February 24, 2020
Media availability (4 p.m.)
Hello, everyone. I would just like to start off by thanking Evan (Rodrigues) and Conor (Sheary) for what they accomplished with us in Buffalo here. Certainly wish them all the best in Pittsburgh moving forward. I would also like to thank Zach Bogosian for everything that he did for our team and our community here in Buffalo. Certainly wish him all the best down in Tampa Bay. Certainly open to any questions you have right now.
Jason, how would you characterize the moves you made today from an overall standpoint? (Adam Benigni – WKBW)
I think we’ve talked a lot about changing our forward group, adding to our forward group. Excited about bringing in a veteran player such as Wayne Simmonds. We’ve talked a lot about this group playing meaningful games. For Wayne, playing meaningful games in the month of March and April is something he’s very accustomed to. I think you’ve heard Ralph (Krueger) talk a lot about net-front presence, playing a physical game. I think these are things that come natural for Wayne. We also know that we have a young group. He has a strong personality and I think his leadership’s going to help our group out a lot. In Dominik (Kahun), excited to bring a younger player into our mix. A player that is very useful, can play both wings, has a very good skill set and also has a track record of success, both over in Germany — had the opportunity to win an Olympic silver medal and had numerous times playing in World Championships. Excited to bring Dominik into our group.
Jason, how much has the past couple of weeks and the fact that [the team is] on this 7-3-1 run, I think it is, how much did that change your approach going into today? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
I think we talked a lot about different things that would happen. You’re always trying to prepare months in advance of what you’re going try to accomplish at the trade deadline. We’ve been very or proud of how our group has responded after a difficult start to the homestand. We understand in a young group, you’re going to continue to have disappointments and challenges along the way, but how we responded from that has been very positive. I think that’s just this past weekend with a difficult win in Pittsburgh and then also finding a way to grind out against a very good Winnipeg team. We’ve talked a lot about playing meaningful games in the month of March, and I think with some of the moves that we made today, we’re hopefully setting our team up to better accept that challenge.
How important for you was it to get an NHL player in a trade if you were going to subtract a pending UFA like Conor? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
We talked about the situation of adding, trying to talk to different teams about what our value was for some of our players, get draft picks and then maybe moving draft picks in other deals. The way it worked out, we’re glad that we were able to make trades that actually get a National Hockey League player back into the mix here to help our needs, especially the physical element and, like I said, the heaviness of Wayne Simmonds. We’ve talked about it before, the development of our young players, our young forwards within our system, I think Dominik’s a player that has NHL experience but still is a young player that is continuing to grow.
Jason, I think a lot of people wanted to know would you be a buyer going into the deadline, would you potentially be a seller? And it almost feels like you kind of managed to do both. Do you think that’s a fair assessment with the moves you guys made today? (Matt Bove – WKBW)
As an organization it’s time for us to continue to build. Taking the next step as a group is to understand and, like I said, play meaningful games in March. It’s going to be a difficult challenge for this group. We’re heading on the road here now. When we come back our home schedule’s against some of the top teams. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a challenge for our core players to go through with that. I know Ralph is extremely excited about working with these guys. Ralph has been very pleased at the response from the players and the interactions that they have. Look, I think it will be a new experience for our group, but we’re excited about it moving forward here. What we try to talk about as a coaching staff and as a management staff is, “How do we best prepare this group to face this challenge?” And that’s why we made the moves we did today.
Do you expect these moves to energize the team? Do you think guys will be excited about these? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
I hope so. I certainly hope so. I think especially with the personality Wayne brings to the mix, I think will certainly get our players excited. But I think you’ve seen that over the last couple of weeks, there’s been an energy within our group. With some of the home wins, I think the focus that they’ve had going down to the game in Pittsburgh, even the game a couple weeks ago in New York, I thought our players were very in tune with our coaching staff, stuck to the system that Ralph wanted to play and eventually, obviously, got results. Overall, I think there’s a good buzz and growth with our group. Now it’s important for us to continue to work on that and hopefully get the results we’re looking for.
Did it get far down the road at all getting some help down the middle? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
There’s always conversations going on, and we’ve had this discussion. Yeah, there’s conversations, but until something gets materialized, that’s it. We’ve certainly looked at a lot of different things for our group, but these were the moves that we felt the most comfortable with and what would help our team out the most right now.
Jason, do you feel pressure to get this team into the postseason? Does the organization feel a sense of pressure to take that next step? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)
Look, I think there’s always pressure to win in this league. Without a doubt. You want to have success. We understand we’re not a finished product, and these moves here, we feel it helps our team right now going into especially this road trip and this upcoming week, but just facing the month of March. But we also think adding a player like Dominik (Kahun) is going to help us in the future too and trying to work from both ends from there. The experience that Jack (Eichel) or Sam (Reinhart) or Rasmus Dahlin or Rasmus Ristolainen can gain in the next few weeks is going to be important for their development here. The National Hockey League, you look at the parity in it, you’re not looking for the big jump, you’re looking to win marginal points here and there. That’s the ultimate opportunity to eventually get into the playoffs. We can look back on, “Oh, if we changed something there or change something there,” it’s small margins. And that’s what our group has to understand is for us to eventually get where we sort of aspire to, we have to do a better job in those small margin situations.
There’s been so much talk the last couple of years about changing the culture here. How important was it for you to move two players who were disgruntled and why was the timing of the Bogosian move, why at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)
Well I would just say with the Bogosian move, we tried to find a solution. We tried to work with him on finding a solution. It didn’t materialize. I’m extremely excited that Zach has a new opportunity in an excellent organization in Tampa Bay. But from a timing standpoint, we tried to find a solution with him prior to that. I think there’s always going to be discussion on the players that might not be excited about being in Buffalo. But we have a player here in Wayne Simmonds who waived a no-trade (clause) to come to join our organization today. I think when talking with the bulk of our players, there’s an enthusiasm about what’s being created in our locker room, and just the dialogue that they’re having with the coaching staff. And I think you’ve realized in your interactions with Ralph, he’s a fairly upbeat and positive gentleman, and he’s excited about where this group is going. Now it’s important that we continue to keep that small focus on, “Hey, next step, game in Colorado on Wednesday.” We understand what Colorado did to us last time, we understand what a talented team Colorado is, it’s going to be a challenging effort for our group. But those small steps is what we have to continue to work on.
When it comes to making a trade with Pittsburgh, was there a sense — knowing how the Metropolitan Division seems to be bulking up on players — did you sense that you could make that deal with Pittsburgh and did the fact that all these teams were bulking up on players in the Metro, did that help you make that deal with Pittsburgh? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
I think there’s just obviously a familiarity with Conor (Sheary) from there. I think it was a situation where they weren’t looking to move Conor in the first place, but it was more of a salary cap situation and stuff that they had to work with. So there’s always that familiarity about possibly bringing him back into the mix. But we certainly had other teams and discussions with other teams on those players, it just worked out to be the best fit from getting a younger forward back into our mix.
Jason, how tough has this week been for you? You always try to keep an even keel. We all saw the TSN shots in Ottawa. That was probably one of the toughest losses you’ve had since you’ve been here. You go from that [and] maybe the season might be over and you’re totally selling to last weekend, where it clearly changes what you’re doing. What has the emotion been like for you for the last six days or so? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)
Well look, let’s be honest. The game in Ottawa, I thought it was a great start. I thought we were building off of what we’d done the week before and especially the win at home here against Toronto. I loved how, in that game against Toronto, we faced adversity in the third period there and responded extremely well. (After a) great start in Ottawa, our response wasn’t good. That was certainly a frustrating moment. Just like Ralph (Krueger) and the players, I’m into it. I want success for this team and for this organization. But I loved how our team responded (in the following games), and I think that’s what Ralph has done a great job with this year: When things haven’t gone well, we’ve been able to find our game again. You look at the fact I thought we played extremely well after a disappointing November; the start of December I thought we played extremely well. I thought it was a great job after the New Year’s Eve loss to Tampa Bay of getting our group refocused there again. And let’s be honest: The home stand here didn’t start off the way [we wanted] and Ralph was able to get the group back on track from that standpoint. So it’s been great o see that resolve. You’d like to, now, see more consistency throughout the whole process. But we understand that there’s always — we talk about parity in this league — there’s always going to be a lot of emotions, especially around this time. With this group, you see the potential. I see the dialogue that our players are having with our coaches and our staff, and you want to see them have success. I’m happy today that we were able to make some moves that I think put us in a better position and now we’ll see how we progress here for the next month or so.
Is anybody going to the Amerks, from a transaction standpoint? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
From a transaction standpoint, our goaltender, Jonas Johansson, we made him available (to the Americans for the AHL playoffs). And then also John Gilmour.
I know you shaved some money (off of the team’s salary cap limit) with these deals. How does this affect the cap going forward? Do you expect to be under that overage spot? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
The way we will look at it now is — so, with our injuries that we had throughout the year, we talked a lot about what we were going to do from that standpoint. We will have an overage at the end of the year. From our standpoint, we didn’t want to break this team apart; we just didn’t feel it was the time, from that standpoint. We looked at different scenarios in our planning perspective, but we know we’re going to have an overage for next season. But on the positive side, the overage is coming because our young defensemen continue to develop. To be honest, we hope our young defensemen hit all their performance bonuses, because it means that they’re going in the right direction with their games.
As Mike (Harrington) had said, Jason, it has been a tough stretch. Kind of a rollercoaster ride of a season. A lot of fan frustration in this marketplace, a lot of it directed, quite frankly, at you. Do you understand where that comes from? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)
I can understand where it’s coming from. I understand the history here. But it can’t interfere with how I make decisions for this organization` and it can’t interfere with my interaction with Ralph and with our players. That’s why it’s good to have executives around me, such as Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley, who have a very good perspective on things; especially someone like Randy who’s gone through things in different stops where he’s been. Everyone looks at my previous time in Pittsburgh and thinks you win a few Stanley Cups there and it’s all good. But [I] also went through processes there of coaches being fired and disappointment in not meeting expectations. So [I’ve] been through different things like that. The bottom line is, in the National Hockey League, it doesn’t matter which market: There’s going to be pressure and there’s going to be high expectations. As a group we have to continue to focus on what Ralph has talked about: improving every day. I think our group has done a very good job with that, and that was our focus today on making the moves that we did. We think this will help our group.
Can (Dominik) Kahun also play center? You said he plays both wings, but can he play center? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
It’s possible that he can. I would say that right now I view him more as a winger than a centerman, but it does give options to Ralph (Krueger) to play him in different spots throughout the lineup.
There was a report out there that Wayne Simmonds might be interested in signing a contract extension. Has he broached that with you, or do you broach that with him, and what is your interest in that level? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)
I talked to Wayne just briefly when he came to the organization. I talked to his agents, just about the situation before, and our understanding is certainly there’s no contract in the mix or anything like that. The focus right now is on sort of what our plan was for the next few weeks here and what our sort of focus was going to be for today. You know our numbers; we certainly have openings at forward moving forward here. We’re certainly going to have opportunities and roster spots available. I think that’s what he’s looking for: He’s looking to play meaningful games and he’s also looking for an opportunity. If he plays well, there might be a future. But our focus right now with Wayne is just what we have going on here right now. Just as Ralph likes to keep things small, we’re able to keep it small with Wayne here.