Category Archives: Transcript

Jason Botterill on The Instigators (8/7/19)


 Jason Botterill
The Instigators (10 a.m.)

Craig Rivet: We saw Top 20 centers, and we’re going to get into salary cap stuff and the team this year, is [Sidney Crosby] one of the best players that we’ve ever seen? I mean I know there’s Gretzkys. I’m not trying to — maybe I am trying to steer you a little bit, but I hated him when I played against him for reasons that I’m sure you understand and heard all the criticisms toward him. But he has developed and turned into just one of the most amazing examples of a young kid coming in with a ton of pressure, handled the pressure, to super-stardom and beyond.

Jason Botterill: Just the professionalism he shows on and off the ice and his work ethic. You just look at the things he’s worked on. His first year he didn’t do a very good job from a faceoff perspective, became one of the best faceoff guys in the entire league. Was more of a passer when he first entered the league, worked on his shot a lot, and now he can score at will if he wants to. That work ethic that he does and off-ice training, nutrition — he’s created an entire culture in Pittsburgh. He brought that on and showed it to Kris Letang, Kris Letang shows it to someone like Jake Guentzel. And it just creates that atmosphere there.

CR: And you know what, it was learned. As much as maybe Sidney Crosby had the leadership qualities in junior, I don’t think when he came in as a young guy he was very well liked from the refs, from the players. He was very whiny. He was surrounded by some really great leaders in Pittsburgh, and he’s grown into one of the greatest leaders in the game. The star-studded talent, he’s the face of the National Hockey League for so many years, and you don’t see him in the limelight. He’s the guy you want all your young guys to emulate.


Andrew Peters: And that’s a question I’ll ask you right off the bat, do you talk to your players about guys like Sid and how they go about becoming the best? Not even that every player has the ability to be the best. This sounds cheesy, but from a guy that probably looks back and reflects on mistakes, I can say be the best version of yourself, I guess. What he does and how he goes about his business; do you talk to your players about this? Or do you try to leave Pittsburgh behind you? The old saying, ‘If we have a guy on our team, cut the cord’ and all that. It’s a great example.

JB: You certainly talk, and there’s so much respect for Sid throughout the entire National Hockey League, especially within our own locker room. So you do try to talk about stories. I think with Sid, everyone focuses in on winning the Stanley Cup in ’09, but he learned so much of the disappointments of ’12 in the Conference Final getting swept by Boston, ’13 having a great team but then getting knocked out in the first round, ’14 losing in the second round after having a 3-1 series lead. He learned from those mistakes and it really drove him to the success in ’16 and ’17. I think it’s what we’re trying to create here. Bringing in players with playoff experience. Marcus Johansson, Colin Miller, Conor Sheary the year before — they learn from veteran elite players. You want them to bring that into the locker room and help the team out in certain situations.


AP: Let’s talk [Marcus] Johansson for a second here … When you signed him, where does he fit for you? Where is he going to be playing? If you can tell us that, it may be unknown. There’s a lot of talk about second-line center. He played really well during the playoffs on the wing.

CR: On the right with with [David] Krejci and [Jake] DeBrusk, but he was a left winger for most of the season, right? Where do you see him this year?

JB: Well that’s part of the reason we wanted to sign him. We just wanted to mess you guys up through the entire summer on what the lineup’s going to be. In all seriousness, it’s one of the reasons why we wanted to bring him in. It’s not only, I think it’s eight of the last nine years he’s been in the playoffs, but then it’s also his versatility. You want to give your coach different options throughout your lineup because we can never predict what’s going to happen from an injury standpoint. The fact that he can play left wing or right wing I think is a great situation and complements our team very well. This team here and our fans think Conor Sheary is just a left winger. If you look at all his time in the minors, he played the right side and stuff too. There’s versatility with a lot of our players, and it goes through the lineup. [Zemgus] Girgensons, [Johan] Larsson can both play center, wing, [Vladimir] Sobotka, center, wing. That’s what we’re trying to create here in a situation, we understand we can have the high-end scorers. Jack [Eichel], Sam [Reinhart], Jeff [Skinner] all proved that last year, but we have to have four lines that can contribute. In the middle of August, I can’t tell you exactly how all the lineups are going to be, but we feel that we have at least given Ralph [Krueger] different opportunities and different options for once the season starts.


AP: I caught a quote somewhere, and you can tell me if you said it or not. It was about Sam driving his own line and not being just know as Jack’s wing man. Is that an option? Jack, much like I feel like Sid or these other top centermen, should be able to play with anybody — that duo if he’s with Jeff [Skinner] or whoever. Is that kind of in the thought process of if Sam can drive his own line, who do we put on that right wing? And who would be the perfect fit? Does cost efficiency in terms of player performance come into those decisions?

JB: I think you talked about earlier about Sidney Crosby, I think that was one of his big developments as a player. There used to be a lot of discussions on who’s going to be on Sid’s wing. Now it seems like whoever goes up there, Sid pulls the best out of them. You’ve seen that with the development with Jake Guentzel, not to take anything away from Jake Guentzel in Pittsburgh. This year they made the trades for a player like [Jared] McCann, he goes up there and has success too. I truly Jack has that same ability. He’s that talented, he likes holding onto the puck, he can create opportunities for anyone that plays up there with him … but that’s where with some of our young players, whether it’s [Victor] Olofsson, C.J. Smith, Tage Thompson, if they can play further up in the lineup there, I just think it gives us more depth. I saw it with Sam Reinhart. I think there’s been a great progression in his development over the last year or so. Off the ice, taking more responsibility in our locker room. I worked with him at World Championships this spring, I thought a couple of his best games was the semifinal game and then the gold-medal game. He played with [Sean] Couturier on our second line for Team Canada. I don’t know how he didn’t score in the gold-medal game, but the fact that he played one of his best games in a gold-medal situation is great for his development and shows in pressure situations, he can handle it. Hey, if he plays with Jack, we know they’re going to create a lot. Whether he’s playing with Evan Rodrigues or Casey Mittelstadt, I think Sam’s really taken the leadership role and wants to be a go-to guy on that line.


CR: You talk about messing us up with bringing in Johansson, trying to figure out where we’re going to put him on our lineups. I read CapFriendly and it’s zero in the availability in terms of money. Can you make some sense of that for us? Because you’re know for the cap, you were a capologist in Pittsburgh. You guys won under this formulation and all that. What does this all spell?

JB: Well look, these websites do an amazing job of keeping everything up to date, but the bottom line is they’re picking our roster for us right now in August and we don’t have to do anything until the start of October. The bottom line is we don’t have to make a trade. We have some players who are injured on our back end. Zach Bogosian’s coming off of hip surgery, Lawrence Pilut had shoulder surgery, Matt Hunwick had a lot of injuries last year. So there’s going to be opportunities there to use the potential for long-term injury. We’ll have to wait and see how things go at the start of training camp for updates there. Also, too, if you put a player in the minors, it’s a situation where we can get close to $1.1 million in cap relief there.

CR: Much like the [Matt] Moulson situation from a few years ago.

JB: Yes, so what we like about it is look we want to add more competition to our group here. We wanted to make sure if our young players performed well in training camp, there would be an opportunity to make our opening-day lineup. We wanted to have more depth where we have four lines contributing to our team. And we knew when we made the free agent signing of Marcus Johansson that we were going to be close to the cap, but we felt it made our team that much stronger. We like the situation we’re in right now. We don’t have to make a trade to become cap compliant. We’ve gone over a zillion different scenarios; we don’t have to make a trade to be cap compliant. As much as the last couple of weeks have been difficult weeks going through the salary arbitration process, what’s great about it is we have all of the contracts done now. There’s no holdouts. We can focus in on how we’re going to get things going, and we’ll continue to have discussions with other teams on, “Hey is there a trade that makes sense for us?” But we don’t have to worry about, “Hey is this guy going to show up at camp?” We can get things going day one of camp.


AP: Your salary cap situation, to me, spells one thing, and that’s a challenge to a lot of players. There are a lot of guys who, I don’t want to say bubble players, but guys [whose] earning ability could go up, their earning potential, their roster positions could disappear. There’s a lot of different guys, like a Jimmy Vesey, could re-sign. There’s a lot of different scenarios. Is that something that you go over with guys in these situations? “This is a make it or break it year for you,” or “This is a year where we don’t know what’s going to happen”?

CR: Is this what you wanted? You look at the 2019-20 season, you have everyone signed, but the next season you have 10 unrestricted free agents, you have five guys that are on a restricted free agent deals, guys are going to be playing for earning potential. Was this a design for you?

JB: 100 percent. It’s a situation of giving opportunities for young players to come into our lineup, but also having the cap flexibility moving forward so you don’t get into a situation where you have to trade one of your players that you want on your team. Trying to predict where the salary cap is going to go in the future is very difficult. Let me know if you know how to predict the Canadian dollar. And now with the NHLPA not taking the five percent inflator all the time, trying to limit escrow a little bit, it’s not nearly going up as much. We utilized that to our benefit in picking up a player like Colin Miller. We want to continue to have that flexibility. I think we’ve shown, when a player performs, we want to sign them up long term, whether it was Jack Eichel a couple of years ago, with Jeff Skinner this year. But we still want to have that flexibility moving forward for our lineup and our roster.


AP: We talk about lineups and complimentary players. Jimmy Vesey, you both were on a conference call after you made the deal for him. He identified himself as a goal scorer, I think you believe he can be a goal scorer. Is he a guy, again you can’t predict where he plays in the lineup, but is he a guy that maybe in Ralph Krueger’s head or your head you’re thinking he and Jack have some pretty good chemistry, if Sam drives his own line, maybe there’s a spot for him on that top line. Because, as you mentioned, you could get 25 goals out of a guy making $2.275 [million].

JB: Yeah, and that’s where I like him. I think the past couple of years he’s 16 or 17 even-strength goals each year. Those are good numbers. I think if you add a little bit more to the power play, we feel there’s a little bit of an opportunity to bump that 16 or 17 up to into the low 20s. So yeah, there might be an opportunity to play with Jack, but I also think whether it’s Evan Rodrigues, whether it’s Casey Mittelstadt, whether it’s one of our other centermen, he’s going to be an offensive player. We’re trying to create four lines that can score, that can help out with our team. It’s not only that Jimmy can score, but I think where he does score. He scores in front of the net. We have to get more traffic in front of the net. We need to do a better job from a defensive standpoint of limiting opportunities in our [defensive] zone in front of the net, but we have to get to the net more often. That was an element that we’re lacking. I think Sam Reinhart’s done a great job of getting to the net and scoring there. I think Jimmy is a guy that complements our group very well.

CR: Like I said to you the other day, I saw him at the Harborcenter, he was walking through the Tim Hortons. The one thing that you do notice with the Sabres’ lineup is it’s a little on the smaller side. Jimmy Vesey’s a big kid. He’s got to be upwards of 6’3″ and over 200 pounds. He has that size, that frame. And like you said, he scores even-strength goals and they’re in front of the net. There’s no secret to where you’re going to score goals in this league. You either have to get in front of the goaltender, because the goaltenders are too good, they’re going to save everything that they see. So you have to get traffic, you have to get bodies in front, you have to make it difficult on these guys, and Jimmy Vesey, he’s going to be a guy that’s going to live in front of the net, a lot like Sam Reinhart, guys like that.

JB: Well in the summer he trains with Jack with Mike Boyle in Boston there. So it’s a situation where there’s that comfort right there, there’s a relationship there that just makes the transition to Buffalo that much easier. And you talk about where you score goals — that was a problem in the second half. You talk about where you score goals in the playoffs, it’s those dirty areas. In the second half, our team certainly saw how the intensity increases in the National Hockey League after the All-Star break, and we weren’t able to get to that level. And that’s where trying to bring in players that can complement our group better and we think Jimmy scores goals in those difficult areas in key moments.


AP: And I’ll just say this too, I really appreciated how he handled the questions about not signing here before. I beat him down pretty good on the radio, I knew that. I think in a small market like Buffalo when you have hopes for a player coming here, you almost get offended, and I think that that was the small-market mindset coming out from the standpoint you might’ve felt snubbed. His explanation of it I thought was really good. Was that something you guys talked about? Did you talk to him before you moved for him?

JB: No, we didn’t talk to him obviously him being part of the New York Rangers. We didn’t talk to him, we didn’t know from that standpoint, but we wanted to take a chance on that. Look, it’s what we love about Buffalo. People are proud of Buffalo. We’ve talked a lot about it. The way we turn things around here is bringing in people who want to be in Buffalo. Jeff Skinner waiving his no trade to come here, Marcus Johansson wants to sign here as a free agent. I think that’s what people are going to be excited about with Jimmy Vesey. He’s been in town a few times to check things out, he’s excited about the opportunity here. When you’re coming out of school as a 22-year-old, and you have the opportunity to go to 30 different teams, it’s a difficult choice. Now he’s been in the league for a little bit, understands the opportunity that he has here. Just as we talk about the excitement of what he can bring, Jimmy’s excited. We think we’re going to get a very motivated player. He’s going to be an unrestricted free agent. He wants to have that big pay day, he wants to establish himself in the National Hockey League as not a 16- or 17-goal scorer, but a 20- to 25-goal scorer. We think we’re going to get a very motivated player who’s excited to be in Buffalo.


AP: How far in advance does a general manager, or a capologist even for that matter when you were in Pittsburgh, look down the road at salary cap numbers? Whether the players come back or not, and there’s some RFAs you have to re-sign, but how far down the road do you look? Obviously [Rasmus] Dahlin, obviously certain guys. Are you calculating in your mind, are you down to 2025-26 or are you just staying right now in next year?

CR: Can I ask one question before you answer that? Because I think this goes along really well with your question. In 2020-21, you talk about the lockout. And I hate to say that word, but that’s the reality of the game. Is that one of the reasons you have so many UFAs and RFAs is you don’t know if there’s going to be a season that year?

JB: I’m optimistic that we will have one, but that has nothing to do with it. That doesn’t come into our equation or our belief at all. Why we did it the way we did it is more having that flexibility from year to year. The way we look at it, Andrew to answer your question, we’re certainly looking at the next year, the one year. You have three-year projections and five-year projections. But within that, we know if a trade comes along, if a player like Marcus Johansson becomes available, you have to have the ability to adjust. And that’s what we’re just trying to have, we’re always trying to have that flexibility. We know Rasmus Dahlin eventually is going to have a very large contract, but we also have to be prepared if one of our other players steps up in the next couple of years, whether that’s [Henri] Jokiharju, or a Will Borgen continues to develop, or one of our forwards comes on. We want to at least be able to not be locked in to so many contracts that we can’t keep that young player that we want to have on our roster. This is something I’ve learned over the course of my career. When I first came in, I came in in 2007 in Pittsburgh, and all we talked about was five-year projections, then that trade deadline we traded for Marian Hossa and everything changed and then it was all about win now. I’ll always have an eye on the future to make sure you can keep your young players within your organization, the players that you want to grow with. But you always have to have that flexibility. That’s such a key asset; if there’s an opportunity to jump on and improve your team, you want to be able to do it.


AP: Did you ever play with [Jeremy Roenick]?

JB: I never played with JR. My father, who’s a sports psychologist, worked with him in Chicago… I grew up in Winnipeg, I was thinking of going the college route, I ended up going out to prep schools in New England, and the Roenick family, Jeremy Roenick, gave us five schools to look at out there in Boston. So I’ve always been tied in with him from that standpoint. My dad certainly probably has some stories. You talk about a guy that brought energy, that brought passion to the game, JR always did that for sure.

CR: You would’ve been drafted if you had gone to the WHL, right?

JB: Yeah, I was drafted by the Brandon Wheat Kings.

CR: So you were drafted?

JB: Yep.

CR: Was it one of those “I’m going to go to college” type things?

JB: Yeah, I always told them I was going to go to college. And then it was unique how it works. I played World Juniors as a 17-year-old, 18-year-old, 19-year-old. It was interesting, they always put me with the Brandon Wheat Kings. So it was Marty Murray my first two years, then Wade Redden just trying to maybe push me along to the junior route. I had a ton of respect because at the time, Kelly McCrimmon, who’s now the general manager in Vegas, ran the team in Brandon and did a great job with it. They were vying for Memorial Cups. But I loved my four years at the University of Michigan.


CR: So you were drafted first round into the NHL. Where were you drafted?

JB: I was at Michigan playing, so I was a freshman at Michigan. So I had just finished my freshman year there.

AP: I watched you play against Ferris State that year, Botts.

JB: The Ferris State Bulldogs, got to love it.

AP: You had a decent game, I think.


AP: We talked about long-term salary cap, so couple names on the team. You traded for [Brandon] Montour and Sam Reinhart, RFAs at the end of the year. I don’t know if you’ll tell us if you’ve talked to them, when you’ll start talking to them. Is there a timetable you have in maybe getting an extension done? Or is that wait until the end of the year type thing?

JB: Well I think it’s going to be late, certainly, we’ll see how the season plays out from that standpoint. If you look around the league, the league is still frozen from all these group-two free agents who haven’t signed, and that’s where we feel, as I talked to you earlier, going through the salary arbitration process, at least we have everyone signed up. And I think agents are still trying to figure out how this group-two market’s going to be. Before talking to them about extensions for players a year out, let’s see how things progress here for the rest of the summer here first.


AP: Have you ever seen this many big-name RFAs in one summer? I mean, this many future stars? From [Sebastian] Aho to [Patrik] Laine that we forget about. To [Mitch] Marner, [Matthew] Tkachuk, [Kyle] Connor. It’s ridiculous.

JB: You just see the young players coming into the league and how well-prepared they are and becoming impact players right off the bat. I think the unique thing we’re seeing this summer is we have a new thing here coming with the wingers and these wingers who are driving lines and are top scorers. Whether it’s Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel, [Connor] McDavid, you sort of had a bit of a market for centers coming out of the entry-level contracts, but now all these wingers. How is that all coming into the equation? The fact that they’re not all eight-year deals, there’s some shorter-term deals, balancing that. It’s certainly a unique situation. But to have this many talented players, I think it’s great for our league, but it’s going to be interesting to see how it all plays out here.


CR: Does that make you nervous with this group right now? It seems like this group in particular, this year, it’s almost like they seem to be market setters and everybody’s waiting to see the trickle-down effect, which guy’s going to sign first, then you obviously compare. You look at Sam Reinhart, he had a really nice season last year with 65 points. Still has room to continue to develop, he’s still a pretty young guy. Does it make you nervous waiting and seeing how the market’s going to play out for these guys?

JB: Not at all Craig, because, with these players that you just rattled off before, Tkachuck, Marner, [Mikko] Rantanen, they’re all really talented players. We wanted to make sure we had the cap flexibility moving forward. But if one of our young players pops and becomes that great player, those are good problems to have. You can talk about different teams in the National Hockey League having salary cap issues and this and that, well it’s probably because they have very good players on their line and in their roster. That’s the point we want to get to here, and having good young players that we’re locking up longer term here.

AP: Yeah, wouldn’t it suck for Casey Mittelstadt to become an eight-million-dollar player, Craig?

CR: Exactly.

AP: It would mean some pretty good numbers.


CR: In a cap world, there’s only so much money to go around. And you see, like you said, the top teams, a lot of these top teams in the league have an overabundance of top-end talent and they’re trying to find ways to sign these guys and they’re having a hard time. Is it beneficial to be looking to sign a player like a Sam Reinhart or a Montour who are on unrestricted free agent deals, to try and sign them earlier and maybe sign them to a little bit less?

JB: It takes both, there’s always that communication going on. Signing less is always a unique term I think and stuff. The way I look at it is, especially with where our organization is at right now, we have to have some results on the ice, we have to have some success before signing a lot of long-term contracts, and that’s what we’re going to be looking at. Another thing I think we have to certainly bring up, we’ve always kept an eye on is, when you give these higher-end players significant money, it’s imperative that you have a lot of young players coming through your organization. It’s why we were very excited to adding a guy like Jokiharju. You look at last week just at the U-20s at Plymouth, having [Mattias] Smauelsson and Ryan Johnson sort of be a pair for the U.S. team and could possibly be a great pair at World Juniors this year. It’s imperative for these teams, for you to sustain long-term success in the National Hockey League, you’re going to pay your top-end guys. Especially when you have a little bit of success, you’re going to pay them even more. You have to have the young players coming through your system, and that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here.


AP: Jack [Eichel has been ranked] 15th in the league [among] centerman. Thoughts on that? Appropriately placed? Do you think he could be higher?

JB: I think you just look at last year. I think you talk to Jack, he loved how he played in the first half when our team was playing extremely well in November, December. I think he was playing at a Hart-candidate level. But now it’s a situation, just like our team, Jack’s got to sustain it over 82 games. That’s what I love about working with Jack, is he’s hungry. He’s hungry to have success from an individual standpoint, but also hungry to have success from a team standpoint. It was great to see him going over to the World Championship in the spring. For myself, I always try to push our players to go over there. We need to get used to playing hockey games in the month of May. For him to go over there, I think was great for him. You learn from other players, you learn from different experiences, you play in games that are meaningful. And I think he’s ready to take the next jump. Everyone talks about NHL experience, and they always talk about the positives. “He had a great playoff run, he learned a lot of experience. He had a hat trick, that’s a great experience.” Well, the second half this past year, a lot of our young players had difficult experiences, and they’ve learned a lot from it. That’s what I liked a lot about in our communication, whether it’s with [Rasmus Ristolainen], whether it’s with Rasmus Dahlin, Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, there’s reflection on what went really well the first part of your season and what needs to change in the second part of the season. That’s what is great to see the development of our own players, and that’s what we’ve tried to bring in players to help this group.


AP: What do you say to them at the end of the year? What do you tell them to help them kind of wipe away the bad experience that had the second half of the year?

JB: I’ll be honest with you, the first message was “Okay, we changed coaches. If we think that’s going to resolve all our issues, we’re in a lot of trouble.” Then it’s more of the individual thing, get away from it for a while, and then we followed up with them on, okay, in certain situations when we were in a two-game losing streak or three-game losing streak, why didn’t we stop it at two or three? What continued to sort of pile on? I think you just saw it as a team throughout the year. When things were going well, we rode the wave. As a young team we had the momentum to keep going. When things weren’t going well, we didn’t have enough things stopping things right now. Whether it was a timely goal, a big save, a big hit, it just didn’t work for us. There’s always talk about leadership, and our veteran players need to be stronger in that development. Just like we’re trying to have four lines that can contribute offensively, we’re trying to have a roster of leaders. A roster of doing your part to help a group out. Leadership’s not always this 15-minute amazing speech, but it’s going out there and making a big play at a key time. It’s supporting a teammate in a key situation. I think sometimes those little things are forgotten, and that’s what we’re trying to make sure they’re part of our everyday situation.

AP: I’d forgotten or just not recognized, but I hear all of that from just my experiences playing.


AP: I wasn’t to talk about some of the young guys, obviously; [Ryan Johnson], Mattias Samuelsson. But you brought back a few guys from last year. What are the expectations and, I guess, conversations when re-signing Girgensons and Larsson for next year, just two guys, specifically. I truly believe, and I’ll tell you, that I think they have a role. I think that if they establish themselves, I thought there were times last year they might have been some of the strongest players they had as a line. Is that a conversation you have with them and say, “We need that type of player and that’s what you’re going to be” or “We can replace you with younger guys in in the future.” How’s that conversation go?

JB: There are certainly conversations and I think that there is just so much focus on what happened the second half of the year. But you take a step back and [look] at the whole year. We had a great improvement in our [penalty kill], they were a big part of that. You look at a player like [Girgensons], he brings an element of being able to get on the forecheck, being able to finish his check, it’s an element that we don’t have a lot of on our team. There’s a role for him to be successful, for sure. With both those players, they’re players that want to have long-term success here, that want to be here, that talked about multi-year contracts. But we just didn’t feel comfortable right now with it. Both sides realize there’s a lot on the line. The team wants to have success. Also from a personal standpoint, both becoming unrestricted free agents next year, they want to continue on and be legitimate NHLers and have success. Again, we think we’re going to get a couple of motivated players to come into our group here and be hungry. They certainly see those roles, I think they relish those roles, but they want to take on more too, and that’s what we need to have. We need to have inter competition here and I think Ralph is going to talk a lot about it; you’re going to see through training camp and even at the start of the season. I know people have mock rosters, but there’s going to be a lot of moving parts in that. That’s the great thing about having a head coach in here, he’s going to come in and prove it. Prove it to me what you can bring.


CR: When you look at the roster, throughout the entire roster, everybody’s signed, everybody’s here. But it seems like you brought back a lot of players from last year on a team that did not have the success that you would’ve wanted, but you believe in a lot of these players. And a lot of these players right now, it seems like they’re put in a situation where they need to go an earn what they’re going to get next. Olofsson’s on a one-year deal. Vesey’s on a one-year deal. Reinhart, Sheary, Mittelstadt, Rodrigues, Girgensons, Larsson, Montour; I mean it goes on and on and on in this roster. It seems like you’ve put players in a position to say if you want and you want to get paid and have success you need to go out and earn it.

AP: Nothing wrong with a little discomfort.

JB: Without a doubt. We’re in an industry right now, you have to have results, you have to take steps and you have to been in that discussion for playoffs. That’s what we have to do as an organization here. Reflecting back on the year, there were positives from our group, but we could not sustain it for 82 games. So what do we do? Let’s try to support to group as much as possible. Marcus Johansson is a player that has playoff experience, enjoys carrying the puck through the neutral zone, can create opportunities there. Boom, he’s another guy that can help drive a line there. Jimmy Vesey is a guy that will go to the front of the net, score goals in an area that we struggle with. That helps our group, complements our group there. I thought, again last year, we did not move the puck out of our own end, so we now have a full year of Brandon Montour, we bring in Colin Miller, we bring in Jokiharju. You look at what their stats bring, it’s about that first pass. Getting out of our zone, get the pucks to our forwards so they can accomplish more things in the offensive zone, versus spending too much time in our [defensive] zone. Those are the things we tried to accomplish this year. I think even at my end-of-year press conference, we talked a lot about bringing more depth to our forward group. We think we’ve done that. We were very excited last year [about] Jack, Sam and Jeff, what they contributed offensively. We know we have high-end scorers with those three guys. Now it’s up to Casey Mittelstadt to take the step, Tage Thompson to take the step, Olofsson, great year last year, to take the step. You’re going to get the opportunity, now capitalize on it. Then bring in some more guys who’ve been in the league a little bit with Vesey and Johansson to help that group and bring a lot of competition there.


AP: So you brought in more competition and a question —  Botts I’m sure you and I used to ask ourselves when we were players, Craig maybe not so much, maybe a more solidified role in Montreal and your places but maybe you as a young buck you could understand it — but how many jobs are available? That was the questions always. Earning a job, is that something that’s realistic? I used to always come to camp and be like, ‘Is there a spot available? Look at all these players. How do I earn a spot? How do I go about doing that?’ How many jobs are really available?

JB: Well look, I think you just have to look at our track record. It’s not just words that we’re saying, “Oh, there’s jobs available.” We’ll do whatever it takes if our young guys step up. Whether it was [Matt] Moulson, whether last year it was Scott Wilson down in the minors. We’re willing to put one-way contracts in the minors if younger players are ready to take their jobs. That’s what should excite them coming in here, and it’s what’s the message Ralph has been delivering to all the guys throughout the year.

AP: I’ll say this from experience; could you imagine being sent down on a one-way deal back in the day? How awful that would’ve felt being a veteran player? That’s got to light a little fire under some guys, in my own opinion. The fear of being back in the minors as a big-ticket guy.


CR: One guy that we haven’t talked about, which to me when you brought him in, I was very surprised. And the reason why I say that is this: Right-handed defensemen in the National Hockey League are at a premium. You picked up a player that last year in I think 65 games had 29 points, so was on pace for a high 30, the year before had 10 goals and 41 points and you picked him up for a third-round draft pick from Vegas. How were you able to, I would consider it steal, this player for a third-round draft pick for a guy that’s a multi-point producing defensemen with a big, heavy shot who’s a right-handed shot in Colin Miller?

AP: Love watching him skate too, by the way.

JB: This is a player that I’ve certainly followed very closely. At some moment I was running Wilkes-Barre, he played in Manchester and I believe won a Calder Cup down there with them. That shot, especially on the power play, was such a weapon. He’s a great skater, but also moves the puck extremely well. From our standpoint, again we talked about cap space, it was an asset we had available cap space to help our group. With Colin, what we love about [him], he’s learned from — you talked about earlier about leadership — he’s learned from it in Vegas, being a part of the magical groups the last couple of years there. Previously, being in Boston, learning under [Zdeno] Chara, learning under [David] Krejci or [Patrice] Bergeron, and that’s what we want him to bring into our locker room. He has playoff experience here now. The biggest thing we brought is, you look at Montour, Miller, Jokiharju: That ability to skate and that ability to make that first pass, that’s what we want to try to improve on with our group. You saw it, obviously, with Rasmus Dahlin last year, what he can do with his hockey sense and just that ability, and that’s what we’re trying to get our entire group there. We feel we’ve improved in that element, now it’s important for us to go out there and show that.


CR: Do you like the idea of — we’re talking about some pretty darn good defensemen –when you start to work defense pairings, and that is obviously going to change throughout training camp and guys are going to earn jobs, but Rasmus Ristolainen’s had a lot on his plate the last number of years that he’s been here in Buffalo. One of the big things is he’s, I think, taken on a big role of playing very large minutes for this hockey team, sometimes a little bit unjust and unfair. With the depth that you have on defense as of right now, certainly with Montour and Miller on the right-hand side and [Ristolainen], is this a good thing and have you discussed with [Ristolainen] that, “Hey, Risto, you may not be playing 27 minutes a night, we may drop you down to 22, 23 minutes.” Are these things the dialogue you have with certain players like [Ristolainen]?

JB: [Ristolainen’s] a very proud player; he wants to be on the ice all the time. He wants to be in a situation where he’s in offensive-zone opportunities where he can help create offensive opportunities, but he also wants to play against the other team’s top players. Last year, I think some of his best games were when he was matched up against an [Alex] Ovechkin or a [Nikita] Kucherov. He really excelled in those situations there. But we’ve had those conversations, and we will continue to have [them]. His energy level at the end of the games, when you have him more in the lower 20s, it just gives him that extra little bit versus playing 25, 27 minutes. Yeah, he can certainly do it, but do you have that drive when the game is really on the line? We’ve talked a lot about it — surrounding players like Risto with more talent, with better players. Same thing we talked about with our forward group. We’re looking for Casey Mittelstadt to take a jump this year. He’s gone through, now, a whole year in the National Hockey League, he experienced a lot of different things. We’re asking more from him, but we want to make sure we’re surrounding him with more talented players. Whether it’s Sam Reinhart, Marcus Johansson, Jimmy Vesey, we know we’re going to put good wingers with him and it’ll give him a better opportunity to have success, and that’s the same thing we’re trying to do with [Ristolainen].


AP: Riv asked a question… he asked the question about defense and the depth. A couple of very good young defensemen I’ve been reading about at the World Juniors. [Ryan Johnson and Mattias Samuelsson] were actually paired together, I don’t know how that happens, if they just saw the logos and they’re like, “Let’s throw them together” or if it was just the perfect fit as a top-pair defense core for the World Junior tryouts or whatever that was. Talk about those guys. And Dylan Cozens and his thumb, and how’s that coming along? The young players that you have in the system.

JB: Mattias Samuelsson we know for sure is going to be a leader of that team just being a returning player from last year. We were excited that Ryan Johnson got the invite to Team USA last week, and I thought he had an exceptional week there. Making the jump from the USHL to playing against the top U-20 players in the world, we didn’t know how he could handle it. But what was evident was his hockey sense and his skating ability. I think he really put himself in a position where if he gets off to a good start at the University of Minnesota this year, he has a good chance to make that team at Christmas time, which is outstanding. The other big one from last week for us was Erik Portillo, our goaltender in the third round. We certainly know Erik’s got a longer-term development path as being a big goalie. Didn’t know how he was going to be handling it going from Swedish junior going to playing against the top U-20 players in the world. And he handled himself extremely well, won Sweden’s two games there. That was a great compliment for him and got us very excited.

CR: And where will he be next year?

JB: He’ll be in Dubuque next year in the USHL, and then the plan year afterwards is to go to the University of Michigan.

AP: Trying to rattle the other young goalies in your system too? [Linus] Ullmark one-year deal, look out for this kid. Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, look out for this kid. The discomfort just doesn’t stop with you.

JB: Let’s be honest, you can never have too many good goalies in your organization, and that’s what we’re trying to do. It’s something that, hey, they’re all on sort of different development paths too, which gets us excited. There’s going to be competition, but they’re also a couple years behind each other from that standpoint. You did mention Dylan Conzens — it was great, he did go to the tournament last week just to be around Team Canada and interact with those guys. He’s back home up in the Yukon right now, but he’ll be back. He’s spent most of the summer here in Buffalo rehabbing with our group. He’s going to be back here next week. It’s just another thing where I feel our performance staff has done a very good job with our young players. Dylan Cozens, Matej Pekar, who is another forward that we’re very excited about. Just the energy, the dynamic that he brings, the element, the ability to get on the forecheck, the energy that he brings, it’s on and off the ice.

CR: Who’s that?

JB: Matej Pekar

AP: The kid from Barrie. I was watching Barrie last year randomly on TV two years ago. Was last year his first year? So it was early in the season last year and I’m watching this Barrie versus Kingston Frontenacs game, okay, and here’s this kid on the penalty kill, number 11 I think he was. Was he number 11 or 12?

JB: Number 12, I believe.

AP: Number 12, gone, breakaway. Gone, breakaway. And I’m like, “Who is this kid?” Then he comes back, he chops a guy, crosschecks a guy and then runs a guy over. I’m like, “Who is this guy?” Then you read his name and I’m like, “I think that’s the kid the Sabres drafted in the fourth round.” Then he goes and he scores a goal and an assist. He’s impressive.

JB: He’s impressive. And look, he’s got a longer development path too. Last year he played World Juniors for Czech, this year the World Juniors this year at Christmas are back in Czech, so he’ll be a big part of that team. What we just love about him is that this guy, you’re drafting 18-year-old kids, there’s a long development plan for all these guys. His passion level, his energy to want to work with us, be part of it. The energy you see on the ice, he brings it off the ice, whether it’s talking, communicating with other guys.

AP: He was great on our show too.

JB: We brought [Lukas] Rousek, drafted him this year too. Matej’s his interpreter pretty much this year when he came here for development camp. It’s great to see guys taking leadership roles from there.

AP: He’s the kid that ran Rasmus Dahlin and then Rasmus came back in the final day of camp last year and absolutely buried him.

JB: And both of them had smiles on their faces too. Great to see that competition.


CR: Let me ask one more question about a young guy: Jokiharju. So you brought him in, I didn’t know anything about him, had never heard of him before. Just went on all the sites just like everybody else, and the Chicago fans were absolutely fuming. So that’s a good thing, when you had the Chicago fans were upset they let go of this young player. What can you tell us about Jokiharju and his style of play and what you’re looking for him moving forward?

JB: Similar to what we talked to with Montour and Miller, he’s in that same line of defensemen. Can skate extremely well, we really like his hockey sense, that first-pass ability to get out of the zone. We think he can excel and really help our group of forwards. You look at just this past year; 19-year-old kid, talk about winning, he wins a World Junior gold medal at Christmas time playing with [Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen] there, which was great to see, out in Vancouver. Then he goes to World Championships and wins a gold medal with the senior men’s team. Played important roles for them in a World Championship situation there. We’re ecstatic to have him as part of our group here. We think he’s the type of defensemen we want to have with our group here. I understand the disappointment or frustration from Chicago, but I look at it as a trade that we’ve certainly enjoyed working with Alex [Nylander] a lot over our couple years here. I was disappointed my first year here, just the injures that sort of set Alex back. I know everyone’s going to be evaluating to trade after the first preseason game, but I look at it as hopefully after five years, both organizations are very excited because I think Alex has a great opportunity with Chicago, especially on the right side there. We know that Henri’s going to have a great opportunity with us over the next couple years.


AP: I have to ask the question, a fan on Twitter wants to ask, [Jason] Pominville, is there a chance potentially to even come in on a tryout? Is it still kind of open for him? Or is he looking elsewhere? Have you chatted with him at all? Only because we’re huge fans of Pommer. You know we love Pommer. I lived with Pommer. I was actually supposed to live with Pommer the year you and I were going to live together, you made the right choice.

JB: You talk about leadership and respect in the locker room, that’s certainly what Jason brings to the group there. The different milestones that he had last year, it was great to see. He still finds a way to score goals and help a team. We’ve stayed in touch with him. It’s a situation where if you want to bring a veteran player back, you’ve got to make sure there’s that role for him. You just don’t want to bring someone in on a contract, or just bring somebody in on a tryout, and just say, “Oh yeah, just come in.” You want a specific role that they can fit. We’ve discussed it with Jason and he’s looking around the league and also with us for that right fit. From our standpoint, an amazing respect for him we’ll continue our dialogue with him. 

Jason Botterill Conference Call (7/1/19)

July 1, 2019

 Jason Botterill
Free Agency and Jimmy Vesey Conference Call (2:15 p.m.) (15:00)


Q: With the trade for Jimmy Vesey, what is it that you like about Jimmy and what he can bring to the Sabres? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: Well we like his size, his speed to get up and down the ice, and I think his game has developed more of a two-way game over the last couple of years, (he was) utilized in that penalty kill last year. But I think the thing that really stands out for us is his ability to score at even strength. I think he’s had 16 even-strength goals in each of the last two seasons and has an ability to get to the front of the net, an area that we’re trying to improve on for the upcoming season.

Q: What sort of role do you envision Jimmy filling, is he a top-six guy for you at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: We would view him as a top-nine forward. What we like with the trade is it just gives Ralph more options. We’re excited about some of our young wingers that we have in the organization, some of them that you guys saw over the last week or so here at our development camp. I think the fact that a player such as Conor Sheary can play both wings, a player such as Alex Nylander has played both wings. Here’s just another player in Jimmy that comes in to our organization, can help us with even-strength scoring, and just give us different options throughout the lineup.

Q: How did today go? I know there’s tons of rumors, you guys have the talking period now, did it kind of go as you expected and were you able to make the moves that you were hoping to make? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: Well I think it’s an interesting period, you go through a lot during the entire week. We were certainly aggressive in free agency and trying to talk to certain players out there. (We) had a lot of good conversations, utilized Ralph with a lot of different players. We did key in on a couple forwards that we felt would be good additions to our group. There wasn’t a fit there so we turned our attention more to the trade market and we’re certainly very excited to bring Jimmy in now.

Q: How much did the conversation with Jimmy, if at all, revolve back on 2016 when he was here as their rights held and then he didn’t choose here. Did you have to make sure that he was okay with the idea of coming here before you consummated this deal? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: No, with him being property of the New York Rangers I did not reach out to him and have that communication with him. From our standpoint, a lot has changed I think in the last few years since he’d gone. We’re a different organization. We just looked at it as a player that fit a need for us right now. We felt the acquisition price was right, we felt that he brought a different dynamic compared to some of our other wingers, so that’s why we stepped up and made the trade.

Q: Well clearly I understand that, I mean it was a different GM obviously, I get that. But did the past history give you any pause about it at all? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: No, no, to be honest, no. From what I know about the process, I was actually involved with the Vesey process with Pittsburgh. I sat down and I talked to him and his family with that. I think there’s a lot going on at that stage in his life, there were a lot of great options out there. He took steps as a player. What we’re looking at right now is more of a fit for our team. We felt he would be a fit for our team so that’s why we made the move.

Q: Obviously Curtis Lazar has the reputation, he was a first-round pick, what is that gives you confidence that he can really fit in in this organization? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
A: Randy Hansch is one of our amateur scouts, he worked in the Edmonton WHL organization for numerous years. (He) spoke very highly of Curtis from a character standpoint. And just watching Curtis play. He’s a strong kid, plays with a lot of pace, and if you do look at our acquisitions here today, all of them, that’s one of the strengths that they have is they play with pace. You look at J.S. Dea, you look at Lazar, obviously bringing Jimmy Vesey in, Gilmour, all these players can skate very well and play with pace. (It’s) something we’re trying to accomplish here.

Q: How important was it to get a third goalie with NHL experience like Andrew Hammond has? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: Well, we talked about it at the draft, that going into the talking period, this was something that we really wanted to focus in on and make sure we covered ourselves there. Andrew, you look at his past success in the American Hockey league, and whenever he’s gone up to the National Hockey League [he’s] also had success. It’s allowed us to get more strength throughout our organization in case we do run into injuries and just gave us more depth. We’re obviously very excited about our young goaltending in both (Ukko-Pekka) Luukkonen and Jonas (Johansson). But both of them have had injury issues, and so we felt we wanted to make sure that they weren’t the ones in the position where we had to push them into action and especially push them into NHL games. Andrew certainly gives us depth at that position and we’re very happy to have him as a part of our organization.

Q: Going back to Curtis (Lazar), where do you feel like he can fit in with the Sabres? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: I think that’s what we tried to do with all these signings here today is to have a training camp that has a lot of competition and having a lot of competition at each position. What we like about Curtis is something that we talked a bit about with some of the other players, his ability to play both center and wing, he has that versatility there, his ability to [penalty kill], his ability to push the pace. Then you look at his track record, he hasn’t done it as a pro, but in junior was certainly know as a scorer too. We’re looking for him to come in and challenge for a roster spot.

Q: What do you make of, after a couple of years where things were trending where free agency wasn’t a big-spending market, what do you think of some of the deals that were signed and agreed to today? And did you keep that in mind when it came to your Jeff Skinner negotiations? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: Look, there’s always going to be need for talent out there and for skill. There was a lot of talk about this free agent market. I have been on record making the comment that I thought there was certainly some high-end skill. I didn’t know if there was a lot of quantity with this group. We talked a lot about it in our negotiations with Jeff of hey, what is the replacement value? How difficult would it be to replace him? It’s not surprising some of the contracts that have been handed out. It’s interesting to see how some people get upset with it. At the end of the day, we’re in a cap world. There’s a certain amount of money that is spent to the players, and team’s divey it up the way they like it to.

Q: How many calls, if any, have you fielded with team interested in inquiring about Rasmus Ristolainen’s possible availability? (Stu Boyar – WGRZ)

A: We’re always having trade discussions and discussions on improving our team. That certainly happened over the last couple of weeks. It’s going to continue to happen throughout the summer. I know a lot of times there’s always a big push on July 1. You get to the question, “Well, are they done?” Well, we’re two hours into the start of free agency. There are still good players available in free agency that we’ll continue to evaluate and we’ll continue to have discussions with teams to see if there’s ways to improve our team. Because as much as there’s a big push for July 1 at noon, there’s still a long time until we play our first game to start the season off.

Q: In that same line, do you anticipate making a move to seriously address the top six? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News Buffalo)

A: We’ve always talked about bringing in more skill, especially to help our forward group, and that’s why we felt it was important to make the deal for (Jimmy) Vesey today. I think there’s always a different sort of combination of top six, bottom six. Right now, we certainly believe Jimmy can add to our group in the top nine. We’re also excited about some of our young wingers being able to add to our group in the top nine. Talking to Ralph (Krueger), what our group is and what we’re trying to eventually create here is having more balanced scoring throughout our four lines here, and that’s still something that we’ll continue to look at and to see if we can continue to add to that group.

Q: Have you guys ruled out bringing back Jason Pominville or is he still an option for you guys? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: Nope. Look, there is the utmost respect from our organization and from me personally about Jason Pominville. I did speak with Jason this past week. He’s been, obviously, working out in our facility this spring. He and his family have gone back to Montreal for the summer. But I did speak with him and how I just said it to him was [that] if it ever came to a situation where there wasn’t room, we’d certainly follow up with him. By the same token, I just asked for respect if he was going to move on to a different organization, just to give me a heads up. So we’ve kept that dialogue going on and, like I said, I have the utmost respect for Jason and always had good communication with him. We’ll hopefully continue that through this process.

Q: What can you tell us about John Gilmour? What intrigues you about him? Obviously, he had a terrific season last year in Hartford. (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: He really took a step this past year in the American Hockey League. There is a familiarity with him. Steve Greeley, our assistant general manager, was part of the group that brought him to New York as a college free agent. What we like a lot about his game is, certainly, the threat with his big shot. But just his ability to skate, his ability to get up with the play — how we want to play defense — closing out guys, making sure they don’t have a lot of space up there. So just that ability to skate, the ability to create offense with the shot, and just his compete level was drawn to us and [we’re] very glad that he joined us here in Buffalo.

Q: I think you’ve correctly identified the market for free agents here when you said this year there wasn’t a lot of quantity, even with the high-end skill. It seems like this team has to be built, right now, through the draft, through trades. How much of a recruiting issue is it right now until you become more of a playoff contender to get involved with top free agents? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

A: Well, I think you’re always sort of looking for some sort of edge. You’re looking for some sort of relationship. Some of the people that I think we were talking to, there was — whether it’s somebody in our organization, or a close friend on the team, or a relationship with their coach — you’re always trying to find some sort of angle there. We felt that we were close on some of the discussions with [big name free agents]. But also, as much as we want players to be a part of it and help us with our immediate needs, there has to be a balance here. There has to be a situation where we’re not making signings that are going to be detrimental to us in the future. It’s always a balance and sometimes it’s a difficult balance and one that you have to make some difficult decisions [with]. That’s why we continue to have dialogue with free agents, but also wanted to keep our dialogue going with different teams from a trade perspective, because we want to have both those options.

Q: Qualifying offers are obviously the first step for [restricted free agents]. Do you envision any difficulty in any negotiations? Have you started [negotiating] with any of your RFAs yet? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: We’ve had some brief negotiations from an RFA standpoint, but I’ll be honest with you: Most of that happens after July 1. Both the agents and teams are so focused on the draft and then the unrestricted free agents. Over the next couple days and leading into the next couple weeks, that’s when I think more of the conversations will [take place] for restricted free agents.

Q: How do you see the trade market shaping out after what’s gone on? How do you see it developing? Maybe similar to last year? Or how do you see this whole thing shaking out at this point? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think it’s always tough to predict, John. The difficult part of it is just the unknown with the high-end restricted free agent market this year. What are the numbers eventually going to be? How is that going to dictate things here? As we’ve talked about before, in a cap world, there’s only so much you can give to players. We still think that having cap space is something of an asset to our organization right now and we’ll continue to have conversations with different teams to see how that plays out. But to say I know exactly when it’s going to sort of heat up, it’s a difficult thing to project; I never would have guessed that we’d pick up a player like Jeff Skinner in the middle of summer last year. But I think it’s important that we stay with those dialogues throughout the league to see whenever that might materialize, whether it’s later on this week, in a couple weeks or more in the start of September.

Jason Botterill Conference Call (6/8/19)


Jason Botterill
Conference Call to discuss Jeff Skinner signing (1 p.m.)  (15:26)


Q: You expressed optimism throughout the whole negotiating process since January. What gave you the belief that this thing was going to be done and what drove you to get this thing done based on how much you spent? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: Obviously, we’re ecstatic to have Jeff as part of our organization for the next eight years. I think both sides were very happy with the relationship over the past year. I think it’s my job to show optimism. I think when the organization wants a player and when a player demonstrates to the organization and says that he wants to be part of the solution, it’s my job to try to find a way to come to an agreement. I understand that’s not always going to happen, but I’m very glad that to myself and Newport could come to a resolution and get this deal done.

Q: You’ve said so many times that it was a priority to get Jeff re-signed. Was there a particular reason? I mean, obviously you look at the numbers, you look at how prolific he was at times last year. What did he do for your team, kind of big picture? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: I think big picture, he came in and he scored goals. It’s pretty much what the game’s about, is scoring goals, and it’s something that we struggled with. We understand that Jeff’s goal total will probably fluctuate over his time in Buffalo. But [when] you look back on the stats is extremely consistent in creating chances at even strength and certainly his rate of the success rate of capitalization on scoring goals is going to fluctuate from year to year. But it’s something that we talked a lot about, improving our scoring up front and improving our depth scoring. We want to add to our group and not try to have to go out there and try to replace what Jeff Skinner can bring. The other element that gave us comfort in going to a deal with this, with Jeff, is just how we fit in with our group. I thought he was a great influence on young players. The relationship with some of our elite players, such as Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart), but going out of his way to have an impact on Rasmus Dahlin, Casey Mittelstadt, and just his professionalism off the ice. Probably one of the next questions is going to be about giving an eight-year contract to a 27-year-old, but there’s always going to be risk sometimes in doing that. But we feel very comfortable in how Jeff handles himself off the ice, how he’s dedicated to conditioning and training, and we think that attitude along with our sport science department will hopefully allow him to be healthy and help the Buffalo Sabres the next eight years.

Q: How you navigate, I know the cap’s going to go up in the coming years, but how do you navigate the challenge of having two players like Jack (Eichel) and Jeff take up a significant portion of your cap space, or your cap overall. My second question is how does your experience in Pittsburgh, having two players with similar contract structures, sort of prepare you to navigate that challenge? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: I think this contract just goes to show you when very good players want to stay here in Buffalo and be part of it, we’re going to find a way to try to get it done. Our goal is to continue to try to develop our players within our system and we want to give them big contracts. We want them to develop and be players that are deserving of their big contracts. I feel very comfortable having some of our top players taking pieces of our salary cap up. People talk about some teams throughout the league having “cap situations.” Well they have cap situations because they have excellent players on the roster. That’s what we’re trying to get to. I think the successful teams here are willing to find ways to get deals done with their top players, but then also continually have young players coming through the system here. That’s what we’re trying to develop here and is why we continue to try to have draft picks. We continue to have such an emphasis on [the Rochester Americans] and player development, because we want to find ways to keep good players here in Buffalo and also continue to have strong teams by bringing entry-level contracts into the system, into our team.

Q: Ultimately, what do you think sold Jeff on the long-term commitment to the Sabres? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: I think that’s a good question to ask directly to Jeff. In my discussions with Jeff, I think he felt very comfortable how he was treated coming into the of the organization. It’s always difficult being traded for the first time and coming to a new environment. I felt we handled it well for him. He was allowed to stay focused on hockey. I think just the facilities, whether it’s in Buffalo or on the road, is first class. I think he’d appreciate that. And I think he just sees the potential for this team. I think, obviously, he was a big part of our success in the first half and there was a frustration in the second half or how our team performed. But he sees the potential in the Jack Eichel, he sees potential in Rasmus Dahlin or Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson, some of our younger players. That’s certainly got him excited [about] where this organization can go in the future.

Q: You mentioned there might be some fluctuations, but he did just set a career high. Is there still more room to grow for Jeff, even though he is 27? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

A: I certainly believe so. You can always debate it, John, back and forth. Was he fortunate for some of the goals that he had early in the season? But then he went through a slump in the second half of the second half the season. I think there’s still opportunity for him to go beyond that. Hopefully with us having younger players that are going to continue to improve around him and having a stronger team around him will just allow him to have better goal totals. And like I said, the way he goes about having a work ethic and going about trying to find different methods of keeping his body in shape, training in the off-season and then also being a student of the game and where to go on the ice, body position around the net, I still believe he’s growing as a player for sure.

Q: How does this contract, and now your new salary structure with this contract, does it in any way handcuff you to add more elite players including in free agency this off-season, while knowing that Rasmus Dahlin’s contract year is coming up on the horizon? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: We have young players such as Rasmus in our organization, and it’s our job continue to help them develop so they’re deserving of the of these higher-end contracts. I think our focus as we move forward here, we’ll certainly be active in talking to different players in free agency. We’ll see how that plays out. Our biggest focus, I think, heading into free agency was getting Jeff signed, and we’ve accomplished that. We’ll continue to talk to see if there’s a fit to help out our team from that respect. I think him sometimes a more realistic option is through trades, like we did last year with Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick, and utilizing our cap space from that standpoint, or adding a player like Jack Skinner like we did later on in the summer. So I think we’ll continue to look at both ways through the both the trade route and free agency to see if we can improve our team.

Q: I know, obviously, you don’t want to go into super detail about this, but what are your goals in free agency? What kind of players do you want to add to this roster? I know you touched on that a little bit at the end-of-season press conference, but what ideally, what kind of players would you like added? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: It’s a fair , but I’ll probably respond with a general comment: We didn’t make the playoffs. We have to continue to improve in a lot of facets. I think the easiest one and what we’ve talked a lot about is continuing to try to add more scoring to our group, especially up front, and that’s why getting Jeff signed was such a big deal for us. We want to focus on adding to that group, not replacing it. And that’s what we’ve accomplished with signing up with Jeff. We certainly are excited about some of our young players going into different roles, but if we can find a way to add a little bit more depth instead of relying so much on Jeff, Sam and Jack, I think that’s certainly one of our goals here is an organization

Q: Is there an interest in bringing Jason Pominville back? Have you guys made a decision yet on him? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

A: Nope, Jason’s actually working out at our facility right now. We’ve kept a dialogue open with him. Not surprisingly, Jason is working extremely hard in the off-season. We’ll continue that dialogue through the summer. It’ll certainly [depend] on how things present themselves during the talking period with free agents and what materializes from trade fronts, both at the draft and heading into July 1.

Q: Was there any pressure on yourself to get something done before the negotiation period opened up? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: I certainly think that’s a fair assumption. We didn’t want to get that part. I think when you get to talking to other teams and other situations, it always brings in more of a risk that the player’s going to leave. What I like about the two sides, I know some people may have thought this negotiation dragged on, but the bottom line was that wasn’t to be a resolution until we had a head coach in place. And then once we got a head coach in place, you have to go through the process of making sure the head coach interacts with Jeff, and then you start talking. It’s not just a simple thing of, “here’s the numbers” type of thing. When you’re looking at a deal like this, there’s structure, there’s different clauses, that you have yet to look at the entire package. At the same token, I thought all our discussions were very cordial. All our discussions were certainly trying to find a resolution to both sides’ stances, and what they wanted accomplished through the negotiations. The fact that we were able to get this done two weeks before the talking period, three weeks before July 1, I think was great from both sides. We’re very excited to have Jeff on board, but to get back your first thing, we certainly didn’t want it get to the point where he’s discussing options with other teams and discussing different possibilities.

Q: If this team — and some people, if you look at the team and how it played last year — if it has underachieved the previous two years, how difficult is it knowing what the potential of this team is moving forward and assessing your roster and now with the new coach in place? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I think this team has shown glimpses of it. So our first half versus how it performed the second half, it’s all over the place from that standpoint. I think with so many young players, you continue to hope that it’s our job to help them develop. You saw Jack and Sam taking steps from a statistical standpoint in the past year. Now we need that from some of our younger players, whether it’s the Casey Mittelstadt Tage Thompson, Victor Olofsson stepping in, Alex Nylander, we need some of these young players stepping in there. I think we’re excited about where our group can move to. I think we’ve shown glimpses and we’ve gone through different stretches, but we’ve been a good team. Now it’s our job to be a lot more consistent over 82 games. So that certainly gives us hope, but we also understand that there needs to be a lot of work to be done with that. But from a standpoint of projecting exactly where we’re going to be, I think that’s very difficult in the National Hockey League. You just look at what’s happened in the playoffs, you just look at where the so-called experts had a lot of predictions for teams at the start of the year and where they ended up finishing, it’s the beauty of the sport is that there’s that much parity. We have an opportunity, I think, to accomplish something and to be playing in meaningful games later on the season, but that will certainly be dictated by how we come together as a team, what moves we make here in the summer and also a lot on our players on how that they’re going about things with the training throughout the summer.

Q: You’ve got some younger players that ever since they’ve been drafted in Buffalo have done really nothing but lose and lose badly. And you get talk to these guys, you can see how it wears on them, because nobody wants to lose, everybody wants to win. How much do you take that into account of somebody just mentally, maybe need a change when you’re thinking of trades, or you’re thinking of qualifying offers, or you’re thinking of those things? Do you take that into account that maybe these guys have just lost too much and need a change of scenery? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: That’s certainly a concern. What gives us hope it is a lot of these players have had success earlier in the careers in other situations, whether it’s junior, college, over in Europe, World Championships, and they at least do know how to win in those environments. Also, the thing that gives us as an organization hope is [our winning streak that] materialized in November, December. I think they realize what can happen with the city when you have some success. I think what happened in the first half at least shows these guys that it can be accomplished. Now it’s the next step to do it over 82 games.

Jason Botterill on The Instigators (6/6/19)


Jason Botterill
The Instigators (11 a.m.) (19:59)

Andrew Peters: Welcome back to The Instigators and we’re instigating already. [We were] just told we could have 15 minutes with General Manager Jason Botterill, you looked to Chris Bandura like, “Fifteen? Are you serious?” Good morning, Jason.

Jason Botterill: Good morning, how are you today?

Martin Biron: Do you want more time with us, or do you want less time?
JB: Yeah, I was hoping for maybe half hour, an hour, that’d be great.

AP: Just like normal players, eh, Botts? We all want more ice time, don’t we?

JB: Look, I’m looking for knowledge, and I want to get it from you guys.

AP: You came to the right place, let’s get right to it.

JB: I’ve heard you have some very creative ideas about our team moving forward, so it’s great, I’m looking forward to it.

AP: There’s nothing wrong with playing fantasy hockey, Botts. When you can’t have the real job, what do you do? You play fantasy.

JB: Well we actually have our pro scouting meetings going on right now, and we have Craig’s board up, you know, and then we have what we’re planning on doing.

AP: Well then hey, you know what? Let’s get right to a legit question that is probably a player you haven’t even been asked about recently, because you hear about (Jeff) Skinner, [Rasmus Ristolainen], all these other guys. Victor Olofsson, is he a guy that, because on our board, Craig likes the cost-efficient idea of a guy that might be able to put up 20, 30 goals next year at about a million bucks. Is that a guy, with what you saw at the end of the season, because I think he surprised a lot of us. I think he was a better skater than most of us probably had expected. The pass to Jack was amazing, which showed that he had incredible vision, and we already know about his shot. Is that a guy that has impressed you to the point where you’re like, “We gotta give him a serious look this year for that cost-efficient role on a top line?”

JB: What we like about having a bulk of young players, [is] there’s going to be competition in training camp. I think it’s always difficult to project which guy is really going to step up from that standpoint, but we have multiple players that we’re looking to try to put into the lineup there. Victor, I thought he had an amazing season. When you make that transition, coming over to North America, you don’t know how it’s going to go. We’ve always talked about the shot, but what we likes was his ability, as the season progressed, [to] get to the net more, getting into the forecheck more. He did a very good job in the defensive zone in the American Hockey League and really earned the opportunity to get called up. I think both Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) really enjoyed playing with him at the end of the season, simply from the standpoint of his hockey sense. You talk about the shot to finish off chances, but also to create chances. I think the only thing that we have to guard against is games a the end of the season when you’re out of the playoffs are different than the intensity of the National Hockey League at the start of the season when teams are all ready to go. But we’ll certainly give him a great look at the start of the season and see where it goes.

MB: Who else from Rochester are you looking at that you can say is either NHL ready or just on the cusp of making it to an NHL team?

JB: Well obviously Alex Nylander, I thought, took great strides last year. [It] was disappointing when he got up here that he did run into the injury, just to add more games to his experience level there. Also, you saw C.J. Smith. You saw last year where he was at. Coming up, I thought he shows the ability to score, the affinity to finish off chance. He’ll be another one that gets a lot of looks. I think a lot of guys on our team, you look at a Rasmus Asplund, is he ready to make our team right out of training camp? Last year, he comes to training camp, it’s experience. Just get a feel for it over in North America. Now he’s going to come to be really pushing for a spot on our team.

MB: Is the second half of the season for Asplund something that you say, hey, if he can have 30-40 games at the start of the season the same way, that now you’re really looking at him being a big piece of your team going forward?

JB: Yeah, what’s the safe, conservative thing to do? Probably say, “Hey, at Christmas time we’re looking for him to really be in that call-up spot.” But with this kid’s work ethic, and how he handles himself in the off season, we’re certainly going to be open to what he can do in training camp and see where it goes from there.

Craig Rivet: You know what? I think there’s a lot of people, going back to (Victor) Olofsson, there were a lot of people that we’re saying when he got called up he looked really good. His skating was there, he was making plays. He was also, something that you had mentioned, he looked really solid defensively. And these were things where, “Why wasn’t this guy up sooner? He could have helped the team.” And the reality is he probably wasn’t ready a that time, and that’s where, I think you’ve talked a lot in the past about having guys develop their game so when they do get to the National Hockey League, they’re able to jump in and not only just be a player, but help the team move forward. That’s one thing that I remember a lot of fans were wondering why he wasn’t up sooner. The reality is he probably wasn’t ready at that time, but when you did call him up, he looked pretty darn good. And there was another player too, Will Borgen. We talk about all these forwards, but Will Borgen is a guy that skates exceptionally well, he’s got a physical presence to him, and he spent the whole year in the minors. Where do you see him as a possible guy coming to training camp and possibly earning a job?

JB: Well we’ll start with Will there. What we loved about Will is just the progression throughout the year. He came from a very good program at St. Cloud, had an opportunity to represent our country at the Olympics, but still, making that transition to pro hockey is an adjustment. What we love is he went from sort of a third-pairing guy, low minutes at the start of the year in the American Hockey League, to a player that our staff down there felt comfortable throwing in any situation out there. He brings a different attribute, that physical play, that is different than a lot of our other prospects. He got us excited pretty much the start of training camp at the rookie tournament. He played with (Rasmus) Dahlin, and I know Mr. Dahlin can make a lot of other players look good, but I think they complement each other very well there. Giving him some games at the end of the season was great for him to understand just how hard it is in the National Hockey League, how physical guys are. You talk to him a little bit about battling Anders Lee in front of the net, how heavy a guy like Anders Lee is, and that’s what he has to do. As a young guy, he’s got good size, good frame, but he still has to get stronger. Having that experience is going to help him a lot from a motivational standpoint in the summer, what he has to do. But we’re certainly looking at him to push things at the start of the season. You look at, especially with (Zach) Bogosian going to be out at the start of the year, he’ll get a great look in training camp, Will, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I do want to say, going back now to Victor (Olofsson), that’s where, you know, there’s always that transition coming from Europe over to the North American game, and going through the experience of going into a Syracuse on a Saturday night and the intensity in a small building like that, and he really handled those things very well. What I like about Chris Taylor, what he teaches down there, is Victor was a big part of our penalty kill down there, and I think, just that reliability, it teaches them better defensive habits that will allow him to come up to the National Hockey League because as good of an offensive player Victor is, it’s difficult to earn that time on the power play right off the bat. With his penalty kill ability, it’s going to allow him to get more minutes at the National Hockey League level.

MB: So you’re looking at prospects, let’s move on to trades, offer sheets, free agency, to fill in spots on your team.

JB: Well you have it all covered there.

MB: Well no, but I’m asking you, there are some aggressive GMs out there, and there’s GMs that like to kind of see things develop a little bit more. This summer’s interesting because of teams that are in cap hell or cap jail right now, a lot of RFAs that are high-end RFAs available. You have some cap room. Where do you feel are some of the maybe tools that you can use as a general manager to maybe get one or two pieces to help your team and your roster?

JB: Look, these teams that you talk about in cap hell, it’s eventually where we want to get to. Not because you’re in cap hell, but because you have a lot of talented players in your organization. That’s where you look at, some of these teams that are in financial restraints, it’s because they have a lot of very talented players. We’ve tried to, over the last couple of years, utilize our cap space to our advantage and bringing in more skilled players to our group. And that’s what we’ll continue to look at. I think it’s going to be a very interesting market just because of so much uncertainty with the RFA market and what’s going to happen out there. I do think it could freeze up a little bit of the possible trade market, and also just the unrestricted market, just because teams don’t know how much they’re going to have to spend and how are these contracts going to play out. If you go long-term, are the numbers going to be very high? If you go shorter-term, you certainly have a little bit more space to work with. There’s a lot of unknown going on from that standpoint. But we’re certainly in a lot of dialogue. In our situation, short-term, we certainly have cap space. With our young players, you always have to look in the future too, and you just want to make sure you’re making the right choices there.

MB: You’re saying that the RFA market may freeze what trades could happen or where the UFAs may go, so do you expect the trades to be a little bit slower when considering trades and player movement because of what July 1 has in store for teams?

JB: To be honest, Marty, it’s difficult to assess. Is there a lot of communication going on out there? Yeah. But I think, you see whether the trade deadline, you see leading up to the draft and July 1, there’s always a lot of [communication]. The way things have worked, obviously we made a trade last (year) later in the summer with Jeff Skinner, but that doesn’t really happen that much throughout the year. It seems to be so focused on improving your team at two spots: the trade deadline and July 1. So there’s certainly a lot of discussion going on there. Predicting, “Hey, is there going to be more trades or anything like that?” I think that’s always difficult to handle. I talk about the unrestricted market certainly being, I think that sort of that second or third tier, it might be frozen up a little bit, but you know teams are always searching for higher-end skill talent. I don’t think there’s a lot of talk about this unrestricted market. I think there’s certainly some very talented players at the high end that will get very good contracts and very good offers out there. I think that second and third tier, it could be something that slows down a little bit just because of the unknown of the restricted market.

AP: Just a lot of optimism and confidence around the Jeff Skinner contract. I have to ask you, Bottts, there’s speculation out there. Ralph Krueger was asked about it yesterday, just seemed optimistic about the conversation that he had with Jeff Skinner. Where are we at? You’re not nervous at all?

JB: Well look, it’s what I’ve said before, Andrew. Until you have a contract signed, nothing’s for sure. But what I’ve enjoyed about the negotiations is that there’s no threats, there’s no posturing. It’s just trying to go through people’s expectations and people’s desires and trying to find a resolution to it. It’s been very straightforward from that standpoint. We have a very open dialogue with Newport Sports, we’ve worked with them very closely the last couple of years, especially with Rasmus Dahlin coming into our group last year and just making sure that everything was set up from that standpoint. I think there’s a respect level from the agency there towards how we handle things in our franchise, so that’s where the optimism comes from. It’s been my job to try to find a resolution to it. He’s a player we certainly want to get signed, but we have to look what’s best for the organization and we’re trying to get it done.

MB: Do you talk every day? Is it an every day conversation? Is it twice a day, every other day? I’m just saying because if I was a player, I’d be calling my agent morning and night and be like, “Hey, did you guys talk, what happened?” And I would put pressure on the agent maybe to get that conversation. What he does, it’s his business and he gets paid for that, but I’m curious to see if it’s an every day text or email or phone call.

JB: I think what people are forgetting, too, is just that we didn’t have a head coach for the last month and a half or so, and that was a situation where nothing was going to be resolved. If you’re signing a long-term contract, you’re not going to just sign a long-term contract with an organization until you know who the head coach is. And so once we had that set up, obviously there’s communication with Ralph (Krueger) and Jeff. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s the power of the players right now. The players that played under Ralph, the players that, whether it was Edmonton or at the World Cup, there were a lot more touch points than I anticipated with Jeff, and I think that probably gave Jeff even more comfort of having Ralph as our head coach there. Then it just comes down from a situation of communicating with it, and yeah, we’re in constant communication with Newport over the last little bit here and trying to get something set up.

AP: In conversations about eight-year contracts, long-term deals with any player at this age on any team, does the conversation come up — obviously it would be from the team side — about fear of the production later in the contract?

JB: It always has to be a part of the equation, especially when we have such a young team, those are the dialogues that we look at. The comfort level that we have with Jeff’s situation is, part of the reason why we like him so much as a player and he’s been a good fit for our team, is just the professionalism that he’s brought to the locker room. The focus that he has. You talk to him, and if you followed him on social media a little bit, you understand he’s been bouncing all over the United States and it’s not just on vacation; he’s going to train with different people, trying to find different elements to give him that edge, and I think he’s very focused on his health, very focused on new ways of training. I think he really integrated well with not only our players on our team, but also our staff and some of what our sports performance ideas from a staff can bring him, and I think he was invigorated by it. Look, there’s always risk, there’s always risk of an injury that you can’t control, but how he takes care of his body off the ice is very impressive and it gives us comfort in offering a longer-term contract.

AP: You looking forward to going to Vancouver for the draft? Can you give us four players, I mean you’re drafting at No. 7, can you give us four players that intrigued you? We talked to a couple really impressive young men, one of them ranked later on in the draft. Who was the other one we had? Cole Caufield. What are you looking at going into the draft at seven?

JB: We’re looking for the best player, Andrew. Best player. Andrew, I’m not going to present my list, because I think it’s a very unique year. Obviously you have your top two players at the top of the draft, and then I think what’s exciting about going into Vancouver: One, the draft is always a great time, just because you have the entire hockey world in one spot. For a communication standpoint with agents, with other GMs, and just being on the ice surface there at the rink, it’s exciting. It’s a fun atmosphere, and you’re bringing talented players into your organization. But what the other thing is, is you look at the draft this year, whether you want to go three to 10, three to 12, there’s some very talented players in that group, and I think teams have the same players sort of in there, but it’s going to be a different mix from that aspect. I can’t predict on hey, there’s going to be a lot of trades because teams want to move up to get their guy maybe a spot or two ahead, or there’s a group of players that they’re going to feel comfortable that they come down to them anyways.

AP: You’re not picking first or second, you went to the World Championship, you got to see (Jack) Hughes and Kaapo Kakko firsthand. I’m not going to say who would you pick at No. 1, but what did you think of those two guys and how did you feel about the chance that we may seem some movement or some surprises at No. 1 and 2 this year?

JB: I don’t think you’re going to see any surprises at one or two. Look, those are two talented players. Very different players, but both are going to step in and help their organizations immensely right off the bat.

CR: Will both play in the National Hockey League next year?

JB: I certainly think so. My anticipation is after three you’re probably not going to have as many playing in the National Hockey League.

CR: After three, so you feel that three players out of this draft will…

JB: No, I believe one and two will play in the National Hockey League for sure next year. Beyond that, I don’t think there will be a lot, but that being said, I was impressed last year, there were some players: (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi and stuff too, that stepped in right away and had a great season, that maybe our projection I wasn’t thinking they were going to be in the National Hockey League. You go through the combine last week and you just realize, it’s astonishing how prepared these guys are and how physically built a lot of them are now through their programs. Whether they’re skating at such a young age, working with trainers, strength trainers at such a young age. These guys are more mature and more prepared to step into the National Hockey League at a young age.

AP: Are you watching the Raptors?

JB: Watching the Raptors, without a doubt. It’s great for Canada basketball and just the atmosphere up in Toronto right now at those games. Insane.

Ralph Krueger on The Instigators (6/6/19)


Ralph Krueger
The Instigators (10 a.m.) (28:09)

Andrew Peters: How’s everything going? How’s the welcoming party been? Let’s call it that.

Ralph Krueger: It’s outstanding. We had a dinner last night where also the size of the organization, together with the Bills and the Sabres and all the other families and sports that are here, gives you an exciting feel, where you know you can access information and find peers in other sports that you can interact with. So it’s, yes, the NHL and the Sabres are the center of everything, but what a professional organization. So much passion here. A lot of good people I’ve met already. Specialists, which are important. You know, all four of us are specialists at something. You guys have to let me know what you’re specialists at. (Laughs)… I just spent breakfast already with Chris Taylor, our head coach over in Rochester. I had him out here at 6:30 this morning and we had a good breakfast. He wasn’t that hungry yet but had a good chat. I just spent an hour with our head of performance, Joe (Collins), and it’s so exciting for me to see the support I’m going to be having as a head coach and the people I can access and the information that’s here. There’s been a lot — I said it at the press conference yesterday — there’s been a lot of really good groundwork done here over the last years, so I know I can go right to work, guys, and I think that’s important for all of us.

Martin Biron: You mentioned the Bills, and you came from a soccer background in England, so how much do you want to learn or rely on your experience with other sports. We see Jason Botterill, he’s in the draft room at One Bills Drive when the Bills are drafting a couple of weeks ago. How much do you rely on your experience with other sports to bring into hockey?

RK: It’s a time where hockey, we have to agree, that for multiple decades, many things were just done, copy, pasted, and people were afraid of change, thinking it was going to take their jobs away, instead of looking at it as an opportunity to take our sport to another level. I’m going to bring it in in a careful way. I’m not the kind of person that likes to surprise players in the wrong way. I want to make sure they understand why we’re doing things when they do them and if they buy into it on the way, and that when we’re doing it we’re all in together, it’s not like, “Okay, here, our pre-activation is going to have this element because I saw it on the soccer field.” No, it’s going to be, “The pre-activation is coming in here because we’re going to make you a better hockey player on the ice. We’re going to activate better into our practices and we’re going to avoid soft-tissue injuries.” This sounds a little bit like World Economic Forum talk now on medical care, but you know what I’m getting at.

Craig Rivet: When you’re talking about spreading your message, you’re going to have to bring in people that are around you. You know, you’re only as good as the people that work beside you. You’ve spoken about going out and kind of filling your staff together. How long do you think before you can do all your due diligence on all the people and have your staff?

RK: We’re running interviews here right now. Again, Jason and I really want to get this right. I’d rather start with a quality staff and possibly add later on, as I see, because as a head coach, I think, at the very beginning you need to be the primary voice and make sure that the culture is set in the first few months and then use your assistants all the time in special situations: [power play], [penalty kill], and so on and so forth. But the main message and the main drivers will come from me initially. We will probably have a staff in place, I would say, by the end of June, where we then, again, can spend two or three weeks. I’ve been overwhelmed by the applications we’ve received; people that I didn’t expect would be interested in coming here. You can see that there is a buzz around the potential of the Sabres. Now we’ve got to turn that around and make sure it happens on the ice. But getting those people right, you mentioned it also in the show last time when you spoke to me, and getting those people right culturally is going to be important. I met with Chris Taylor today; in Rochester, I know it’s a check mark. Culturally, he’s an excellent head coach there. He’s got everything going in the direction that I like. We just had such a natural conversation this morning. I can see why I’m here is that I was hired fitting into the culture that’s been built, and now it’s up to me to get the right staff in place so the players feel that strength in our room.

MB: What do you like on the bench? Because we see Boston and St. Louis in the finals, they have like five coaches on the bench and everybody’s got an iPad. When I played for the Rangers with Torts, there was John Tortorella, Mike Sullivan, there were no other coaches on the bench. What do you like on the bench? Having multiple assistants or being in charge? How does the bench work for you?

RK: For me, simplicity is always important. Within that, I find that if it’s simple and clear for the players, then we can be spontaneous and we can adapt. But I like a simple, clean bench. I think three on the bench, max. Possibly, in this modern era, you might have a video support off to the side, who then can bring iPads into play if it makes sense. But I think we need to keep our players moving in the game, in the moment and forward. It’s not worth it, if you’ve missed five scoring chances, to look at those right at that time. We can work on that maybe tomorrow or in practice or whatever, so let’s keep flowing within the game. You have to make sure we’re not over-coaching. I’m not an over-coach during the games. I think the off-ice work that I like to do and the non-game days are where most of my teaching would happen. Within the game day, I like to live that day, let it flow, let the players’ minds be free and not overload them. So I would see three on the bench right now.

AP: How many mistakes do you let a guy make in a game before you say something to him?

RK: Yeah, that’s always a question of whether the mistake is honest or dishonest. If a player is trying hard — I like players to play on their toes here in the Sabres. I think playing on your toes means that you have the courage and also know that it’s okay to make a mistake. For me, it would be worse if we go down losing games where we haven’t tried and we haven’t given it our best shot. So making mistakes, it’s important that we keep our body language positive and healthy even if we have adversity within the game. How many mistakes? I don’t know, Andrew.

AP: There always seems to be a longer leash for the guys that play more — understandably so. But I believe every player — I don’t care if it’s your star player or your fourth-line guy that plays five, six minutes a night — if they’re afraid to go out there and make a mistake, you’re not going to get maximum performance from them at all.

RK: No, for sure there’s room for error. It’s part of the game. I will use the word “connected” a lot. If you’re watching our games and you feel, with and without the puck, we’re moving in a connected way, that’s how I’d like to set up the team. Within that, if we make mistakes or there’s breakdowns, I stay very calm during games. I think that’s something that’s going to be part of our process and it’s part of the sport. But I don’t get caught up a lot in that. I don’t get caught up in us going up or down during a game. I like to be supportive on the bench. Obviously, if you’re playing well and you’re giving your best and you make a mistake here and there, let’s deal with it if it’s necessary, but often I don’t even like to speak about it during the game. Let’s do it the next day.

CR: A player here in Buffalo that’s kind of been under fire a little bit because of his analytics and some of the things that he did: We had a player on our team last year — Rasmus Ristolainen, that was minus-41. People look at that and say, “He had a terrible season.” Well there’s a lot of things that he did exceptionally well last year. This is a player I think is a huge part of the Sabres moving forward. He plays the game with passion and with grit, and has a lot of positives, but there are parts of his game that he needs some guidance in. How do you feel that you can help out a player like Rasmus Ristolainen that has garnered a lot of the workload for a lot of years on this team?

RK: Well first of all, the plus/minus statistic, as all three of you know, is a dangerous one. You have to be careful; if you’re playing against the best players on the other team all the time, game in and game out, and the team is having a tough stretch, then you’re going to pay the price for that. It is a team game. So I’m careful with statistics and they can always be manipulated. But I think when you look at [Ristolainen], the skill set, the passion, like you’ve already said. For me, it’s really important we become an excellent team, also, away from the puck. He loves that part of his game and wants to bring an aggressive element to it. We need to be an aggressive defensive team. We want to get the puck back as quick as possible. We can only do that with an aggressive mindset.

AP: He has both of those things that you mentioned, the necessities: the grit and the bite in that game of his.

RK: I’m excited together with whoever leads our defensemen, that coach, of course, will have the main role of the one-on-one coaching and teaching. For me, it will be more, as a head coach, working on the concept, like I’ve told you, to connect these guys and to bring them together and give him the support — and everybody else — so that we lower our goals against, period. I think the shots against last year were too high. We need to tighten up and increase our productivity. For the amount of scoring chances that we created last year, the finishing was an issue. That will help [Ristolainen]. But he’s definitely a centerpiece in this. Look at the minutes he chomped down last year; that’s quite astounding.

MB: Not only were the shots high against the Sabres last year, but the slot shots, the quality shots from the scoring areas, were very high. Because, we all feel here — and we’ve been watching for many years — that the connection in the defensive zone was not the right one. Guys were caught out of position, there were guys wide open. The game has changed. Twenty years ago, it was a strict defensive zone coverage. You had your quadrants, you stayed there. Now some teams go more to that man-to-man, try to create the turnover right away and get the transition game going. Where do you feel your philosophy in the defensive zone is? Because it’s something that the fans have seen kind of slip away in the last few seasons.

RK: I think definitely it’s, again, creating pressure at the puck. And then as you move away from the puck and your role drops from second, third, fourth, fifth player, you will have more of a zone than a man, possibly, focus. But at the puck, the aggressiveness is going to be important. And what that does is stops those long cycling shifts. When we moved the blue lines, it changed the game. You need to, first of all, be much, much more aggressive than you used to be at the blue line so that entries become difficult. You don’t want to give simple, soft entries at any point in time, so it begins all the way up in the offensive zone, of course, is where defense starts. It’s six, seven things that need to happen before a goal falls. I think that being aggressive before we even get into the [defensive] zone will be the beginning of everything. But in the zone itself, it’s the aggressiveness at the puck and the support, then, that occurs behind that, with less of a man focus as you move away from it. So it’s not complicated, but it’s hard work and you need to be always active and willing to work for your gap away from the puck. The other support guys will be critical.

MB: How long does it take to teach? How long do you give yourself, you’re coming into September to camp, and you say, “Okay, by November 1, I want everybody to get a good understanding”? Or is it January? How long does it take to get everybody on the same page?

RK: Well like I told you when we spoke the first time, guys, until you’re actually on the ice with the team and you’re working with them and you have a game, it’s hard to read where the group is at right now. I’m going to spend the next three months trying to figure out over some video footage — and I’ve got a lot of games on the laptop loaded right now — to visualize that. But really, I’ll find out when I’m on the game. You will feel, hopefully very quickly, a certain structure within the game that we’re playing. I don’t believe it should take too long. We have a lot of smart players in the room. We have a lot of skill, we have a lot of passion. We have a lot of hunger to want to win. I’m expecting that we should see some results right off the hop.

AP: If we’re new players and we’re watching your press conference — because not all new players can be here but they’re all dialed in and paying attention. Some of them, maybe a majority of them, you haven’t spoken to yet — they’re going to wonder, “What is the coach’s standard? What is the standard that’s going to be set to help us set an identity?” We talk about team identity all the time. What’s Ralph Krueger’s (identity)?

RK: The most important thing will be our level of communication. I think that keeping everything open and honest, flowing all of the time, emotions real. So if we’re angry, let’s be angry. Let’s not act it. Above all, though, within all of the emotions we experience during the year, I expect a solution mentality. I expect a constructive mentality in everybody’s behavior. I was asked yesterday about the past, and I really don’t spend a lot of time there. As soon as I get my lessons out of the past, boom, let’s go.

AP: You said “let’s not act it.” Can you tell the difference between the guys that are acting angry and the guys that are really angry? Because I’m going to tell you: I played with some guys that used to throw their helmet at the perfect time when the coach was walking in.

RK: If there’s one thing that I believe I have a skill at, it’s feeling and reading the emotions of the room and whether they’re real or not, or honest. Looking at 20 players at a pre-game talk, I can feel if one guy’s not there or not on. I’m very, very intuitive that way. In the end, I want an honest locker room and I want guys to really be real.

AP: We saw some clips of you in Edmonton. (Talking) about changing the culture, and guys want to be on board, and addressing a conversation you had with Shawn Horcoff about “Horc, we had a conversation about playing meaningful games in March and April.” If the times are tough, is that what the players will see from you?

RK: I don’t hold grudges at all. So if you really piss me off once during this year, don’t worry. [Laughs]

AP: Well will you tell me on air so everybody knows? So at least if there’s some kind of awkwardness between us, it’s out there?

RK: But really, I think let’s just have honest conversations. I don’t hold grudges, but what I will do is be really straight and honest with the players at all times. I’ll pick the spots when it’s in the team environment or when it’s a one-on-one. You have to have a feel for that too. There’s situations where you have to pull it out of the team environment. In the end, it’s about getting the best out of the players and it’s creating an environment where they can perform and where they have an excitement coming in, whether it’s a practice day or a game day, or even a meeting. Let’s construct the meeting so they’ll look forward to it and not go, “[Gasp] Another meeting.”

CR: You expressed yesterday that you had some discussions with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) over at the World Championship. You said that you were more of a listener and allowed them to speak, and get things off their chests. Were there any certain things that you can let us know that bothered them, or things that they felt that this team could improve on?

RK: What I was impressed about was they both didn’t spend any time complaining about the past or speaking about the past in a negative way. Without any prompting from me whatsoever, these guys want to speak about, “How are we going to do this? How are we going to fix this? How are we going to become competitive?” So I enjoyed that part of it. Coming out at the end when I processed the time together, I would say that was my major takeaway: There were no negative comments made. … That would have been the best part of it. You guys know yourselves: There’s nothing worse than walking into a space and somebody’s sitting there trying to make you feel empowered by saying everything there was bad, right? Because it wasn’t; everything wasn’t bad. There’s a lot of good things that we’re going to take with, and I’m picking and choosing those things. There’s been hard work done here. Your coaching staff gave everything last season and they were a good coaching staff. They stuck together as a team, they stayed positive and they stayed on topic. The results just didn’t come. So let’s take those good things with us and build on them. This isn’t a rebuild, guys. I told you that when I took over. It’s not a rebuild. It’s a build-on. Let’s find those five percentage points to increase the [wins].

MB: I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t ask you about goaltending. Obviously, we’re looking at the finals right now. You had (Tuukka) Rask and (Jaroslav) Halak in a split with Boston all season long. You have Jordan Binnington, who came in late. We don’t see a lot of goalies playing 65-70 games anymore. Where do you see the work with (Linus) Ullmark and (Carter) Hutton going, and how is that partnership going to work for you making this team successful?

RK: I feel very comfortable with both of them and I think, also, the relationship of age is healthy. It’s a healthy mix. Their actions will decide and dictate that. The goaltender coach, whoever that will be — we’re still in the process of analyzing — I think that coach will have a big responsibility in managing his part. I like to empower the people that I bring in. What I know is there’s a huge upside for both of them. I think with a good structure and solid team game in front of them, it’ll become a different situation for them too. I don’t have a real big plan there, Marty. You’ve got to go with the flow sometimes and your gut has to feel whether it’s right. Sometimes leaving somebody in for a longer run can be the right thing, but mixing it up — I’m big on energy, and I think when you look at the pace that we’re going to have next year, using both in a 60/40, possibly, kind of split would be probably my first tendency, but then let’s see what happens.

MB: What about back-to-backs? I know some coaches don’t like to play the same goalie on back-to-backs. Some goalies like to play two games in two days. What is your philosophy on back-to-backs?

RK: Again, generally, usually in the past, during the regular season, that would be a split situation, depending on who the opposition is. But you need to be spontaneous. You need to feel what the group needs on the day and you need to be ready to give up on maybe what your core philosophy is, which mine would be separating the energy between the two goalies.

AP: Before you go, you were here in Buffalo going around town and checking out the sights, if you will. You were bar hopping.

RK: [Laughs] Mineral water bar hopping.

AP: That story really took off. What did you learn about Buffalo in your time when you were undercover, incognito?

RK: I think the way the city is coming around is amazing, if you look at Elmwood Village and Allentown. So much of the architecture here and buildings that are 100-plus years old, how proud the community has been in renovating, whether it’s a house or it’s a commercial building, I think there’s a soul here. I like the size of the city. There’s pockets of really good restaurants. There’s nature, if you look at Delaware Park. I’m a bit of a cross-country skier, so I can enjoy the winter. Things like that. Like is always what we make of it, and I see a lot positive things here that my wife and I will have pleasure enjoying the city.

AP: Most interesting person you’ve ever met outside of hockey?

RK: I would say Tony Blair at the World Economic Forum. One of the best orators, speakers I’ve ever met in my life. That was quite an experience. He’s not a politician, really, although everybody would seem that way. That was a good experience. I think the best experiences we have are in hockey. I remember meeting Scotty Bowman about 20 years ago and he asked me a few questions and know when I see Scotty next, we’re going to have an amazing conversation. I’ve been running into him over the last 20 years many times, and I just love the passion and the learners I’ve had with him.