Category Archives: Transcript

Jason Botterill Conference Call (6/8/19)

6/8/19

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

https://sabresdigitalpressbox.com/2019/06/08/jason-botterill-conference-call-2/  (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)

6/6/19

Jason Botterill
The Instigators (11 a.m.)

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/06-06-sabres-general-manager-jason-botterill-instigators (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)

6/6/19

Ralph Krueger
The Instigators (10 a.m.)

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/06-06-sabres-head-coach-ralph-krueger-instigators (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.

 

Ralph Krueger Introductory Press Conference (6/5/19)

6/5/19

Ralph Krueger
Introductory Press Conference (10 a.m.)

https://sabresdigitalpressbox.com/2019/06/05/ralph-krueger-introductory-press-conference/ (23:14)

 

Opening statement:

Good morning. So, for me, it’s wonderful to be sitting in front of you. I heard some of your voices on the calls, and here we are now face-to-face. We begin a journey together. I had a wonderful morning walking through the building, walking through the spaces that we’re going to be working in in the next months and years. I can tell you that I’m full of energy and ready to begin what should be a journey of growth for everybody, not only for myself as a leader, but for the people and the staff surrounding me. Of course, the most important thing in the end, the players, that we find out what they’re made of as individuals as we build what we find out what we’re made of as a team. I’m excited to do that. Here I’m willing to take questions from you — I think that’s more important than holding a monologue — what’s on the top of your minds and what you’d be interested in hearing.

Q: When did you get into town and as you were touring the building and seeing, whether pictures of Gilbert Perreault or Dominik Hasek, did you get a fuller — not to say that you didn’t know what the background of the franchise is — did you get a fuller appreciation of what the history of this franchise is? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: Well, I think to grow up in Winnipeg, you know all about the history of the Buffalo Sabres. It’s an organization that, coming in in the top 14 teams has left an amazing footprint as far as having personalities come through here. I also have many close friends that have been a part of this organization, whether it’s just recently working with Miroslav Satan, Uwe Krupp, who is a good friend of mine, speaking about his seven years growing up here in Buffalo as a kid and saying that it was the best place that he could be. Whether it’s all the way back to Danny Gare — Tom Renney, a very close friend of mine, is married to Danny’s sister. There’s just been contact to multiple alumni through my life. I’ve always felt the passion for the game here in Buffalo and [I’m] excited to tap into that.

Q: When did you get into town? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: So I got into town yesterday. They’ll be some bouncing around as we go to Vancouver back for development and so on through the summer. But, really, today is the first official day in the office.

Q: Just wondering what your early discussions with players have been like, specifically Jeff Skinner? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)

A: Well, I had the opportunity to communicate with Jeff (Skinner). He was training out of state, so it was a long phone call. For me more than anything, the conversation was about how I as a coach would like to utilize his skillset and his talent. I work on the basis that Jeff Skinner is a Buffalo Sabre, and as a result, that’s how our conversation went. Everything else, Jason has complete control of that process. It’ll happen for what is best for the Sabres in the end. But I enjoyed my conversation with Jeff, I could feel his unbelievable passion for the game and I see a skillset there that is unique and that can still be built upon. Overall, really good conversation.

Q: When we talked to Jason (Botterill) when he announced your hire, a lot was made about your international experience and how you dealt with pressure situations with your teams and how that might translate to the National Hockey League on an 82-game basis. Can you elaborate on how you think that might work moving forward? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I think you know the numbers; I worked 17 World Championships, Olympics, World Cup. Seventeen different tournaments where they were capsules, little capsules of time, compared to a National Hockey League season. The build up to tournaments like that, and then the three weeks within them, those are such intense spaces. It’s playoff hockey, it’s always seventh game best of seven. That’s what your life is about in those tournaments, especially with a country when I was with Switzerland where it was about survival and pushing forward. Just playing meaningful games was really was what my life was about and dealing with that pressure together with the players and finding ways to perform under that pressure. I think that’s what the National Hockey League season is all about, is being able to deal with that for 82 games in a row and to continually push yourself into a mindset that is comfortable there. I spent my leadership life really trying to figure that out. There’s no perfect path, but I feel very comfortable to go right at that feeling off the bat.

Q: During the conference call you said you were going to speak with Jack Eichel and Sam (Reinhart) over at [the IIHF World Championship in Slovakia]. Since then, how did those discussions go and what kind of stood out to you from talking to those guys and getting to know them? (Ted Goldberg – Spectrum News)

A: In a very modern way, it began with a whole string of text messages. It was interesting how strong those conversations were before we actually met. I could feel the passion within both of them. Because they were on separate teams, I kept them apart and met with Jack one evening and Sam the other. I have to say that both of the meetings ended up running much longer than expected. It was very natural. The conversations were strong. They have a very experienced mindset for their young age because of the years they now have under their belts. There was a clear understanding of what needs to be done here, I thought. In the conversations we didn’t just speak about the weather; we spent a lot of time speaking about what needs to happen off ice, on ice and through. Many good things have been done here over the past few years. I really respect how hard everyone has been working to getting the players to where they are now. I’m happy to be stepping into a team that has a foundation and has a basis that I can build on. I can feel that in the conversation in both. I really look forward to going to work. I think all of us came out of the conversations wanting to start playing tomorrow.

Q: A little bit of a unique situation here as you’re hired over in Europe, but from then until this morning, what has been your biggest priority as the new head coach of the Buffalo Sabres? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

A: Well, more than anything, it’s conversations together with Jason to take our time to build the best possible supporting staff around me — to have a really strong team in place there. I’m all about quality and not quantity, so let’s get it right and take our time doing it properly. Also, getting up to speed on the communication slowly with more and more players. I will go through the whole roster in the next few weeks. I’ll probably have almost half of the players by the end of this week. It’s important that, at the same time parallel to that, I’m getting laptops loaded with NHL games to look a little bit deeper. I’ve been communicating with a lot of NHL coaches over these last five years. Although I haven’t been a head coach myself, it’s given me the opportunity to have a lot of conversations about processes that are going on, the speed of the National Hockey League and how it’s increased, and the flow of the game, how it’s opened up a lot more. I think that’s going to be important. While we’re building, I need to be clear on the way we want to approach the game and what’s best for the final roster that we have and how I can put those pieces into place. So multiple things going on. Of course there’s logistics of I’ve been able to close off my past life, which needed to be done of course, logically, and do it properly. From here on in today I’m 100 percent the Buffalo Sabres’ head coach and I look forward to putting all the pieces together.

Q: We’ve had a lot of players that we’ve talked to that you’ve coached, either with Team Europe or with the Edmonton Oilers, say you’re a different kind of coach. What do you think makes you a different kind of coach compared to what everybody else does when they coach? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

A: I think every coach — every leader — on the planet is unique. It’s important to be authentic; to be yourself. I’m going to compare myself to anybody, but you’re always just going to get the real deal. There’s not going to be any games or anything, we’re going to speak about the truth. I think that’s what I like to do with the players and the team: have a very open communication in both directions. You’ve probably heard me say this already, but communication is also about listening to your players, to your environment, to your supporting staff and processing all of that, not just speaking. Whether that’s unique or different, I know that’s probably one of my biggest strengths is to create an honest locker room, an honest dressing room, an honest atmosphere and to work within those boundaries. I like to keep that space. I’m conscious of energy and the energy that’s needed through 82 games and how to best put that energy into play, which also means they need to find spaces to gather energy and to help them understand that and do that. I’m big on off-ice fitness. We’ve got excellent people here that are already in the background passionately supporting the process, where we need to be the fitness possible team we can be because the game we’ll be playing is up tempo and high tempo, whether with or without the puck. I like to have an active team on the ice, but we need to be fit to be able to do that consistently game in and game out. Lots of different thoughts of who I am, but I’m not going to be the one to compare myself to anybody else. I don’t think that’s important.

Q: The game and the players have evolved so much over the years — even recently. Players are different now than they were. How have you evolved as a coach or even as a “hockey man” so to speak, even when it comes to analytics? That’s into the game now. Or the eye test compared to analytics. How have you evolved? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: I challenge myself to try and get better every day as a leader. You have to have an open mind to do that. As all of this information is flowing to us as coaches, in my experience in England, it was definitely the investment in sports science and analytics was large. The way it was processed was interesting for me to observe. I’m really, really curious on how we can bring it into the front without disrupting the free flow and the talent of our players. That’s one of the things as a coach, is to find that balance of a strong, compact game away from the puck where you can feel that unity, but still allowing the skill, the amazing skill we have on our roster, to be able to be creative and to be able to be free. When we take analytics, when we take videos, when we take all of that information, I think the important thing will be to process it in a way that really, we don’t do it just for doing its sake, but we  do it to really make a difference in the individual players. We’ll see how open certain players are to it, but I’m extremely open to gathering the information and to even GPSing players sometimes in an ice session to check maximum speeds. You could possibly watch for fatigue before it occurs and avoid injuries and so on and so forth. There’s so many examples where it might never get to the player in the end, but we might be able to track in a way that we can keep our man games lost down, as an example. If we can use analytics to do that, let’s find a way. But let’s make sure that in the end we don’t forget that a sport like ice hockey, whether 50 years ago when the Sabres were founded or today, when the puck is dropped the same basic elements will still make a difference on which team wins and which team loses. I’m never going to become over-modern and computerized in a way that we block the way the team plays and flows. I think you can understand what I’m trying to get at. It’s something I’m extremely interested in, but we have to be the best possible leadership team in using it properly.

Q: Have you started working at filling your coaching staff and do you have a deadline that you want to have the staff filled by? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

A: As I mentioned, we would rather get it right than rush it. We are speaking to the coaches that were here and other candidates and if we could by the end of this month have announced the staff to you, I think it would be ideal. There’s so many strong candidates out there, it’s getting the mix right and making sure that we have a staff that’s really, culturally, a fit. The players will feel that and will build and grow confidence off of that if our staff is extremely strong and our coaching staff is tight. So that’s really important, but at the same time we need to have the skillsets on a different level to help the players grow and develop because of our average age too. But I’d say the end of June.

Q: You mentioned earlier, you’re operating as if Jeff Skinner will be a part of this team. What allows you to feel comfortable to operate that way? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News)

A: His tone and his voice when it came to the past and the future. He was comfortable on that line. I initiated the call in that way and it never went another direction. Jeff had the opportunity to change direction if he wanted to. It was really just the flow of the conversation that made me feel comfortable. I felt he really loved to be here and that he was happy to be here.

Q: To follow up, you said he never changed direction on that conversation. While acting on the belief that Jeff (Skinner) is going to be here beyond July 1, how might you need to adapt if he’s not? If that possibility isn’t? And how much do you have to fill a big void that could be in the lineup? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

A: I don’t spend one minute on a player who is injured, for instance. So if a player is out of our lineup, we will move on with the same courage with the group we have and we won’t spend time there. It’s the reality of sports. So whether a player changes teams or is traded because it’s the best for the Sabres organization, I as a coach will always then look at what the new mix is and work with that. This is all about us maximizing our potential within the framework that we have. Sometimes the movement of players in necessary in different ways. And, again, I compare it to an injury. The Boston Bruins have to deal with their present situation and not spend time on the guys that aren’t in their lineup for Game 5. If they want to win Game 5, they have to do it with the group that’s there.

Q: You talked about, you’ve looked at the franchise, that there’s a foundation that’s been built here. At the same time, since the conference call with you, you’ve had time to assess more in the entirety of what’s transpired here. Where has this franchise, in your opinion, fallen short? What are your plans to correct that gap? How quickly can you restore true competitiveness to the product on the ice? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

A: I’ve mentioned that, I think I mentioned it on the conference call too, I’m not the kind of person that spends a lot of time on the opinions of the past. So whether it was spending my first meeting with Jack Eichel or looking at where the Sabres are today, it’s much more important what is here today, and I need to find out that. Everything else is not the space I need to get into. I need to get into a space where I see what we have, what our potential is, what our present toolbox is filled with and I need to put those pieces into place. I think everybody here knows one thing and that’s that we have an extremely passionate environment. People are treated right in this organization; don’t take that for granted, that’s a really, really special thing to have a foundation of that nature. Now, we need to get the grit and the bite into the group on the ice to stoke the fire that’s here. Why not, in the 50th year of the organization, get that going? I truly mean it that for me now to analyze one year, three years, five years, 10 years, 15 past would be a waste of time in my opinion. It’s more what do we need to do? And I’ll focus on that.

Q: Circling back to your conversation with Jack (Eichel), over the weekend there was a video where he said your first conversation went really well and he kind of expressed that you guys had talked about a true fresh start with this franchise. Knowing he’s still a young leader on this team, what was your message to him that really kind of maybe instilled more confidence in him that this thing can turn around? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)

A: I think he was speaking to me more than I was speaking to him in that meeting. I don’t think I gave him the final solution. What he could feel is what the process will look like. And as I’ve already mentioned to you, that there will be a transparency in the process and that everybody will be involved, and that includes the players, what they think and how they feel. Now, my job as a head coach is to make sure is that all of what maybe the players would like is actually enforced, because they players will know what it takes and then it’s my job to make sure it happens. He understood that. My message more than anything is that his skillset and his ability is tops in the league. Now, the second season as a captain will be — not easier — but it will be more comfortable for him, it’ll be more natural. The first go-round for any captain, especially at that age, will have its challenges because suddenly as a leader you have to take on the responsibility over and above your own self, and I think that Jack is more comfortable with that. We spoke a lot about the leadership and less about hockey, actually, in that meeting. So that was my main message, was how to develop his leadership skills I find are natural, are there. The game, I believe, on the ice will follow.

Q: As far as Rasmus Dahlin goes, have you had a chance to talk with him yet?

A: Yes.

Q: We obviously all know what a unique talent he is, there has to be some excitement to know that he’s going to be part of your blue line. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

A: To have a world-class defenseman of that caliber in your lineup is always exciting as a coach. For Rasmus, coming into his second season, there’ll be a lot more comfort, I think, with the process. Everything seemed to go a little easy at the start of last year, and then the challenges of the second half of the season allowed him to grow. As we all know, adversity is a good thing if you use it properly. Winners are always born in difficult times, depending on how you react. When I feel his reaction to the second half, he wants to go right back at it. In the conversation with me, he wished the season was going to start tomorrow and that’s a really good sign. He loves being in Buffalo and believes in the future of the club. I understand the Swedish players, I understand the European players very well, as well as the North Americans, so I’ll be tapping into that as best as I can.

Jason Botterill Interview – The Howard Simon Show (5/17/19)

The Howard Simon Show (9:30 a.m.)
WGR 550

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/05-17-sabres-general-manager-jason-botterill-howard-and-jeremy (18:05)

Jeremy White: You mentioned in your press conference that Ralph Krueger would meet soon in Slovakia, maybe, with Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] over at the World Championship.

Jason Botterill: Yeah, it’s just going to be a situation where I head back over on Sunday to continue my duties with Team Canada. Obviously, when we get there, just going to sit down with Ralph for about four or five days, go over different things, get things prepared for the summer here. Also, it’ll be a great opportunity to sit down with both Jack and Sam. It would have been Brandon [Montour] also, being over there, but unfortunately, Brandon sustained an injury and had to come back.

JW: You know those players at this point a little bit better than [Krueger] does. Did you have conversations with them before the hire, you know, maybe exit interviews? You’re mentioning those two are going to meet and talk with the coach. Maybe you know what to expect from them. What have they said to you about the state of the franchise, about what maybe needs to be different, that you might expect them to impart on Ralph?

JB: Well we always go through exit meetings at the end of the year, but most of our exit meetings are discussing their own individual play, and what needs to change from their standpoint moving forward, what they felt was good. Both those players, specifically, I thought had outstanding seasons and they did change things last summer in their training and their thought process and preparation for the season, which I thought was outstanding. When we did go through the process of changing the coach, that was more of a management situation. That was a discussion with Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself. But there’s been a little bit of feedback from our players and they’re certainly excited from what they’ve heard from their fellow colleagues throughout the National Hockey League that played under Ralph in Edmonton. I think, as I said in my press conference, from day one, these players are going to realize the passion that Ralph has right off the bat, the enthusiasm he has for the game and just how focused he is on helping their development and our team’s development.

JW: When you think about the job that’s ahead of Ralph Krueger and you, I think there’s something interesting about the way the season played out. Back in the win streak, I think a lot of people knew you guys weren’t as good as that win streak, and down the stretch, when it was going poorly, I think there were a lot of numbers that indicated that you weren’t as bad as that — the save percentage, the PDO — it was so bad that it almost seemed like you couldn’t catch a break. I know things went poorly down the stretch, but did you have a similar evaluation of how it finished? The results were not good, but it was almost the reverse of the win streak. It ended up looking a lot worse than it was.

JB: I think you’re right. We were on a roller coaster through the year. As an organization, we have to have a lot more consistency to our game. I think when things are going really well, we have to continue to improve on different things. I think we got caught up a little bit in the emotion, the excitement of what was going around it, and not working on some of the holes that we did have in our game. Later on in the year, we needed more players, staff members — everyone in the organization needed to find a better way to stand up and when some of the losing streaks were at two or three games, we have to end it there. And we didn’t do a good enough job from that standpoint. As I’ve said before numerous times, winning in the second half in the National Hockey League, it’s a change, and I think we saw that right off the bat. We came out of the All-Star Break, played a game in Columbus, which was fine, but then we played Dallas in our second game and you could just see the physical nature of it. They really went after some of our good, young players in Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt from a physical standpoint. I think it really taught our guys a lesson that this is how you have to win, and these are going to be the type of games you’re going to play in the second half. I think, as disappointed as our players were at the end of the season, they’ve learned a lot from what they went through the entire year, and now it’s important that we don’t make those same mistakes next year.

JW: The answer to this might be “both.” Is it on those players, individually, to bulk up and become more mature, as they might just naturally, or is it about putting together a roster that maybe can withstand that kind of thing a little bit better?

JB: I think it’s a little bit of both, but it’s also…it’s not about size at all, it’s about compete. It’s about battle. You look at the playoffs in the National Hockey League, there are certainly strong, physical players, but it’s about getting to the front of the net. It’s about winning the battles in the front of the net in your own [defensive] zone. We have players that have enough size; it’s now just understanding how do you go into the corner and win battles. I go back to my own experiences being part of teams in Pittsburgh that played in 2008 and 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg would always come out of the corners with pucks. You have to find a way, whether it’s physical strength or using your skill, to win those one-on-one battles, and I think that’s something we have to continue to improve on as a team.

Howard Simon: On that note, what have you identified in terms of areas where you need to improve? You talked about “compete” and “battle.” As you do an overall breakdown of what this roster was, whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, whether it’s speed, whether it’s toughness, or any of the stuff you can go through on the list; what have you identified as areas where, “I need to make this roster better in these particular areas”?

JB: Well I think you just look at our depth scoring that’s been talked a lot about up front; we just relied too much on Jeff [Skinner], Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] for scoring this year. We have to look to bring in more talent from that end, and then we also have to continue to develop our own talent, whether it’s Casey Mittelstadt, whether it’s bringing up [Victor] Olofsson or [Alexander] Nylander. It’s Tage Thompson taking a step in his development. It’s Conor Sheary, who we think there’s more offense that he can provide there. But I think the areas that I mentioned before; in front of the net, we gave up way too many chances in our own defensive end. We have to learn to protect that area better. We have to learn to win our one-on-one battles in there a little bit more. And the same thing in the offensive zone. I thought we didn’t have enough shots right from that “red zone” area right in front of the net. You look at the playoffs, how tight it is, there’s always traffic out there…the goalies are that good. You’re going to have to get players to go there more and have more success there.

HS: Can you convince guys who didn’t do it enough to do it, or do you have to go out and get guys that do that?

JB: I think with young players you can always convince them. I think you see players evolve and learn from their experiences, and understand a little bit what it takes to have success in the league. So yeah, you can certainly teach that trait.

HS: You mentioned Casey Mittelstadt a moment ago. I’d love to get your thoughts; that’s a guy that everybody, I think, we look at and go, “Down the road at some point, hopefully [he’s] a top-two center with Eichel, and ‘boom’ you’re all set on your top two lines.” What did you see from him last season? Do you think he is — I don’t know how to phrase this — can you project him as a number-two [center], or it’s still too early and you’ve got to go find someone else to handle that role?

JB:  We continue to have high expectations for Casey. The great thing is that I know Casey does too. And I think sometimes you come in at the end of a year and you have a little bit of success offensively, like you did the year before, you sort of assume that that’s going to happen and carry over, and then you realize how difficult it is to sustain success over 82 games in the National Hockey League. What I did like a lot about Casey was his compete, his battle. He didn’t shy away from those difficult areas. But I did think he wore down as the season progressed. Especially in back-to-back situations; you look in February, March, April…I think he struggled there. Some of his best hockey, I thought, came after breaks, when there was a day off or something. So I think he still can take his conditioning to another level, and I think he’s focused on that this summer. I think his offensive creativity that he can bring will allow him to eventually go into that top-six role.

JW: The latest on Jeff Skinner; without negotiating in the media, how are you feeling, how should Sabres fans feel about it? And just as a natural off-shoot of that, do you and other people in the front office, as you try to chart the offseason and make plans, is there a contingency plan if he does not want to sign? Do you have a Plan A, do you have a Plan B, knowing there are multiple ways this thing could go?

JB: You always have to have different plans. The way this game operates, you have to have plans. We didn’t expect to have some of our defensemen such as Lawrence Pilut or [Zach] Bogosian to go down with injuries. You have to have different plans in place in case those situations arise. A contract is never done until you get it signed. But our discussions with Jeff have been extremely positive. I think it’s been a relationship that’s worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres and I think it’s a relationship that’s worked out very well for Jeff. Just as we went through the coaching search here, sometimes people get a little impatient, well we wanted to make sure we went through the process correctly. I think what’s going on with Jeff and ourselves right now is there was never going to be an extension announced before the coach was hired. The coach is now hired; we’ll continue our discussions there and get the chance to sit down with Jeff and go over things on how we see him fitting in and how Ralph is going to coach this team and how he’s going to interact with his players and his structure moving forward. And then hopefully we’ll find a way to get a deal done. But from our standpoint, our discussions with both Jeff and Newport Sports have been extremely positive.

HS: I know you said you don’t want to negotiate in the media, but let me ask you this: After he talks to Ralph Krueger and hopefully things go well on that, do you think you could still sign him before free agency or can you tell us at all if they’ve give you an indication, “Hey listen, he still wants to play there, he’s still interested in re-signing, but as long as we’re this close, we would at least like to see what’s going on in the market”?

JB: Look, I can’t mind-read them. All I can say is we’ll sit down with them. I think Ralph getting to know Jeff, and Jeff getting to know Ralph, is going to be an important part of the equation here moving forward.

JW: What about Johan Larsson? There was a conflicting report that he may be leaving. Do you have any update on what’s going on with Johan Larsson?

JB: No, from everything in our discussions with both Johan and his agency, with Newport Sports, there’s nothing to that report last week.

HS: One name who always sparks an interesting debate in Sabres Nation, if you will, is Rasmus Ristolainen. I’m not going to ask you, “Are you going to trade him?” because you wouldn’t answer my question anyway, but give me your evaluation. You’ve had two years to watch him play. Is he a guy that you think, “You know what, guys. He’s a top-two [defenseman]”? Or, “He’s a three-to-four [defenseman]. He’s not a 25-minute guy, he’s a 20-minute guy.” What is your honest evaluation of Rasmus Ristolainen and what you believe his value is to your team at this time?

JB: I think in today’s game, we put too much value on it. You talked a little bit about, “Where do you see Casey moving forward, top-six, top-nine, whatever it is.” I think what we’re trying to create here is a situation where we have four lines that can score. And I think the same thing is, from a defensive standpoint, you’re looking for sort of the top four. Whether they’re top-pairing or second-pairing guys, to me you’re looking for top-four guys that can handle different roles for you and play the bulk of the minutes on the back end. We certainly view [Ristolainen] in that category there. [Ristolainen’s] like anyone else; he has his faults, he has to continue to improve his game, just like so many of our other players. But what we’ve loved seeing him in action is when he’s in that matchup situation. I think about in the end of February, we played back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and Washington. He had the specific role of playing against [Nikita] Kucherov and playing against [Alex] Ovechkin. I think when he has that specific matchup, he does an amazing job with that. You’ve seen in the playoffs how the physical game is escalated. You think of what [Ristolainen] can do over a seven-game series; I think it can be very effective. It’s now our job to surround him with enough talent and enough skill to make sure we get into the playoffs.

HS: A follow-up on [Ristolainen]: You mentioned a moment ago, like every player, he has his flaws. He’s got 424 games in the NHL. When you reach 400-plus games, do you believe a player is who he is, and if he can get better, what do you think Ralph Krueger can do to help Ristolainen?

JB: I think players continually develop. Game played is not the big factor; to me, it’s age. Especially with [Ristolainen] in his mid-20s right now, there’s plenty of development still going on there. You look at — and these are elite defensemen — but you look at Nicklas Lidstrom, you look at Kris Letang, all these defensemen, it’s more in their late-20s, early-30s where they really, I think, come into their prime. There’s always an injury factor that you have to play into, but I think with most young players, there’s always an opportunity for growth, and certainly for defensemen. With Ralph coming into the equation, the biggest thing I think that he needs to continue to work with [Ristolainen] on is picking his sports and when to jump up in the rush, when to move the puck a little bit quicker in different scenarios, because I think at times he plays so many minutes, one of his assets of being able to support the rush and get up there, he just doesn’t have the energy to do it. So I’m going to continue to — as a whole with Ralph coming in, bringing a different structure and hopefully a little bit more of a structure — making it a little bit easier on our reads for some of our defense will hopefully help our entire group [of defensemen].

JW: Finally, before we let you go, are you allowed to tell us who you think is going to win the Cup? Do you have a prediction or just any thought, maybe, on these playoffs? You’ve had all four division winners get knocked out. Some would say it’s wide open, and it’s one of those years; [ESPN’s] Greg Wyshynski [on the Schopp and the Bulldog show] called it “a glitch.” This year’s just a wacky kind of year, so I don’t know if there’s anything you’ve got from the playoffs.

JB: I would just say it just goes to show the importance of finding a way to get in. If you get in, you have an opportunity — you have a chance. Maybe you don’t have the best team on paper, maybe throughout the course of 82 games, you weren’t the better team, but come a seven-game series, you have a chance. You look at a team like Boston, who are now in the Stanley Cup Final after last night, they have a great balance of veteran players and young players. They sustained some injuries on defense and they have the depth and they’re not the “Big Bad Bruins” on defense. They’re the active, mobile defensemen that they have back there. I do think you get to these situations with how physical the games have been, how emotional the games are. I do think the fact that they were able to finish it off in four games and give them a little bit of rest — whereas I do believe that St. Louis-San Jose series is going to go right down to the wire and both of those teams are coming off seven-game series from the previous round — I think a fresh Boston team is going to be very difficult to beat.

HS: The one thing I’m really curious, as a general manager, there have been two high-profile missed calls/apologies in the playoffs. The hand pass last night and the high stick in the San Jose-Vegas series. The next time the general managers get together, do you think there will be — or even should be — an expansion or something with video review to cover what’s happened?

JB: It’s a very, very difficult decision, because I agree you need to get it right. We need to find a way to get it right. Especially with the magnitude of these games — and we’ve talked already about the parity that’s in our league — these little plays have a huge impact on games and series. But you also look at what NCAA hockey did these past couple years with some of the reviews of hits to the head or hits from behind; it really slows down the games.

HS: Frozen Four games were stopping every five minutes, it felt like, at times.

JB: Exactly. I know people have strong opinions right now because of the emotions of the games, and teams’ seasons are ending over some of these calls, but if you go the other way and do everything and have all these delays, one of the best parts of our game is the speed of our game. The pace of our game. We don’t want to lose sight of that. I certainly believe there will be a lot of discussions, but to say that I have, “This is what we need to do moving forward,” I don’t have that perfect answer right now.