Because you’re talking about, and going around in circles, we were like, “Where’s the best spot for him in a development standpoint?” Whether it’s Rochester, whether it’s Buffalo, the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, what’s the best thing for his career? But the key ingredient from all that is he’s playing hockey. And that’s the tough thing right now is he’s not playing in those games. And the great thing that Tage did when we challenged him last year at the end of the year: He did that. He implemented that through the entire summer. I thought there was a disappointment with him coming out of training camp, but it didn’t affect his game at all. He knew exactly what he had to work on, he was excited about working on those skills. And you look at, not just his stats — you know, goals and assists — in Rochester, but how much offense he was creating and chances he was creating down there; it was great to see him making strides. When we did face some injuries up here, you just go, well, hey, that could have been a situation where Tage got a little bit more ice time. So it’s disappointing he didn’t get that experience. That being said, just like he did last summer, he’s been a beast in the weight room and that’s what he’s going to have to do coming off of this surgery. It’s something he’s going to have — the good thing about where the surgery, the time it happened — is he’s going to have a good summer of training and be ready to go at the start of training camp.
You have two veterans here in [Zach] Bogosian and [Evan] Rodrigues, who very publicly wanted out. And your coach said we want to play the players who want to be here. But now they’ve appeared back in the lineup. There appears to be some disconnect there. Why are they in the lineup when they don’t want to be here? Why shouldn’t they be sitting? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Well, they’re in the lineup at times that can help our team. In a situation where they can help our team, we’re going to do it. Whether a player makes his — we’re going to continue to make an evaluation of it. Hey, if a player does go to the media, it’s not going to change how we’re going to dictate things, how we’re going make — if something materializes and improves our team, we’ll certainly make that move from that standpoint. But I also think that, you know, it’s something the coaching staff reflects on every day and sort of sees what is the group that can help us win.
So is there, not necessarily a disconnect, but more an evolution from day-to-day? I mean, opinions can change from day-to-day? Can he help us today, can’t help us? Is that what it is? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Well, I would also say to their point, too, is that these players, they’re going to voice their opinion, but those players, too, have worked hard behind the scenes. And they’ve understood, they’ve had conversations with myself and, more importantly, with Ralph [Krueger] on just where their status is on our team here now and how we felt about some of their comments. To their credit, they’ve worked hard and tried to find a role on this team and that’s where it goes from a day-to-day standpoint of seeing what’s best for our group and how they’re performing in practice. Just like there is with so much other with the competition we have within our group.
What would you say is the level of desperation, all the way from ownership on down, for this team to get in the playoffs? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Well, I don’t think our team’s that much different from anywhere else.
You have the longest drought in the league. (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
JB: Yeah, but what team doesn’t want to be in the playoffs? What team doesn’t strive at the start of the year, going, “Hmm, let’s have a good year”? No, it’s a situation where I think there’s a difference between having that to be your focus every day, of “playoffs, playoffs, playoffs,” versus I think what we’ve realized with this group, and what Ralph has realized with the group, is when you keep it short-term, when you focus on the short-term goals, we seem to play better and we seem to focus better from that standpoint. So yeah, in our conversations the goal is ultimately to get to the playoffs and we understand the importance of our young players gaining that experience. It’s what we’ve tried to create in Rochester; it’s what we’ve tried to create in Cincinnati, is players gaining experience in playoffs in those situations. It’s why we’re ecstatic about Dylan Cozens being in the World Junior Championship, playing in gold medal games; you get that experience of pressure situations. We want our young players to be in that. So it’s across the board here in our organization, it’s certainly a focus, but it’s not something we talk about every day because I think there’s more short-term goals that we have to work on that will eventually lead to our long-term success and long-term goals.
Jason, what do you think about Casey Mittelstadt’s progress in Rochester since you guys have sent him down? (Brayton Wilson – WGR 550)
JB: Well, look, I think Casey has done a great job of integrating himself with the team in Rochester. [He’s] been very dialed in with our coaching staff there. It’s something I said that I’ve — one of my comfort levels of sending Casey to Rochester was his relationship with Chris Taylor. And I’ve think that’s blossomed here and I think over the last little bit, he’s done exactly what we’ve talked about. He’s played in key situations. I think last week in our game down in Cleveland, him and Lawrence Pilut hooked up for the game-winning goal in overtime. Look, I’ve said it before: I believe Casey could play in the National Hockey League right now, but we want him to not just survive, we want him to excel. We have high expectations for Casey and Casey does for himself, too. What we’ve really liked about his attitude in Rochester is he’s being very proactive in what he needs to work on and with the coaching staff, with his other teammates there. Overall, it’s been a good experience for him.