Category Archives: Transcript

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (1/15/20)

January 15, 2020


Ralph Krueger
Howard & Jeremy (8 a.m.) (15:21)

Howard Simon: Sabres head coach Ralph Krueger is standing by to talk a little bit more about last night’s win over the Vegas Knights. Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, how are you, sir?

Ralph Krueger: Good morning, Buffalo. Good morning, Howard and Jeremy. I’m fine. Always better after a good result.

HS: Well us, too. Hard-hitting question to start things off: Do you have a nickname?

RK: I do not, no. My wife actually finds it nice that people just say, “Coach.” That’s who I am here in Buffalo. I do not have a nickname, no.

HS: For future reference, if the team’s not playing well and the fans are booing, you can just think they’re saying “Kreugs,” so just use that if it makes you feel any better.

RK: When I was a player, people would say “Kreugs.” It’s definitely a good blend and the fans have been fantastic here in rough games, like the finish against Vancouver, or yesterday, where we had a bit of a dip in the second period, the crowd has been unbelievable. I have a feeling they really feel what’s happening in our room and in our process, and it’s been a lot of fun so far.

HS: Last night — we’ve brought up, specifically with you before, certain plays by Eichel and the “wow factor.” I know how I reacted watching the game at home, and you could hear the fans react in the building. As a coach, and you’re watching on the bench, he makes that dash up ice and scores; what are you thinking? What’s your reaction over there?

RK: Well I used the word last night in the media conference, “genius.” It is what Jack has in him and it’s so exciting to be coaching that and be a part of it. But what people don’t see is the hard work that he puts in away from those events. He’s going 100 percent all the time, whether it’s in the gym, or his nutrition, or off the ice or working with his teammates. That’s why those things happen. It’s not luck, or by chance; Jack Eichel works for everything that he gets. When he does show those moments, it’s a beautiful thing to be a part of as a coach. Last night, we needed brilliance. Vegas is one of the top teams in the league and to see Jack take the game under his control and to decide it with an event like that is why he is so special.

Jeremy White: Ralph, we’ve seen really good play out of Jack Eichel before. This is definitely a next level. Yesterday, Jason Botterill, the GM, gave you credit as one of the reasons he has kind of taken a step forward. Would you also — not saying would you take credit yourself, but — what is it, do you think, maybe that you’ve done to help him reach that next level?

RK: Well I think if you look at Jack and I, we’ve come together — both of us — at a good time in our careers. I’ve come to Buffalo in a time when I felt that I had the experience to deal with the situation and I could put all of my life lessons into play, and I’m enjoying that. And Jack, also, has been coached by many different people through his life, whether it’s his family or his hockey coaches. Everyone’s been chipping in and everybody can take credit or responsibility for what’s happening. But, above all, Jack has the most responsibility in that process. I’ve stepped into the club at a good time, where we’re still in a development `phase; we’re still in a place of growing and learning. And Jack is the same. We aren’t near our potential yet, which is something that should excite us all.

HS: If you give a — yeah, I guess it’s kind of a “State of the Sabres” — but you’ve won four of six after the stretch of losses that ended with the 4-1 lead against Tampa. And there are some rough moments in the stretch, too — your St. Louis game, whatever. But as you look at your team right now, you’re trying to hang in there in the wild card race as you get ready to go into this extended break. How, generally, do you feel your team is playing right now coming off that losing streak?

RK: Well we’ve really managed the changes in lineup quite well, which is directly connected, of course, to injuries. We’ve continued to show that we have depth. We’re pleased with the effort. We’re pleased with what the players are all about right now, and that’s buying into a concept that we need to get more consistent with. That’s all that’s happening right now, is we’re slipping out of being the team we want to be, and then we get back into being the team we want to be. It’s normal. The habits we are trying to develop here are hard to consistently execute, and they take a lot of dedication and commitment to making them something that we can bring on a nightly basis. If you look at the top clubs in the league — if you look at Washington, if you look at Boston, or now Tampa Bay — they’re doing things on a very consistent level day in and day out and they didn’t just start doing those overnight either; they had to work on those. Some players for years and years, and then the team as a group. So that’s where we’re at right now, guys. Jeremy and Howard, I would say we’re continuing to develop, we’re continuing to grow and we’re just looking for that consistency. But I believe our fan base can feel the game we want to play: We want to play on our toes, we want to be aggressive, we want to play attractive hockey here in Buffalo. But we want to do it day in and day out. We’re not doing it yet; we understand that. But everybody needs to know we’re working hard to get that consistency. It’s going to come over time because of the attitude we have in the room right now.

HS: So following up what you just said, in the last hour we were talking to Paul [Hamilton] about, “their home record is very good.” Your struggles have come on the road. In light of what you were just talking about, that consistency in your game, do you tend to see those drop-offs, more likely, on road games than home games for any reason?

RK: You know what, guys, I don’t feel the same way as the statistics are showing. I don’t feel a change in preparation or focus or intensity. I think what happens on the road is the opposition raise their game. We need to be able to deal with all the distractions that happen when you’re not in your home building and you don’t get that push. But as far as the general prep is concerned, we don’t make major adjustments in our game on the road; we want to be consistent in whatever building we’re playing against. Whoever we’re playing, we want our game to be pushed down their throats. I just think that everybody needs to get more confidence on the road. We probably have more confidence in our home building, which is natural. That would be, for me, the final piece. As coaches, we don’t feel a big drop-off. I thought our first period in Detroit the other day was one of our better ones of the season, for example. We’ve had some excellent games on the road. Even against the top teams, like Boston and Tampa, we’ve showed up, we’ve started well. We just couldn’t be consistent through the game with that. So it’s, again, finishing those games on the road when we get the good feeling and believing in ourselves in other buildings as much as we do in the KeyBank Center.

HS: Your power play was key last night; had a couple goals. It’s been much better the last five games: six power play goals in that stretch. What, specifically, are you seeing that has led to the improvement in that?

RK: More movement. It’s less predictability. And, quite simply, the hunger to get shots to the net is increased. Rasmus Ristolainen going net-front creates a new stress on the net presence and pressure on the opposition, and it’s freed up Jack and our playmaking ability quite a bit. So it’s a combination of factors. The guys have been working hard at it. I just finished using the word “confidence” on the road and power play is all about that. You get the mojo — you get that feeling — and it starts to click, which it has been lately. Now we need to keep that going. We had this kind of a stretch early in the season. We dropped off. It’s our offensive motor. It’ll decide how we do offensively. It’ll decide how effective we are in our 5-on-5 game because some of our key offensive players can get their confidence there. You’re right on; it’s been hot of late and we need to keep it there.

HS: I want to ask you about your goalies in a second but — two injury updates, because I just want to see if there’s anything new on either guy or a timeframe. What about Jeff Skinner? Let’s go there first.

RK: I can put them in a package, guys. You know, Jeff Skinner and Victor Olofsson. To see them in suits after the games instead of hockey equipment is tough, but the guys have been working hard to fill those spots. I think that the same thing is going off-ice right now. Our rehab team is so positive and optimistic that we’ve got them on track, which means in the weeks following the break coming up here we’re expecting their return. But I really cannot tell you right now on either of those injuries will it be right after the break, will it be a few weeks after the break? We just have to let these processes, whether it’s upper or lower body on these guys, run their course. We’re optimistic we’re going to have them back as we fight in this difficult division and this difficult race that we’re in. We like where they’re at right now; that’s all I can tell you. Both of them are developing in the right way on the right timelines in their respective injuries.

HS: Wasn’t Skinner’s timeline shorter than Olofsson’s, Ralph?

RK: If you’re going to go out and bet, guys, then I would probably bet on that. [Laughs]

HS: [Laughs] Alright, I’ll go find a few bucks.

HS: The other thing I wanted to ask you about were your goalies. You were talking about confidence of the team a moment ago and, obviously, Carter Hutton must be dealing with a confidence issue right now. He’s had some struggles — I know it isn’t all him — but he’s gone through a long stretch without winning a game. What can you do, what do you do about Carter Hutton right now, because it’s not been good when he’s been starting the last, what, 10, 11 games?

RK: We just continue to work hard with him. Those results are not only the responsibility of Carter; they’re the responsibility of us as a group. Having played — if you just look at the last game against Vancouver, we left our game. He gave us a chance, actually, in the first two periods to stay in that one. He just needs to continue to work the way he is. Mike Bales is doing an outstanding job with our goalies. There’s nothing else to say; it’s hard work, it’s belief in your fundamentals. Keep focusing on those and when the next ball comes his way, the team also understanding the situation he’s in and helping him to get his confidence back and his belief. It’ll come. He contributes to this group in an amazing way every day, every practice. There’s nobody cheering louder for Linus [Ullmark] when Linus is in the net and we need to do the same for Carter to get back his feeling that he had earlier in the season. We know it’s in him. The practices and the off-ice work is important to get you back on track.

HS: And, finally then, with Linus, you’ve had to lean heavily on him in the last month or so. I think he’s started all but two of the games. Do you worry at all about workload, fatigue? What can you track? What do you look at to make sure that Linus is holding up okay with the heaviest workload of his professional career at this point?

RK: I think you can look at Linus and you can look at our top-minute guys and say the same thing: What are we doing between games, how are we working to maintain our energy? That’s, again, where our off-ice staff is doing such a good job, whether it’s in the gym or in our rehab rooms and the physio, all of that — the nutrition that we have. We are all about quality and not quantity as far as practice and ice is concerned. So Linus is in that category of high-minutes guys and thus far it’s all of that other work that’s being done that’s helping them to stay on track and to be able to find the energy that the NHL asks for in this grueling pace that we’re on. It’s what Linus has become; he’s taken another level this year. The top goalies in the league do play the minutes he does. The top goalies are able to play the games he does. He’s on course and on path to be one of the top goalies in the league if not there already. Again, it’s what he did in the summer. It’s what he’s doing in his mind. All of these things come together and we feel confident that he can handle the load. And again, Mike Bales, at the lead of that responsibility, has been doing an excellent job with Linus.

HS: What have you got planned for the dads on this trip, Ralph? Anything special as a group?

RK: You know, I hate to be a party pooper, but I as a head coach just keep them focused on the difficult tasks we have in Dallas and Nashville. I really think the fathers are an important part of this process and I look forward to meeting them all. We’re going to have some meals together, they’re going to be a part of our processes, they’re going to see how we get guys ready for the games in Dallas and Nashville. I’m sure the guys are going to get some energy and be excited to have them all there. Probably the most important, with the mothers together, the most important two people in their lives to get them where they are here today, so we’re proud to have them aboard. We’re proud to have them on the trip. But again, I’m going to need to make sure that we understand — all of us together — how focused we need to be for the game. So it’s a combination of having fun but also letting them see the hard work that the guys need to do to be successful and to stay competitive in the National Hockey League.

HS: Well good luck in Dallas and Nashville, Ralph, and as always, thanks for giving us your time.

RK: Thank you and thank you, Buffalo, for the support, speaking for the team. We continue to fight on together here to have everyone proud of the Sabres.

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (1/14/20)

January 14, 2020


Jason Botterill

Schopp & Bulldog (5:30 p.m.) (16:56)


Mike Schopp: Jason Botterill with us now. Hi, Jason.

Jason Botterill: Hey, how’re you guys doing?

MS: This has been, like, we’ve been missing each other a couple times lately, but you made it.

JB: Yeah, I think I was supposed to be on and we were in the middle of the [Marco] Scandella and [Michael] Frolik trade at that time, so I do appreciate your understanding from that. Happy New Year to you guys.

MS: Happy New Year.


MS: That was interesting. So Chris Bandura, from the front office, called me early that day and used the term ‘league call’ and in retrospect that night I thought, ‘Maybe that should’ve been, should’ve been a term that I would associate with a trade.’ Now there was no news of a trade at noon that day, but I wonder if that was a tell.

JB: And that one took a little bit longer just because Frolik did have the no-trade clause and it was — there was a few different things in it. Because, obviously, Montreal had a trade going with Ottawa, then the trade with us. We then had the trade with Calgary going and it was one of those things where you knew everything was correlated from that. So it sometimes took a little bit to organize it all.


MS: So, you had to wait for Montreal to make its other move?

JB: Yeah, it’s one of those things where you knew everything was contingent on the other one working out, and obviously it was contingent on Frolik waiving his no-trade too. It wasn’t a situation until Calgary went to talk to Michael after their morning skate. So, it was one of those things, too, where Calgary was having a game, we were having a game that day. We had a few things to get through and stuff, but glad it worked all out for our group here.


Chris Parker: Very understandable. I think maybe a lot of our audience was kind of hoping you wouldn’t show up today because that would mean something was happening. I mean, I hope you take that in the spirit it’s intended, you know? With that in mind, how do you feel about where you team is right now? Like, what do you think can still be accomplished this year?

JB: Well, I think it’s a situation where we’ve, you know, coming out of the break at Christmas time, I thought we played very well against Boston and Tampa Bay. To get zero points out of those three games was disheartening, for sure. I liked how our group responded against Edmonton and Florida there. Going into St. Louis, that’s a level that we still have to get to: that upper echelon in the National Hockey League. The way I look at the league right now, I think there’s, you may debate it a little bit, but I think there’s seven or eight really, very top teams and then everyone else can beat anybody on any given night. And that’s what we’re trying to accomplish here right now. I thought it was important that we got the victory in Detroit after a game against Vancouver where, that’s a game that we have to find a way to win. 3-3 in our own building, we have to find a way to at least come away with points in that situation there. We’ve got three games here before the break, have our fathers trip starting tomorrow. I think, hopefully just in a little more added incentive for some of our players and then we’ll see where we go from there.


MS: In that calculation you revealed about seven or eight top teams, is there room for you — as you break that down — to make the playoffs? I mean you’re seven points out, I think, at the moment. We talked earlier about last night’s Philadelphia-Boston game and brought up [Brad] Marchand whiffing on that shootout attempt and Bulldog’s like, ‘Well, my first thought was that’s two more points for the Flyers.’ I’m like, ‘Good thing you’re here, because I was not really thinking of it that way.’ Like I wondered, if you’re watching that game thinking the same way.

JB: Trust me, there’s going to be a ton of three-point games that teams are going to go continue to work on, some teams are going to get hot, and you’ve seen it throughout the league and stuff from that standpoint. What our focus has to be is our own internal — how we play, how we’re doing against our own teams here. And, you know, I know Ralph [Krueger] has mentioned a lot about winning two out of three games, trying to minimize things. You can’t always look at the big picture. I think our group has excelled when it’s tried to stay in the small picture there. Our focus here now is on the next few games here, see where it goes from the break and then materialize from there. But if you’re scoreboard watching in January, look, teams around you are going to win, it’s just that, especially when they’re playing against each other all the time and there’s going to be a lot of three-point games with how close the league is.


MS: I think, if I may, this may sound like you think your team is at a level where someone else might think that more dramatic changes are necessary to see this team actually, you know, really compete. You’re on an 85-, 86-point pace. Would that be wrong? Do you see this as a team that’s close to really rising?

JB: Well we haven’t had the production yet. We haven’t had the results yet, so we still have to improve. 100 percent. There’s a situation where we’re not an elite team by any means and should we be in a conversation for playoffs? Yeah, I think we should, certainly should be in that conversation, but, hey, we can continue to talk about it, but we have to go out there and actually have the results. It’s one thing to play well against the Bostons and Tampa Bays, but when we have a 4-1 lead at home, we have to find a way to finish off that game. It’s good that we’re playing well against those teams, but now finding better results is certainly what we have to do.


CP: When you face a situation like that — the 4-1 lead against Tampa’s a great example — how do you feel like your coach is handling the team? Is that tough talk time? How do you think he proceeds in those situations?

JB: I think one of Ralph’s best things was the day afterwards from that standpoint. Look, it was a disheartening loss. It was a situation where we talked about it, Tampa Bay, you know, we knew coming into the season this year, they were going to be a top team to go 0-3 against them and then going into that game, we had certainly circled that game as an important challenge for our group. I liked how we came out, got the lead from that standpoint, got some secondary scoring, which I think was key in that game. Then to let it slip, to go from sort of a festive environment in the second period to, hey, losing the game at home, it was difficult. And then what I liked was Ralph did with our group to try to refocus them to get back on taking it small. The playoffs, hey we’ll worry about that another time, but what we have to work on right now is getting back in the swing of things. Then we start the next game against Edmonton, it’s not a great start, it’s down 2-0. Like, okay, everything could unravel here at this point, but our group found a way to get that win in that game and then went and had a strong game against Florida.


CP: So that’s New Year’s Eve, the Tampa game, right?

JB: Yep.

CP: New Year’s Day is the day that I — I don’t attend these practices or the news conferences, but the video that the team posted, (Ralph Krueger) just spoke for like 15 minutes and I watched every minute of it. And, I’m not going to lie to you, I don’t often do that. I hear highlights and I read what happened, but I sat watching that and I loved it, like how he communicated that day. Can you tell us, like is that basically the same message he gave to the team that day?

JB: The biggest message is, obviously it’s a cliché of keeping it simple, but (the message is) keeping it small. That’s what we have to do in a situation like this. And if you look at the small picture, we just came away from three games where we felt we played well. But we didn’t get the results. So, at the end of the day that’s not acceptable. So you pull the positives of what you’re trying to do as a team, but then, hey, what do we have to do now to change to make sure that that outcome changes in the future here? And that’s where I think Ralph’s done a very good job with our group in speaking to the group, but then also in smaller, you know, whether it’s this line or this power-play group, just that dynamics of not always being the group mentality, of individuals. I think as Donny Granato’s got back into the mix here, been healthy and been working with us, I think our system coaches have done a good job with the development of our individual players. So as a staff they continue to grow and hopefully have a strong second half here.


MS: Jason Botterill here with us. You are talking about the playoffs a little bit here. We’ll see what happens. There’s some work to do to make it. I think fans would like to think that there is, from a development standpoint, a lot coming into the equation here that would make people reinforce the idea that the Sabres are about to become a real contender. I don’t know where that is — where that stands — Jason. I’d like to hear you talk about this. Since you’ve gotten here, important players have been traded away and, I know you have the [Tage] Thompson injury too, he was on the team last year, [Casey] Mittelstadt is down [in Rochester]. What else, especially in terms of forwards, because it seems to me that the Sabres have had this same lack of scoring depth past Jack Eichel for several years.

JB: And I think Ralph’s done a great job of getting the most out of Jack and continuing to work with Jack to expand his game. Obviously, Victor Olofsson’s had a great season so far, the injury hurts him. Knowing Victor and his dedication, he’s certainly going to come back from that. But just the continued development of Jack and Sam Reinhart and their production I think is, I think Ralph has done an excellent job there. Tage [Thompson’s injury] is a disappointment; it’s a disappointing thing for our entire organization just because of what we challenged Tage in the offseason, he went through with it; there was things for him to work on specifically in Rochester, I thought he did that. I thought he had a great start to the season in Rochester, came up and obviously got the injury. It’s just something that we have to deal with; Tage has to deal with it. The good thing is he’s going to have the opportunity to have a strong summer and be ready to go next year. With a player like Casey Mittelstadt, Casey could be up here in the National Hockey League right now surviving, but we don’t view that as a situation long term with him. We view him as a player that can certainly help and add to our offensive punch. You’ve seen that in games: the first game of the season this year against Pittsburgh, out in L.A.. He has that ability, but now has to work from a consistent standpoint. Development, you wish it would just always be a linear approach, and you’re always, every day you’re seeing improvement in players, but sometimes there’s dips. In a situation with that, we felt very comfortable placing him in Rochester with a coach in Chris Taylor that worked very closely with Casey at the National Hockey League level, had seen Casey’s best games and also some of the games where he struggled and knew exactly what he had to work on for him to get back into the system here and what Ralph needs from him moving forward here. So, there’s that. I would also say, you look at the development of Rasmus Asplund we’ve been happy about. He stepped in earlier than what we anticipated from that standpoint. And then I think just what we can continue to try to add on our back end is players with that skill, that puck-moving ability that can create more offense from our back end there. We all would love our 19- and 20-year-old defensemen in [Henri] Jokiharju and [Rasmus] Dahlin to be Norris Trophy winners this year and everything like that, but there’s going to be a development process for those guys. That’s why we also wanted bring up Lawrence Pilut. He’s accomplished in the American Hockey League that we’ve been very happy with. We wanted to see how he’d fit in with our group here right now. It’s important for us, as an organization, to continue to develop these guys. And I think, as an organization, it’s finding ways to get more offense from our back end here to help out our forwards.


MS: I’m, just thinking though, with due respect, you talked about, we talked about the three players: Mittelstadt, Thompson and Asplund, and they might have — and I’m just guessing here — 200 games in the league at this point and how many goals is it? Like 20 goals? I don’t even know how many goals it is, right? Like you’ve got guys, less so — least so Asplund, who just doesn’t have as much NHL experience — but beyond guys who’ve played in the league, is there hope for someone else in the organization to become a real scorer for you? And yes, of course, you’re right to mention Olofsson who’s absolutely done that.

JB: He’s certainly helped our group a lot there. We’re excited about where Dylan Cozens is from his development. We think he had a very good World Juniors from a standpoint of being a player to rely on for Team Canada and gaining that experience at an elite level. And them, hey, look it’s our job to find ways to get more out of our players. I still think there’s more offense to come from a player like Conor Sheary or a player like Jimmy Vesey. It’s important to pull that out of them. You look at a player like Marcus Johansson is showing glimpses of it and has been a good leader for us, but I know Marcus also wants to contribute more offensively from that standpoint. So that’s the responsibility of our players and also, as an organization, to find more players to support some of our young players.


CP: So you mentioned here at the outset some of the results haven’t been there even though the performances were good, good games. And I have no problem with that; I would agree with it. The games against Boston, specifically, I think maybe have been some of your best games and you haven’t gotten any points out of those games. So the team has to perform, you need to get results. How much urgency do you feel to do something to supplement the group here? We started with trades, I guess maybe we’ll end with trades. Do you feel some urgency to do something for the group to try to help even when [Jeff] Skinner comes back and eventually Olofsson?

JB: Yeah, look, missing Skinner and Olofsson are big from our group from an offensive standpoint. But, come on, everybody in the league has injuries that they deal with and that’s something that, you know, we have to continue to improve our depth to handle these injuries better in the future. But yeah, we want to make trades; we’re looking to add to our group from that, I don’t think we’ve hid from that situation even all the way back to November. People ask, ‘Well, are you waiting until the trade deadline for these type of things?’ No, we’re open to trying to find something that can certainly add to our group, but it hasn’t materialized. We’ll continue to look at it. There’s no use — and I’ve mentioned this before — there’s no use in saying we’re close on a trade or this and that. Until it actually happens and we announce something, it’s just talk. We’re trying to proceed with some things; it hasn’t materialized, but we’ll continue to look.

MS: Yes, unless you tell us about every conversation you’re having with almost trades, maybe there are hundreds of those. If you could just acknowledge, if you just admit those things, divulge that information…

CP: Those might be more interesting than the actual trade.

MS: …the talk can be more interesting, yes. We would know what’s out there.

JB: The next time here I’ll bring my notebook so you guys can all have it and we can follow up with it.

MS: It would be great if you had, like, stacks of notebooks with these things in it.


MS: Real quick, Jason, one more thing. Goaltending. Carter Hutton is barely playing, lots of goals are going in his last couple of games. Who’s, can you at least say, who would be the guy? Is it [Andrew] Hammond? We’re not watching Rochester. Is he next? Or maybe this is more a question about younger guys, [Ukko-Pekka] Luukkonen or whoever in the organization. What are the options?

JB: We’ve been very happy with how Linus Ullmark has been from a consistency standpoint. He’s been able to handle more of a workload this year. I think he’s done a very good job from that standpoint. We’re disappointed in Carter’s performance. Carter’s disappointed in that performance. And that’s what we’re trying to find: What is the trigger to get him back on track here? The good thing is that’s where his whole career has been. He’s been someone who’s been against the odds, someone who’s been counted out and he’s always found a way to get back, and that’s where his work ethic in practice, we’re hoping that’s going to trigger something here to help him out and help our group out in the second half. You look at it, we’ve had solid goaltending in Rochester throughout the season here. It’s great to see Jonas Johansson make it to the American Hockey League All-Star Game. You talk about a longer-term process, him playing a lot of the games in the East Coast League the last couple of years, now getting the opportunity to step in there. Andrew Hammond’s a veteran player who we feel comfortable playing National Hockey League games. You talked about Luukkonen; we brought him into Rochester this week. That was part of the plan way in advance to get him some experience, practice at the American Hockey League. Going to get an opportunity to play games and then we’ll get him back to the ECHL and continue his development there.


MS: So Johansson is their No. 1 at this time?

JB: Johansson and Hammond are both, they both split the duties from that standpoint.

MS: Ok, and Johnasson is an All-Star?

JB: Yes.

MS: Very good. Thank you, Jason. Nice to see you.

JB: I appreciate it, guys. You have a good evening.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (1/8/20)

January 8, 2020

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (8 a.m.) (11:52)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning and belated Happy New Year.

Ralph Krueger: Good morning and Happy New Year to you both and to your listeners.

HS: There’s some bookkeeping that we want to take care of right off the bat. Jake McCabe with an upper-body injury, but it sounded, right, from what you said, pretty optimistic? It’s a pretty short-term issue and he could be back this weekend, is that right?

RK: Jake is day-to-day. We expect him back in practice when we return from St. Louis.

HS: You call up Lawrence Pilut; will he play tomorrow night?

RK: Lawrence Pilut’s an interesting player for us and we haven’t made that call yet. We’re happy to have him back here in our midst. Coming off an injury from last season, he wasn’t able to be a part of our training camp, but it was excellent that he spent time with us in Sweden. We got to know him well there; even though he didn’t get to play, he was really a good kid to have around and for us to feel his strength and his future. Now we have him here again off the injury to McCabe, just to look, see, but we’ll make that call tomorrow.

Jeremy White: Just to look for injury purposes or is it about time organizationally that you guys are starting to think, ‘maybe he should be up here for a little longer,’ you know? An AHL All-Star, leading the AHL in points among defensemen. I think a lot of people are wondering — maybe Lawrence included — when his time is. Is it still a numbers game or is this a time where maybe he will be up here for an extended period?

RK: This time of year we just go day-to-day. He’s here now and he’s a part of the group and has every opportunity to push himself into the lineup. Again, it’ll depend on how quickly Jake gets back to speed and that we remain healthy in our D corps. For now, it’s getting to know him even better. I can only say that he has an exciting future for sure. We like he way he moves and the way he thinks the game. He’s definitely in the mix. Another player that increases the competition here, which we like. The internal competition is definitely healthy for all the defensemen.

HS: The reports that you might have been getting from Rochester about Lawrence Pilut, or whether you’re more comfortable talking about what you saw from him in Sweden. What can you tell us more about your thoughts on Pilut?

RK: Well how it goes is that we are permanently in contact on multiple levels with Rochester. The reports on him are outstanding, that he’s really taken another level since returning from the injury and that he’s getting really comfortable in his game and he’s fully back up to speed. So that’s clear that we have permanent contact there on a daily basis on any potential candidates. And yes, Sweden left its mark, of course. He’s an outstanding character and just brings a good spirit into the day-to-day. But of course. above all, he’s a good hockey player. We look forward to that next level of Lawrence Pilut.

HS: With Michael Frolik, what’s the latest on his paperwork? Will he be at practice today?

RK: Yes, so Michael’s coming in today and got in, actually, last night, so we’re pleased that that all was taken care of and we can start working with him.

HS: What do you envision as his role on your team?

RK: Well there’s the off-ice component that we’re always interested in and that’s the person that he is, the experience that he brings with for the phase of evolution that we’re in right now. He’s going to be a good voice in and around the room. He is a very experienced two-way player. He’s been known for his penalty killing. He’s experienced a Stanley Cup, which means you’re not only a penalty killer, you’re also able to make a play, which he’s very clearly able to do. He can play up and down the lineup depending on the need of the group. But we’re just going to take it a day at a time and let him, like all the other players, show us what he’s capable of and then his role will grow and develop under that. But above all, you’re going to see a stabilizing factor in the way he plays, but at the same time he can add to the offense. We’re excited to have him in here. He’s a good athlete and [will] definitely give us some help and some depth in our roster.

HS: In terms of what he specifically could add to the offense, Ralph, what is his game about? Is it a guy who brings in some forecheck? Is it finish? What are some of the aspects you think that Sabres fans will see from Frolik?

RK: Well you never know exactly how a player’s going to play within the structure of a group, so some people it suits their abilities and some don’t find their game; that’s the reality of playing in different structures. We’re really confident that he’ll fit into ours, that he’ll be somebody that can support a top line in so far as defending properly but also just making those plays: keep the puck moving and keep the speed of the puck alive as we want to do here in our game. We want to be a quick team defensively, but we want to explode and be powerful as a group of five offensively. Michael’s the kind of guy that can really augment a group and help to facilitate that kind of connection between the players in both directions. We need this type of leadership right now. It’s a great addition into our roster.

HS: You lose Jeff Skinner so you’ve got to try and figure out how to make up for that. Then you lose Victor Olofsson. So in terms of trying to make up for the loss of offense there, who do you turn to or how do you go about making up for two guys like that being out of the lineup for a few weeks?

RK: Well what’s important with injuries, the way it works in our coaches room is their names are put aside. And it’s not that we don’t care about them, they’re handed over to the medical department and we have an amazing staff here in rehab and our medical care is strong, so these players are well taken care of. We concentrate on the players that are on what we have on our board here: the left side of the roster, the ones that are healthy, the ones that are able to go. We will always get up in the morning here and put the best possible roster together. There’s clearly a different mix now. It alters the way we execute on the power play. It alters the way the lines will work together. It’s part of the long season of the National Hockey League, every team has to deal with that. You need to score a little more by committee. We need more depth scoring with Olofsson and Skinner out, those are some big numbers that disappear. But others need to step up and we challenge them to do that. They did a good job here, especially the last couple of games, and we got to continue to build on that.

HS: With the No. 1 power play, Ralph, what’s the thought process or what do you take into account when you try and figure out with Olofsson out, do I want to put another forward out there? Would I rather just have two defensemen? If you go two defensemen, do I put [Rasmus] Ristolainen in front? How do you try and figure out what is the best thing, best course of action?

RK: Well we always have both of those options available to us, depending on when this power play falls during the game and how the opposition are killing. The two-D option with Ristolainen in front of the net is very attractive at the moment, but we can also go with four forwards who attack with [Rasmus] Dahlin up top. It’s part of also mixing it up sometimes so the opposition isn’t as well-prepared in neutralizing your weapons. With Victor out, we’ve lost a strong one in there, but [Marcus] Johansson has got strong shot off the back side, Conor Sheary’s shown some strong power-play traits of late. We’re going to be mixing and matching, keep trying to find the combination that works. Even within games we will make adjustments if we feel they’ll help us. But it’s usually a group of six or seven guys that’ll be working on your main power play.

HS: We’re wrapping up with Ralph Krueger here. So listen, your team had a little break before your game against St. Louis tomorrow night and we were just, in the last hour, talking with Paul Hamilton about, it’s almost like maybe a little bit like coming off a bye. What do you expect? Do you look at it and go, ‘Okay, the guys are going to be fresh, they got a nice break,’ or is there a rust factor sometimes when you’re off that long?

RK: I don’t see a rust factor, but you’re making a good point because we had such an intense period after Sweden with the 21 games in 39 days. After the Christmas break I thought we came out and played well against Boston, Boston and Tampa, but we just didn’t get the points so everybody was disappointed with that. I’m pleased with the way the group stepped up here against Edmonton and Florida to get the wins and I believe that momentum is going to go with us to St. Louis. I would probably lean more to the freshness that you’re speaking about; I don’t see any rust. I think we needed these few days. And important will be the start. We need to get a good start tomorrow, get right back in where we left off against Florida, into the habits that make us strong. I’m optimistic we’ll have a lot of energy for the game in St. Louis tomorrow. Playing the Stanley Cup champion at home is always a real fun challenge. So far, this group has looked those kinds of challenges in the eyes. So it’s probably the perfect opponent to have coming at you off of the break. There’s no time to slide into this one, we need to be good right off the hop.

HS: Last thing I want to ask you about is the Eichel line, with Olofsson out. What kind of player — you tried [Rasmus] Asplund the other day so it’s kind of a two-part question — what kind of player do you think is the right fit with [Jack] Eichel and [Sam] Reinhart? And then what did you think of Asplund when you had him out there the other game?

RK: There’s always a lot of pressure on a young player going into a spot like that, but we thought he did a really good job. There’s always a need to be able to play together with Sam and Jack without the puck and we’re excited about the way Asplund is coming along defensively. Offensively, he’s able to add and augment anybody he plays with, so we were pleased with his first game there. We’re actually, just after this call, going to cement the lines that we’re going to into practice with today and Aspy’s got a — he is somebody that we are really pleased with and just trying to move him along slowly that he doesn’t feel too much pressure in that role, but he looked to handle it quite well. I think he’s got a good shot at it for tomorrow.

Jason Botterill Media Availability (1/2/20)

January 2, 2020

Jason Botterill
Media availability (7:50 p.m.) (7:22)

Jason, what do you get in Michael Frolik? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

Jason Botterill: Well, as we’ve talked about before, we were trying to add to our forward group here. and with Michael, we like his even-strength play. We think he’s a very strong 5-on-5 player. He’s also a player that has a championship pedigree. He’s been in been in the playoffs before, won a Stanley Cup. And you look at how we’ve played over the last few weeks: I think we’ve played pretty well at 5-on-5, but our special teams have to be better. We think Michael can come in and help us with our penalty kill. So we see him as a winger that can play up and down our lineup, and certainly excited to add him.

Can you confirm what’s out there, no salary retained in either trade? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Yep, that’s correct.

Did you need to clear salary in one deal to make the other deal? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

JB: Yep, and that what’s we’ve been talking a lot about trying to make a situation, a defenseman for a forward. Obviously, brought in another team to make it happen, but certainly excited to have Michael a part of our group here.

Do you expect him tomorrow, visa situations being as they are? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: No, it’s probably going to be a couple of days and stuff from that standpoint. So, I think it’d be a bit of a surprise if he’s here before Saturday. I think more realistic would be next week.

Did you feel that there was a necessity to make a move at this point given that this team has been slumping for a little bit? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

JB: Well I think that we haven’t been very happy with the results at all. I would say, since coming back from the break, I think our team’s performed fairly well, but we haven’t gotten the results. So you’re always looking to try to find the mix and I think, like I just said before, I think at 5-on-5 we’ve done pretty well, but we do have to improve our special teams. I think that Tampa Bay is a good example. I think we’re coming on the PK but later on in the penalty kills giving up a late goal, that certainly has been very hurtful for our team. On the flip side, we’ve tried some things on the power play. This time of the year you’re looking for a spark from some of your top players, and that’s what we need.

One of the big focuses over the past month or so has been players publicly or privately or whatever asking for trades. What do you make of that and how do you deal with that given that you’re trying to build something here and you’ve got players who seem to want out? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

JB: Well look, we have a lot of conversations with our players throughout the year and, as I’ve said before, I’m going to keep those conversations private. I can’t control what a player or his agent ends up saying to the media, but it also doesn’t impact or dictate what we’re going to do with our team here. The bottom line is, I think you look around that room, there’s always going to be some exceptions, there’s always going to be some players who are disappointed with their role or want more ice time or opportunity, but it’s also our belief what we’re trying to do is create more competition within our team. We have to build up our depth. We have to build more internal competition for roles. There’s always going to be players that are a little disgruntled, but I think for the majority of people, our players, are very excited to be working with Ralph and excited [about] where our team’s going.

How much was the Dalton Smith move a message to Tampa and how much of it was a message to your own room? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: It was a situation where I think it’s a great story. I think here’s a young man who came to our organization and developed. Chris Taylor is in charge of developing our young players at age 20, but he’s also in charge of developing players of all age. And here’s a 25-year-old that came into our organization and worked his way up to earn a National Hockey League contract. And, yeah, he brought grit, it was great to see him out there and it’s great to see him earn that contract and I also thought Jake McCabe stepping up in that situation, our guys played with team toughness and that’s what we have to do in the second half.

Lazar has showed a lot of grit since he’s been up here and it’s resulted in a couple of goals. And I saw that in training camp too, could it have been a situation where maybe he should have been here? Because he brings an element that maybe some of the other forwards don’t bring. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

JB: Well, I think what’s been great with working with Curtis is he had a fairly strong training camp. When he was sent to Rochester, he asked a lot of questions on what he had to work on. And you look at it right now, we’re a team that’s struggling with faceoffs, he’s adding an element to the faceoff. He’s getting in on the forecheck and maybe not his goals aren’t the prettiest but he’s going hard to the net from that standpoint. He brings elements that maybe we’re lacking a little bit and he’s certainly taking advantage of it. I think that’s what — for us to have success here in the second half — that’s what we going to have to continue to have: players stepping up. And with a player like Jeff Skinner going down, is an opportunity for, you know, extra ice time for other players to step up and hopefully have a big role in our team.

You needed to make one move, I know, to get to the other, but was there any pause given to Scandella to the team you’re chasing and you still have to play three more times? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Look, I think Marco’s played very well this year. I think he came into the organization and the first year had a strong year. Last year, even in his own beliefs, maybe didn’t play up to his potential, but he’s done a very good job and I think that’s why there was more of a demand for him up there. We’re in a situation right now that we have to improve our own team and we felt this is a trade we wanted to make to improve our group here in Buffalo.

Do you still want to add to the forward depth? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

JB: It’s a situation we’ll continue — we don’t have anything else to announce today — but we will certainly continue to look at it.

Did Montreal call you first or did you call them? How did this come about? (Jim Fink – Buffalo Business First)

JB: We’ve been talking to some different teams about scenarios. Originally, look, I’ve checked in with (Montreal GM Marc) Bergevin on some couple things and I think I reached out to him and that sort of probably started it.

Can you confirm that [Vladimir] Sobotka’s season is done? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: It’s something that we’ll probably re-evaluate later on, but it’s more likely that’s probably the case. But we’re still hopeful that there could be something later on.

Ralph said yesterday he’ll play players who want to be here. Is that his decision or is that organizational decision? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

JB: Look, anything that goes on the ice, and from our standpoint of bringing players in and who to call up, look, I’m in constant conversations with Ralph on that. You want players who want to be a part of things here. We’ve talked a lot about it, about players waiving no-trades to come to Buffalo, players signing with Buffalo; that’s how we’re going to have success eventually. I think players show more energy, more determination out there that want to be a part of it, want to be a part of the solution this year.

I don’t think I’ve ever asked you this: Do you strongly suggest what you would like the lineup to be or is that up to the coaching staff? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)

JB: That’s up the coaching staff from that standpoint. And look, I think you’ve seen a lot of different creative lineups this year with Ralph. He’s been willing to make adjustments to our group. He’s willing to go 11-and-7 or 12-and-6. But I know they have a lot of internal discussions there on things and feel very comfortable with it.

You’ve had 41 games to evaluate now. What’s it [inaudible]? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

JB: Well, look, I think Ralph understands the chemistry with our players and relationship with our players and has been willing to have the hard conversations with them. He also understands where we’re at right now, and understands that there’s positive steps we’re taking, but we have to continue to work hard to get better results here right now.

Ralph Krueger Interview – Howard & Jeremy (12/31/19)

December 31, 2019

Ralph Krueger
Howard and Jeremy (9 a.m.) (11:53)

Howard Simon: Ralph, it’s Howard and Jeremy. Good morning, sir. How are you?

Ralph Krueger: I’m very well. Good morning, Howard. Good morning, Jeremy. Good morning, Buffalo.

HS: Appreciate your time with us today. Dalton Smith purchased — or signed, I guess — yesterday for the remainder of the season. Let’s start there, Ralph. Why Dalton Smith? What does he bring to your team?

RK: Well, he’s definitely, he’s in here now for us to get to know him. He’s improved quite a bit down in Rochester. They’ve enjoyed his physicality; he’s definitely someone who gets in on the forecheck and is a spark plug for them. He’s been a good leader, as far as what he’s doing in the room. You know, it’s a player who was drafted quite high in 2010, he was early second round and he got stuck in a little bit of a role as an enforcer, but he has become a better hockey player and he’s working on his skills and we just want to get a look at him and there’s no promise to how he’s going to play or if he’s going to play, it’s just an opportunity — because he was not in training camp — for us to get to see him.

HS: Did you feel then your team in respect to forechecking and physicality that your team was lacking in those areas?

RK: No, we’re definitely not lacking. The guys are playing hard and we’ve been extremely disappointed with the results of late, but we’re giving up very little defensively right now and it’s our offense that needs to get firing again. And to play good defensively, you have to be physical and you have to be aggressive as a group, and we have been that. But it’s something that you can possibly build on in certain situations, add a little bit more grit, but it’s not that we’re not pleased with the way the group is evolving in that respect. There is a team toughness there. We’re hard to play against. Boston had eight scoring chances 5-on-5 the other day. That doesn’t win you any hockey games, but it starts setting a foundation that we can win more games in the future. We just have to get our offense firing again here to finish it. But Dalton’s the kind of player that is somebody that is a spark plug, but again, there is no promise that he’ll be playing today or how many minutes he’ll be playing. It’s just right now, he’s in our roster and we’ll see how we use him.

Jeremy White: Ralph, there is immediately a little bit of speculation that Smith might be the kind of guy that you bring up to be as a deterrent, to perhaps dissuade other teams from taking liberties, cheap shots, whatever it might be. The last couple games against Tampa, there have been some unfortunate cheap shots, some hits: [Rasmus] Dahlin, [Vladimir] Sobotka both knocked out against the Lightning.

RK: Well that’s not our focus here in the coach’s room this morning. Our focus is to get the points here tonight, that’s what we need to do and figure out the best way to do that. So, again, that’s a few percentage points of our thoughts is what happened there, but it was more the three losses that we have against thus far that are frustrating and we want to answer here in the last game against Tampa Bay in the season with an A-game and give ourselves a chance to get the points. And that is part of the equation, but it is certainly not the major reason for us to prepare for something today.

HS: You brought up the offense. For the most part, guys not named [Victor] Olofsson, [Jack] Eichel and [Sam] Reinhart, have had trouble producing consistently. So as a coaching staff, Ralph, what can you do? What are you seeing, how do you try and get the offense going?

RK: Well, I said it right from the start, that we’re number one learning to be a solid, consistent defensive group of players working together without the puck. And it does always take away slightly in the evolution of the team and the learning process from your offense and the guys are all in there, they’re working so hard, you know, to take away time and space from the opposition. They’re working hard as a team, on and off the ice, to take care of that part of the game. What we need to do offensively is just stick with the plan. We are creating plus scoring chances, we are getting more and more net presence. It’s just little percentage points now, we need more confidence in that area. We need more, probably, more shots out of prime scoring chances, where we giving it up sometimes still for the pass and create secondary chances out of that. You know, it’s not a lot that’s missing here. The power play, of course, remains the motor for us offensively. If it’s going, it seems like our game 5-on-5 game goes, so that’ll be a primary focus also tonight here against Tampa. They’re running the No. 1 power play in the National Hockey League, so we’ve got a powerhouse coming at us there and what we need to do is try and find a way, for sure, to defend against that, but also be an excellent power play ourselves.

HS: You’ve mentioned that before this season, I wanted to ask you about the power play being the motor that drives the 5-on-5. I would hear that and think, ‘How can you do that when, you know, there is no way to predict how many power plays you’re going to get on a given night.’ And a lot of times coaches always talk about the power play is cyclical. In October it’s red-hot, in November it cools off. How can you count on that to drive the 5-on-5?

RK: That’s a really good question because it’s not about the results on the power play, it’s the way the power play is executing. What we like to see on the power play is a lot of good, solid Grade-A scoring chances coming out of it. Now, whether we score or not is not really relevant; it’s about those players who are usually our lead on offense, quite logically, that they are getting confidence on the power play. They are feeling good about the way we’re playing on the power play. If the power play is frustrating, they often carry that, then, into the 5-on-5 game, which, like you just said, we might get one power play in the 32nd minute of the game and if it’s a bad one, those players might carry that energy with them for another five, six, seven minutes into the 5-on-5. So you can kind of feel what I’m saying: It brings momentum into the 5-on-5 game, whether we’re scoring or not. That’s what we’d like to see tonight, is a confident power play, moving the puck around, creating good scoring chances and that usually will carry into the rest of the game.

HS: Is there — to follow up on that — the power play I think is 0 for its last 10. What is it, in terms of what you guys have seen watching the tape, your message to the power play units, the top two units, what would it be to do something differently to get it going, for scoring?

RK: I can’t say everything because we are tactically going up against Tampa here tonight and we are trying some minor adjustments. But like you said at the beginning of this discussion on power plays, power plays do go in surges. That’s just for everybody in the league, whether you go into these 0 and 10 situations, then you go 4-for-7, suddenly. That’s the way they function. You know, again, it’s still about holding the course. We’re not making massive strategic changes now; we have a clear plan, we’re sticking with the plan. It’s learning the nuances within the plan and the individual roles that we have; we just got to get a little bit better at them. Whether it’s finding a one-timer versus an over-handling of the puck, take a shot, a double-pass to a shot. There’s little things you work on the power play. The guys are all in here, you’ve heard it from me before and you’ll hear it again: I like the way the team is working and if we hold this line, I’m quite confident the results will follow here again quickly.

HS: The other night in Boston you had Sam Reinhart off the Eichel line, at least to start the game, and I think in practice he was back on the line. What did you think of Reinhart coming off that line and do you just think he is the best fit with Olofsson and Eichel for your team?

RK: Well there’s no question that’s not only been our most productive line, it’s one of the most productive lines in the National Hockey League this year. They support each other in both directions. They’re offensively strong, defensively outstanding playing, often, against the best lines of the other team. But Sam is just one of those players that can, whoever he’s playing with, he can make them better and we still feel that option is there for us, to split the line up and/or bring it back together even within a game. So we’ll see how we go tonight and what we feel is the best for giving us a chance to get the points here.

HS: The other guy I want to ask you about is Marcus Johansson. Where is his best fit? He was on the wing the other night, he’s played center, do you think there is a best spot for him?

RK: He’s a player that hasn’t been getting the results he deserves for the way he’s been playing. He’s a good voice in the room. He’s also an example on the ice without the puck; he works hard and he’s been creating chances for himself and for others. But Marcus has that flexibility now playing whether it’s center or wing, we can move him around depending on how much we’re going, we want to free him up to play offense or how much we need him as a center to solidify us down the middle. That flexibility gives us a good tool in him and, again, we haven’t seen the best of him, yet, offensively, we think that’s going to come for sure if he continues to work. He helps our power play, he’s very good with the puck and down the stretch at the end of games — 6-on-5 or 5-on-6, he’s helping out on the PK, so he’s quite a versatile player which is good to have in the lineup.

HS: I forgot the other guy I wanted to ask you about is, and it circles back, Ralph, to the discussion of overall scoring. I mean it’s really, it’s not like one guy isn’t scoring, there are multiple issues, but Conor Sheary is a guy I think you would rely on to get you 15-20 goals, whatever, he’s got offensive ability. I think he’s only got goals in one game in the last month or so. What have you said to him, what are you seeing in his game, I guess, and what are you telling him in this scoring slump?

RK: Well, he’s a spark plug kind of player. When he’s skating and energized, he’s a gritty player that is, for the opposition, difficult to play against. It’s something that we need from him and we’re expecting him — the opportunity is there, you know, with Jeff [Skinner] out now for a few weeks, somebody’s going to be getting that ice time and Conor is certainly in a lead position to get a bigger ball, an opportunity here and we’re quite confident that he’ll be able to pick up that slack. It’s all about, for him, getting into those gritty areas. He’s got quick feet, he’s got good hands and he can play up the lineup, which we’re expecting him to do tonight.

HS: Well good luck tonight against Tampa, have a Happy New Year, we’ll talk to you again next week after the New Year and thanks again for your time on the show.

RK: Howard and Jeremy, thanks a lot, always fun. And I wish everybody from Buffalo a nice smooth trip into 2020 and a good finish to the year and a good start.

HS: Appreciate it. Thanks for your time, Ralph.

RK: Okay, thank you. Have a good day.