Tag Archives: Jason Botterill

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (3/5/20)

March 5, 2020

 

Jason Botterill

Schopp and Bulldog (5:30 p.m.)

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/3-5-jason-botterill (18:02)

 

Mike Schopp: How did you grow up, Jason? Did you grow up [in a] modest neighborhood? How did you grow up?

Jason Botterill: Blue collar family in Winnipeg. Both my parents — my mom was an elementary school teacher, my dad was a university professor. Grew up pretty much my entire life in Winnipeg. I was born in Edmonton, but spent most of my childhood in Winnipeg.

MS: And there’s a Ralph Krueger connection through your dad?

JB: Yeah, my dad, before he became a university professor, taught at St. John’s Ravenscourt. It was a private school in Winnipeg, and Ralph was a student there. My dad, I think, taught Ralph fifth grade math.

MS: Alright. My son is in fifth grade.

 

Chris Parker: While we’re on family stuff, I saw your sister is going to be involved in an all-female hockey telecast coming up on NBC. Is it this weekend?

JB: Yeah, so my sister was obviously, she was at four Olympics for Team Canada, had a great experience there. And I give her a lot of credit, she’s worked really hard at her public speaking [and] presentation. I also give a lot of credit to some of the corporations in Canada — Royal Bank of Canada, Rona — they’ve continued a sponsorship with her over the years, it’s been great. Last couple of years, she’s been working part-time with the Islanders. She does live in Toronto, has a young family, but has done some games with the Islanders and is now going to get more of an opportunity from a national scale. Very exciting for her.

 

MS: So Jason, last time we talked before the road trip, even maybe before the deadline, it would’ve been before the deadline. You talked about getting after it there with the standings and maybe feeling, I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but feeling like you had a shot (at the playoffs). Maybe that’s different now, I don’t know. What are we looking at here with 16 games left?

JB: Well I think it certainly, let’s just be honest, it’s a disappointing road trip. We played well at times, but we did not get the results. I think going into the trade deadline, we’d won five out of six, I think our group was excited about the acquisitions of both Dominik [Kahun] and Wayne [Simmonds], bringing into our group there. I thought we came out with a lot of energy against Colorado, played a very good game there. Disappointing that we couldn’t find a way to get a goal at the end of that and at least push it to overtime. I think you go through the rest of the games throughout the road trip, there was positive moments, but at the end of the situation, we’re not capitalizing, we’re not getting the results that we want. Nothing’s changed from our perspective; it’s a situation where we have to continue to look at the small picture. Ralph has talked about that throughout the entire year. We still have to continue to find ways in each game to improve as a group, and that starts with trying to find a way to win a game here against Pittsburgh, who had a strong game on Tuesday. We’ve played well against them throughout the year, but to beat a team three times one year is going to be a challenge and we’ll try to do it tonight.

 

MS: What was deadline day like for you? And while I’d expect you to say that there’s always stuff, balls in the air that might have had some chance of happening, was it especially like that? Or was it maybe not? How many ideas were thrown around that might have been really close to happening?

JB: I think there was a lot more discussion this year just because of where our team was at. We had a couple, I guess what you would want to call, bigger things that we talked about for quite a while with different teams. Didn’t materialize. We’ve been on the show before, we’ve talked about trying to add to our forward group and some of these discussions have been about players that we’ve been trying to add for a while here. The time was finally right for the other teams, so we were able to get things accomplished from that standpoint. I think we had also talked about the potential of moving some of our players in other deals. We didn’t want to trade off some of our players of bigger magnitude. Some other players maybe we could’ve gotten mid-round draft choices for guys, but we also felt where we’re at as an organization right now, it’s important to keep this group together and continue to work on here.

 

MS: You were six points out at the time and now, is it 12? I think it’s 12. Is there disappointment, organizationally, that that happened? And is there even any regret that you didn’t do different things on deadline day or can you live with that?

JB: No, I don’t think there was regret just because of where we were at too. We look at, it’s not just how we played that last week against Pittsburgh and Winnipeg; you look at it as much as there was a lot of ups and downs in the month of February, I think from January 1 to the trade deadline we were ninth in the league in regulation wins. We felt that we were making progress there. We were excited about the potential of getting Linus [Ullmark] back into the mix here and where it could go. I think, certainly, we’re disappointed. I think you see that with our players, with their comments and with Ralph, there’s a disappointment that we haven’t been able to get more results in the last four games. Now it’s our challenge to respond. I think that’s one of the things that Ralph has done a very good job with this group, is when things have looked disappointing, when things have been very frustrating, whether it’s at the end of November, whether it’s after the loss on New Year’s Eve, whether it’s the way we started after the All-Star break, we’ve been able to respond. Now it’s going to be against difficult teams here in the next week or two. It’s important for us to respond.

 

CP: How much awareness is there with how March went last year? You guys won two games last March. I think it’d be understandable if the players sort of lost the plot a little bit. Are you talking with Ralph about that? Trying to make sure that players stay on point here, on message?

JB: I think Ralph’s tried to talk about that no matter what the situation is. But, yeah it’s certainly something we’ve talked as an organization and it’s part of the reason why we brought in a player like Wayne Simmonds. He’s been through a March, he’s been through — knows what it has to have success. No matter how that equates to wins this year for us, it’s imperative that our players understand what it takes to win games, especially on the road. Things like that come naturally for Wayne. His experience in those situations is something we wanted to bring into the mix. You also look at a lot of our numbers — I think a big area where we’ve improved compared to last year, the year before, is just puck possession. Depends on what metric you look at, but just holding to the puck in the offensive zone, we’re usually in the top five in the National Hockey League. Possession throughout the entire game, we’re usually in the top 10, but we’re not creating enough chances. We’re not getting to the net enough. We’re carrying enough in the high-danger areas. That’s where a player like Wayne, it’s natural for him to go there. We thought he could complement our group here very well.

 

MS: Are you talking about actual possession, like minutes and seconds? Or are you talking about shot attempts?

JB: Actual possession with the puck.

MS: Okay, so like a time.

JB: Yes.

MS: I don’t know that stat very well. What’s a good game? How many minutes is a good game?

JB: Well, I think more importantly is what we look at a lot is where our rank is throughout the National Hockey League from that standpoint.

MS: So what’s average? 30? You talk about offensive zone?

JB: Yes. Obviously that’s the biggest area. What we’ve tried to work on a lot is making sure we control the puck more. I think that’s one of the things that has helped up from a defensive standpoint, holding onto pucks more. You look at a player like Jack Eichel or Rasmus Dahlin, they certainly do it. It’s part of the reason we brought in a Marcus Johansson, just his smoothness with exits and entries into the offensive zone. What I think has improved a lot, compared to say two years ago where it was more of a chip-and-chase game, we’re holding onto the puck, but we’re not creating enough opportunities off of that. And that’s where you look at it from a situation where our expected goals, our opportunities around the net, we have to do a better job of getting there.

MS: What’s a good number, do you know? What’s a good number for minutes, because I’ve never looked at that. What I want to see, what I’ll look at is expected goals or the corsi and it used to be fenwick and those kind of numbers, the Sabres do not excel in those numbers 5-on-5 or close situations unless your using a certain method that I don’t know.

JB: Expected goals, especially, you’re going to have different people with different philosophies on what exactly goes into that number. We certainly feel we’ve improved a lot from an even strength — playing defense from that standpoint. Obviously what’s hurt us a lot on this past road trip too was just our special teams and our PK. It’s something that we have to drastically improve. But we feel we’ve improved from a defensive standpoint. We’re still trying to continue to find create more opportunities and more offense at even strength, especially.

 

MS: I thought — I’m sorry, one more small point if I could. I thought in the Winnipeg game there was some disagreement, like the analytics, the stats had expected goals under two and Ralph Krueger was talking about all these scoring chances. Scoring chances has always been sort of a subjective statistic.

JB: It’s a subjective statistic and also too expected goals is going to be subjective depending on different people’s models. So that’s what you also have to consider from that standpoint.

MS: I guess, yeah. That’s right.

 

MS: You know it’s sort of been frustrating for me as someone interested in all of that over the years that whether it’s the Sabres, or could be any team, wouldn’t just use an established, objective — not a league statistic per say — but just somebody who’s producing that.

JB: It’s also an evaluation of a player. There’s always going to be opinions a lot, and to make “Hey, this expected goals model is better than anyone else’s,” you’re never going to have everyone believing in the same model.

MS: Right, yeah. Objectivity would be key though to getting anything right. Sort of a cold — I would think if you had numbers that are proprietary and someone else, even the NHL, had different numbers, you’d want to know why, right? You’d want to know what’s the difference.

JB: Without a doubt.

MS: Okay, enough stats.

CP: So, the way forward here. What’s coming? I know the offseason, there’s going to be a lot of salary room, although signing some of your own guys will probably swallow up a good chunk of that. Maybe depending on what you plan to do with Dahlin; this is the first summer you can think of extending him. But as far as where are players coming from that are going to help you get more scoring chances?

JB: We’ve tried to have flexibility each year. No matter what happens, we’re trying to make sure that we’re not impacted on where the salary cap is going to go, that we have that flexibility of salaries coming off our roster. This year, we certainly have set it up where we have the opportunity to re-sign our own players if we want, or add players if need be. We’ve worked hard over the last couple of years of improving our defense. We feel comfortable with the defensemen we have here right now and the defensemen we have coming through the system. From a forward standpoint, we have to add more depth. We’re still a work in progress from that standpoint. We’re obviously extremely ecstatic about [Victor] Olofsson taking the jump this year. I think when he came out of the lineup in January, it certainly impacted our team. You look at Jack and Sam continuing to have strong years. And then also, too, I thought took a huge step forward this year just the camaraderie and the impact [Zemgus] Girgensons, [Johan] Larsson, [Kyle] Okposo have added just from a puck possession, wearing down teams, having the opportunity to play against other teams’ top lines at time, freeing up more of an opportunity for Jack to play against other lines. [What] we have to do, we have to continue to obviously find more scoring options. We’re excited about where Casey Mittelstadt’s at right now. We obviously want to get Tage Thompson healthy. Dylan Cozens is going to be a player that we’ll certainly give an opportunity to add to our lineup here next year. Ans it’s players that we think that can help out our penalty kill in the future, whether it’s a Rasmus Asplund or an [Arttu] Ruotsalainen who was in training camp with us this year. Those are the type of players we’re going to continue to look to add to our mix there. Then we’ll see what happens out from a trade standpoint or from a free agent standpoint.

 

MS: It feels to me like maybe free agency has always kind of been a trap, but it feels more like that to me now. Teams I think are doing a better job of protecting, signing their good players. If a player who’s accomplished something notable in the league is available in free agency, I almost feel like there’s a “buyer beware” tag there. How do you view that market?

JB: I think your intuition is certainly true and I think it’s a situation where you do have to be careful about that come July 1. I also think, let’s be honest, it’s part of — we talked about what Wayne Simmonds can add to our group here right now, it’s also a situation whether he fits in with our mix here. I think Buffalo’s always had a better opportunity to re-sign their own players. Once they get here, once they feel if there’s a mix here, once they get to be a part of the city, there’s always that better opportunity, so that was part of the reason we also brought in Wayne right now.

 

MS: You’re saying, maybe you’ve already said it, you’re saying about Simmonds I think, we thought this when you got him: I think you want him to sort of show either all your players, or the core players, a certain something, whether it’s — it’s not going to be the playoffs probably — but these games coming up or the games already, can you sort of speak to that a little bit? What’s an example, maybe, or a couple examples of the kind of things that you value in him that maybe you think your team needs?

JB: Well I think just you saw it right off the bat in the Colorado game: the physicality that he brings and in the forecheck. I also think, and as we’ve talked about before, he is a player that likes to play in front of the net, it comes natural for him, it’s not something that you have to remind him, he’s going to get there.

MS: How about in the locker room?

JB: In the locker room, he’s a personality, and that’s what we’ve talked to him a lot about is it’s always difficult coming into an environment right off the bat where you may not know a lot of players. But I think you’ve seen it even on the ice; he played World Championships with Jeff Skinner and you see some chemistry with the two of them already out there.

 

MS: At the deadline, I’m now remembering, I think a couple times you talked about him as a strong personality, or vocal, that kind of thing. When you assess the leadership you have here, if you looked at it and said, “There’s not enough vocal, there’s not enough strong personality,” then this logically would be a thing you would do. Is that pretty fair?

JB: I think a lot of our — Kyle Okposo’s been in our league a lot and he’s taken on a big role from our leadership perspective. Marcus Johansson’s come into our group, especially with the European players, been almost a godfather from that standpoint. Jack continues to grow as a captain. But over a course of 82 games, you can’t have the same voices all the time. You have to have more people supporting that, and that’s what we look at from someone [like] Wayne. To our group, what we’ve talked about before here on the show, bringing players in who have had success in the playoffs. Players who understand the grind of 82 games and what it takes to get to the playoffs. That certainly comes natural for Wayne and it’s natural for Wayne to talk to players about that.

 

MS: Do you think guys — Eichel is five years (in the NHL) and Reinhart is too — do you think it’s easier when you miss the playoffs for as long as those guys have and other guys on the team, [Rasmus] Ristolainen would certainly be this, is it easier to give up? Is it easier to think your team, or you can’t do something when you haven’t done it?

JB: No, I think it drives you actually more. You’re more pissed off. You’re more frustrated by that. But I also think from our guys, they’re open to it. They’re looking for communication from Wayne and what does it take? And I think you’ve seen it with our group. It’s not looking back on, say, how we played in October or December; you look back at how we played a week ago, a week-and-a-half ago, it was there, but we have to do that on a more continuous basis. I think that’s just what the preparation — I think our team has done a great job off the ice in what they have to go about to be prepared for the game. But as we go through a game, facing adversity, we have to be stronger from that standpoint. We’ve shown an ability after the games to come back the next game. Within a game, we have to find more opportunity to be stronger and to battle through and at least get a point and see where it goes from a win standpoint.

 

MS: Jason, thanks for coming over as always. Good luck tonight.

JB: Thank you very much guys. You guys have a good night.

Jason Botterill Trade Deadline Media Availability (2/24/20)

February 24, 2020

Jason Botterill
Media availability (4 p.m.)

 

Hello, everyone. I would just like to start off by thanking Evan (Rodrigues) and Conor (Sheary) for what they accomplished with us in Buffalo here. Certainly wish them all the best in Pittsburgh moving forward. I would also like to thank Zach Bogosian for everything that he did for our team and our community here in Buffalo. Certainly wish him all the best down in Tampa Bay. Certainly open to any questions you have right now.

Jason, how would you characterize the moves you made today from an overall standpoint? (Adam Benigni – WKBW)

I think we’ve talked a lot about changing our forward group, adding to our forward group. Excited about bringing in a veteran player such as Wayne Simmonds. We’ve talked a lot about this group playing meaningful games. For Wayne, playing meaningful games in the month of March and April is something he’s very accustomed to. I think you’ve heard Ralph (Krueger) talk a lot about net-front presence, playing a physical game. I think these are things that come natural for Wayne. We also know that we have a young group. He has a strong personality and I think his leadership’s going to help our group out a lot. In Dominik (Kahun), excited to bring a younger player into our mix. A player that is very useful, can play both wings, has a very good skill set and also has a track record of success, both over in Germany — had the opportunity to win an Olympic silver medal and had numerous times playing in World Championships. Excited to bring Dominik into our group.

Jason, how much has the past couple of weeks and the fact that [the team is] on this 7-3-1 run, I think it is, how much did that change your approach going into today? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

I think we talked a lot about different things that would happen. You’re always trying to prepare months in advance of what you’re going try to accomplish at the trade deadline. We’ve been very or proud of how our group has responded after a difficult start to the homestand. We understand in a young group, you’re going to continue to have disappointments and challenges along the way, but how we responded from that has been very positive. I think that’s just this past weekend with a difficult win in Pittsburgh and then also finding a way to grind out against a very good Winnipeg team. We’ve talked a lot about playing meaningful games in the month of March, and I think with some of the moves that we made today, we’re hopefully setting our team up to better accept that challenge.

How important for you was it to get an NHL player in a trade if you were going to subtract a pending UFA like Conor? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

We talked about the situation of adding, trying to talk to different teams about what our value was for some of our players, get draft picks and then maybe moving draft picks in other deals. The way it worked out, we’re glad that we were able to make trades that actually get a National Hockey League player back into the mix here to help our needs, especially the physical element and, like I said, the heaviness of Wayne Simmonds. We’ve talked about it before, the development of our young players, our young forwards within our system, I think Dominik’s a player that has NHL experience but still is a young player that is continuing to grow.

Jason, I think a lot of people wanted to know would you be a buyer going into the deadline, would you potentially be a seller? And it almost feels like you kind of managed to do both. Do you think that’s a fair assessment with the moves you guys made today? (Matt Bove – WKBW)

As an organization it’s time for us to continue to build. Taking the next step as a group is to understand and, like I said, play meaningful games in March. It’s going to be a difficult challenge for this group. We’re heading on the road here now. When we come back our home schedule’s against some of the top teams. It’s going to be a challenge, but I think it’s going to be a challenge for our core players to go through with that. I know Ralph is extremely excited about working with these guys. Ralph has been very pleased at the response from the players and the interactions that they have. Look, I think it will be a new experience for our group, but we’re excited about it moving forward here. What we try to talk about as a coaching staff and as a management staff is, “How do we best prepare this group to face this challenge?” And that’s why we made the moves we did today.

 

Do you expect these moves to energize the team? Do you think guys will be excited about these? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

I hope so. I certainly hope so. I think especially with the personality Wayne brings to the mix, I think will certainly get our players excited. But I think you’ve seen that over the last couple of weeks, there’s been an energy within our group. With some of the home wins, I think the focus that they’ve had going down to the game in Pittsburgh, even the game a couple weeks ago in New York, I thought our players were very in tune with our coaching staff, stuck to the system that Ralph wanted to play and eventually, obviously, got results. Overall, I think there’s a good buzz and growth with our group. Now it’s important for us to continue to work on that and hopefully get the results we’re looking for.

Did it get far down the road at all getting some help down the middle? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

There’s always conversations going on, and we’ve had this discussion. Yeah, there’s conversations, but until something gets materialized, that’s it. We’ve certainly looked at a lot of different things for our group, but these were the moves that we felt the most comfortable with and what would help our team out the most right now.

Jason, do you feel pressure to get this team into the postseason? Does the organization feel a sense of pressure to take that next step? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

Look, I think there’s always pressure to win in this league. Without a doubt. You want to have success. We understand we’re not a finished product, and these moves here, we feel it helps our team right now going into especially this road trip and this upcoming week, but just facing the month of March. But we also think adding a player like Dominik (Kahun) is going to help us in the future too and trying to work from both ends from there. The experience that Jack (Eichel) or Sam (Reinhart) or Rasmus Dahlin or Rasmus Ristolainen can gain in the next few weeks is going to be important for their development here. The National Hockey League, you look at the parity in it, you’re not looking for the big jump, you’re looking to win marginal points here and there. That’s the ultimate opportunity to eventually get into the playoffs. We can look back on, “Oh, if we changed something there or change something there,” it’s small margins. And that’s what our group has to understand is for us to eventually get where we sort of aspire to, we have to do a better job in those small margin situations.

There’s been so much talk the last couple of years about changing the culture here. How important was it for you to move two players who were disgruntled and why was the timing of the Bogosian move, why at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

Well I would just say with the Bogosian move, we tried to find a solution. We tried to work with him on finding a solution. It didn’t materialize. I’m extremely excited that Zach has a new opportunity in an excellent organization in Tampa Bay. But from a timing standpoint, we tried to find a solution with him prior to that. I think there’s always going to be discussion on the players that might not be excited about being in Buffalo. But we have a player here in Wayne Simmonds who waived a no-trade (clause) to come to join our organization today. I think when talking with the bulk of our players, there’s an enthusiasm about what’s being created in our locker room, and just the dialogue that they’re having with the coaching staff. And I think you’ve realized in your interactions with Ralph, he’s a fairly upbeat and positive gentleman, and he’s excited about where this group is going. Now it’s important that we continue to keep that small focus on, “Hey, next step, game in Colorado on Wednesday.” We understand what Colorado did to us last time, we understand what a talented team Colorado is, it’s going to be a challenging effort for our group. But those small steps is what we have to continue to work on.

When it comes to making a trade with Pittsburgh, was there a sense — knowing how the Metropolitan Division seems to be bulking up on players — did you sense that you could make that deal with Pittsburgh and did the fact that all these teams were bulking up on players in the Metro, did that help you make that deal with Pittsburgh? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

I think there’s just obviously a familiarity with Conor (Sheary) from there. I think it was a situation where they weren’t looking to move Conor in the first place, but it was more of a salary cap situation and stuff that they had to work with. So there’s always that familiarity about possibly bringing him back into the mix. But we certainly had other teams and discussions with other teams on those players, it just worked out to be the best fit from getting a younger forward back into our mix.

Jason, how tough has this week been for you? You always try to keep an even keel. We all saw the TSN shots in Ottawa. That was probably one of the toughest losses you’ve had since you’ve been here. You go from that [and] maybe the season might be over and you’re totally selling to last weekend, where it clearly changes what you’re doing. What has the emotion been like for you for the last six days or so? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

Well look, let’s be honest. The game in Ottawa, I thought it was a great start. I thought we were building off of what we’d done the week before and especially the win at home here against Toronto. I loved how, in that game against Toronto, we faced adversity in the third period there and responded extremely well. (After a) great start in Ottawa, our response wasn’t good. That was certainly a frustrating moment. Just like Ralph (Krueger) and the players, I’m into it. I want success for this team and for this organization. But I loved how our team responded (in the following games), and I think that’s what Ralph has done a great job with this year: When things haven’t gone well, we’ve been able to find our game again. You look at the fact I thought we played extremely well after a disappointing November; the start of December I thought we played extremely well. I thought it was a great job after the New Year’s Eve loss to Tampa Bay of getting our group refocused there again. And let’s be honest: The home stand here didn’t start off the way [we wanted] and Ralph was able to get the group back on track from that standpoint. So it’s been great o see that resolve. You’d like to, now, see more consistency throughout the whole process. But we understand that there’s always — we talk about parity in this league — there’s always going to be a lot of emotions, especially around this time. With this group, you see the potential. I see the dialogue that our players are having with our coaches and our staff, and you want to see them have success. I’m happy today that we were able to make some moves that I think put us in a better position and now we’ll  see how we progress here for the next month or so.

Is anybody going to the Amerks, from a transaction standpoint? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

From a transaction standpoint, our goaltender, Jonas Johansson, we made him available (to the Americans for the AHL playoffs). And then also John Gilmour.

I know you shaved some money (off of the team’s salary cap limit) with these deals. How does this affect the cap going forward? Do you expect to be under that overage spot? (John Vogl – The Athletic)

The way we will look at it now is — so, with our injuries that we had throughout the year, we talked a lot about what we were going to do from that standpoint. We will have an overage at the end of the year. From our standpoint, we didn’t want to break this team apart; we just didn’t feel it was the time, from that standpoint. We looked at different scenarios in our planning perspective, but we know we’re going to have an overage for next season. But on the positive side, the overage is coming because our young defensemen continue to develop. To be honest, we hope our young defensemen hit all their performance bonuses, because it means that they’re going in the right direction with their games.

As Mike (Harrington) had said, Jason, it has been a tough stretch. Kind of a rollercoaster ride of a season. A lot of fan frustration in this marketplace, a lot of it directed, quite frankly, at you. Do you understand where that comes from? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)

I can understand where it’s coming from. I understand the history here. But it can’t interfere with how I make decisions for this organization` and it can’t interfere with my interaction with Ralph and with our players. That’s why it’s good to have executives around me, such as Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley, who have a very good perspective on things; especially someone like Randy who’s gone through things in different stops where he’s been. Everyone looks at my previous time in Pittsburgh and thinks you win a few Stanley Cups there and it’s all good. But [I] also went through processes there of coaches being fired and disappointment in not meeting expectations. So [I’ve] been through different things like that. The bottom line is, in the National Hockey League, it doesn’t matter which market: There’s going to be pressure and there’s going to be high expectations. As a group we have to continue to focus on what Ralph has talked about: improving every day. I think our group has done a very good job with that, and that was our focus today on making the moves that we did. We think this will help our group.

Can (Dominik) Kahun also play center? You said he plays both wings, but can he play center? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

It’s possible that he can. I would say that right now I view him more as a winger than a centerman, but it does give options to Ralph (Krueger) to play him in different spots throughout the lineup.

There was a report out there that Wayne Simmonds might be interested in signing a contract extension. Has he broached that with you, or do you broach that with him, and what is your interest in that level? (John Wawrow – Associated Press)

I talked to Wayne just briefly when he came to the organization. I talked to his agents, just about the situation before, and our understanding is certainly there’s no contract in the mix or anything like that. The focus right now is on sort of what our plan was for the next few weeks here and what our sort of focus was going to be for today. You know our numbers; we certainly have openings at forward moving forward here. We’re certainly going to have opportunities and roster spots available. I think that’s what he’s looking for: He’s looking to play meaningful games and he’s also looking for an opportunity. If he plays well, there might be a future. But our focus right now with Wayne is just what we have going on here right now. Just as Ralph likes to keep things small, we’re able to keep it small with Wayne here.

Jason Botterill Interview – Schopp & Bulldog (2/4/20)

February 4, 2020

 

Jason Botterill

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

https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/2-4-jason-botterill-with-schopp-the-bulldog (19:37)

 

Mike Schopp: Jason, nice to see you again.

Jason Botterill: Thank you for having me on.

 

MS: I would say in the last couple of weeks — maybe it’s home games, the losses last week, maybe it’s the Bills ending — the knives are out on the Sabres a little bit. The fans are like — I feel like it’s louder than it was before, maybe it’s just later on in the season. I wonder to what extent you maybe agree with that or have noticed that and how are you feeling? How do you think this is all going?

JB: Well I think it’s a situation where you have your All-Star break, you have time off, it’s a reflection on where the season’s at. Let’s be totally honest, we had two games last week against Ottawa and Montreal that we had to win, we should win. And from day one of the season, Ralph [Krueger] and myself have talked about having a home-ice presence. I think you look at our home-ice record, we’ve done a fairly good job with that, but in crucial situations, when you have an opportunity to have a team come in that’s below you in the standings, you have to capitalize on it. So, yeah, I can understand our fans’ frustration standpoint. Our organization’s frustrated by that. My dialogue with Terry and Kim is frustrated from that and as an organization, for us to take the step forward, we got to make sure that we capitalize on games like that.

 

MS: We had a caller on Wednesday, Bulldog should talk about it, I wasn’t there. Jeremy [White] lost his mom and we were at the wake and the funeral; we took turns going. This caller was just really hot about ownership and the thing went nation-wide. A part of it that I want to ask you about is the ownership piece, and you just referenced the Pegulas. I think some fans wonder just where they’re at in all this. You know, especially the way it started and big talk before you were here about plans for the organization, no doubt a lot of money has been spent, but there aren’t results yet. What can you tell fans about Terry and Kim Pegula’s feelings about this and what they want to see get done?

JB: Well, to put it bluntly, my conversations with Terry and Kim, they’re frustrated with the results. They want better results. Our dialogue — we’re in constant dialogue — the dialogue goes to, “What are the solutions? What are we doing to get better?” But from a management standpoint, it’s one of the reasons I came to this organization was the resources are given to us to have success, whether you want to, from a Rochester standpoint, to opportunity for developing our scouting staff, to development staff, Rochester, they give us the resources. If you’re frustrated with the results, hey, challenge management. But what our ownership has given us, they give us the tools to have success.

 

Chris Parker: Do you feel some urgency because of that? For right now, like to do something maybe, I don’t want to say out of character necessarily, but just something impactful and dramatic?

JB: There’s always urgency to do something. From day one on the job, you want urgency to get the job done and to move the organization forward. You look at our team, you look at portions of our season, we’ve played very well. But over the course of the bulk of it, the majority of the season, we haven’t gotten the results we wanted. You can talk about the development of our star players, how they’re having career years, but the entire group — we haven’t done it well enough. So, yeah, I’ve talked to you about this before, we’re always looking to improve the team. Am I going to do something drastic because it’s imperative we do something right now? We’re always looking to do something, but I’m not going to harm what this organization needs. It’s about developing and making it long-term important, but also have short-term success for our group. My job as general manager, I have to take a longer-term picture, but my dialogue right now, my focus right now is to work with Ralph on, hey, what do we have to do to get this roster performing better? What do we have to do to some of our players who haven’t hit their norms for NHL goals or points? What do we have to do from that chemistry structure to get this going in the right direction?

 

MS: How much of a better season than this did you expect? The cap being where it is, you’ve got contracts here that maybe you’ve wanted to get out of in one way or another. It’s mostly the same team as last year, you’ve added a few guys, but it’s mostly, like very few guys have been taken off the roster. So logically, one might expect kind of the same points total, right? The same place in the standings. That’s kind of where you’re headed. Are you surprised that this team isn’t better?

JB: I think you’re looking for development in your young players. You’re looking for everyone to take that step. I think this team has shown in October, and the difference from this team I say compared to last year, last year after our 10-game win streak, we never really got playing again and found our game, as Ralph would like to say. I thought this year — whether it was the start of December, played Nashville, St. Louis, Edmonton, Islanders, even you look right before the break, having wins against Vegas, Dallas, having a good effort in Nashville — I felt we were making progress from those areas there. So, yeah, I think it’s a situation where you feel there’s more to be given from this group and there’s more situations where we kept some players, younger players are developing from that standpoint. We did bring in players; a guy like Brandon Montour’s here for the entire season, a young player like Henri Jokiharju comes into the group. I think Linus Ullmark has taken a big step as our goalie. We brought in Marcus Johansson. So we brought some players in that we felt could help us move forward.

 

CP: Do you feel like there could be another layer of management here? I know you’ve got a staff below you, I don’t need to read the depth chart, but assistants and scouts and amateur scouts and pro scouts and all that. Between you and the Pegulas, an experienced hockey person. Is that something that you would welcome, like another tier of management? Another set of eyes? Another experienced person to sort of help steer this?

JB: Well that’s why I brought Randy Sexton onto my staff. He’s a former general manager in the league. That’s why I brought in Steve Greeley to be sort of our player personnel guy. I wanted to make sure that I surrounded myself with people that brought in different ideas. I brought in Randy because he was with me in Pittsburgh and sort of knew that model. Steve had success winning a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings, had been around the Eichel family, Boston University, seen how things worked in New York too. So to me, there’s always different ways to develop a team and I wanted to have sort of a diverse group that came in from there. I love the fact that my interaction is directly with Terry and Kim. I respect that and certainly think that’s a strength of our organization. And I think the fact that we’ve built people around there, I have strong ideas — strong people providing ideas to me. What I like about our group is they’re not afraid to challenge me on different things. I don’t have a bunch of “yes guys” around me. I feel comfortable with the management group we have and we understand that we have to continue to be better.

 

MS: I know we’ve talked about this along the way here many times. When you have a team that’s on the outside of the playoffs, especially with it kind of being your mantra and even your reputation for the most part, coming here and this word development. I don’t know how that’s going, really. I know [Casey] Mittelstadt was sent down and you’ve lost [Tage] Thompson; who else is down there that’s maybe somebody you would expect to have be on this team next year? Or if you end up selling, I mean you’ve got several forwards that might make room, you’ve got very few under contract here. Do you have reinforcements?

JB: We’ve utilized two of my three high draft picks on forwards to come into our system. We feel that Sam Reinhart continues to develop as a player, Jack Eichel continues to develop as a player. You’ve seen Victor Olofsson make the jump this year. But look, we’re focused on right now as we have a group of players that are proven NHL scorers who aren’t up to their NHL norms right now for goals. Whether it’s chemistry, lines, that’s what we’re trying to work on right now to get more out of them because we think there’s another level that they can get to.

 

MS: How is Mittelstadt doing?

JB: Mittelstadt, saw him down on Friday down in Rochester, I think he’s done a great job down there. He’s gone down with the right attitude of being engaged, working very closely with Chris Taylor. You see him in power play, penalty killing, in all situations out there. He’s starting to produce more from an offensive standpoint. You look at, not just his offensive numbers, but what he’s creating from a chances standpoint. It’s top of the league from that situation. Very similar to what Tage Thompson was doing at the start of the year. We’ve been very happy with Casey’s maturity in the situation. I think they’ve won five in a row here in Rochester and he’s certainly a big part of that.

 

CP: Is the plan, if there is a hard plan, and I realize these things can always change, the trade deadline, injuries, his performance, but would you be inclined to just sort of let him cook down there for the rest of the year and enjoy a playoff run and then take a new run at the NHL next fall? Or could he be a call-up candidate?

JB: Well I think it’s always a situation we’re looking at, but I think you touched on the playoff experience. Playoff experience needs to happen for a lot of players in our organization, and I think that’s extremely key. That’s a big step in anyone’s development — getting that experience, whether it’s at the National Hockey League level, American Hockey League, just playing in those type of games.

 

CP: Has Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen played down there yet?

JB: Yep, he played last Friday against Syracuse. Won that game, stopped a penalty shot in the first period. Obviously disappointed with Ullmark going down up here, but it is an opportunity for Jonas [Johansson] to come up here and it’s an opportunity for [Luukkonen] to gain more starts in Rochester.

 

CP: Would you think he could get a look at some point here? Or do you think…

JB: The next step in his development, look, everything was taken a step back because of the offseason surgery. We understood that, but you’ve got to look at the long term for a talented young kid like that. He’s done his job at the ECHL level. I think it’s great that now he’s taken the role of working with [Andrew] Hammond in Rochester and the next step is for him to get games in there and then take over that role and stuff to be a go-to goalie at the American Hockey League level.

 

MS: Jason, what do you know at this point or think coming up here in the next three weeks that the trade deadline will look like? There seem to be interesting factors, like whether Seattle is a factor in it or teams, well you’ve got 22 thousand something in cap space, like nothing really, no room to do anything. If you wanted to be a seller here in the next few weeks, how do you think you could do? How much action do you think?

JB: The first thing that we’re doing is we have 10 games before the break; we want to see what materializes in these 10 games. As a manager, you’re having conversations with teams, some are from both sides, to be prepared for both scenarios. We’re very optimistic on we have, I believe, seven of the next eight games at home. Didn’t start off the way we wanted it. I thought getting a win on Saturday against Columbus was key. Now tonight will certainly be a challenge but we have an opportunity for our home games here to get some results, and that’s what we’re going to be looking for.

 

MS: Can you offer any kind of numbers on that? Like you’re 10 or 11 out, the Leafs and the Hurricanes aren’t even in and they’re in the way, Montreal. What would get you to that point where you think you would actually go for it?

JB: We’ll continue to see how it plays out. I’ll have to continue my dialogue with the Pegulas on what’s right for this franchise moving forward here. But it’s going to be challenging, we understand that, but that’s also why you’ve heard Ralph talk a lot about keeping the picture small. And it’s not like our players don’t realize the challenge of the bigger picture, but trying to keep it small and trying to get the small results, that’s the only way we have to go to make progress here.

 

MS: What do you think Seattle might mean to the deadline? Will there be more moves? Different kinds of moves?

JB: I think you’ll see more moves maybe this summer in preparation for that. I think right now it’s still too far out from that bit. You have so many teams that are still in the race from that standpoint. I think people are more looking at “what can we do to have success this year” versus looking at Seattle down the road.

 

CP: Do you think there’s the potential for, I guess, “hockey trades” is how I think you people in the business refer to it, at the deadline as opposed to just sell-offs?

JB: I think so. There’s certainly going to be a couple of high-end players, I think, that are going to be in the rental market that will be the big — that will gain a high price. You’ve just seen it over the years, people continuing to see the value in first-round picks and understand, even the top-end teams understand that they have to have those young players coming through their system if they’re going to sustain this at all. I think you’ve heard a lot of general managers talk about they’re looking for, “We’ll move a defenseman for a forward or we’ll move a forward for a D-man” for specific things, but less about the rental market but more about helping out the team out right now what their team needs but the player that can help them in the future too.

 

MS: I have a theory, if I may, and I don’t know if this is something you hear or even subscribe to, maybe. But I’m into the numbers and I’ve brought this up with Bulldog earlier and even maybe last year too. I think with the league as competitive as it is, teams from the back of the playoff pack winning the Cup and all of that, with the money that it costs, I don’t see buying as really mathematically very smart most of the time. How many wins above replacement, how many wins are you gaining by trading a first-round pick for a player? I think in the analytics world here, I don’t know to what extent hockey’s really there, but I feel like in baseball they would just never do this. They would never trade for these guys if it were the way hockey is, to the first point, how competitive it is and everything. Do you think that makes sense? Do you hear that? Do you agree with it?

JB: Well I think certainly, yeah. You look at the models that’s going now with how salaries are being structured, these teams that have success or are at the top, they’re paying their young players, their star players an even [larger] percentage of the cap. So how do you keep that sort of model going? It’s imperative that you have some younger players contributing and coming up through your system. The only way you’re getting young players is through the draft and as much as it’s difficult to pinpoint drafts on 18-year-old kids, that’s where you’re bringing the talent within your organization.

 

MS: Some of these Cup teams — the Kings, I think, maybe the Blues and the Capitals too — they would’ve had a prized, or a relatively prized, young player maybe at the AHL level that, “Okay, well we’re good and we want to win and Washington and St. Louis had never won so do we trade X?”

CP: I feel like [Jakub] Vrana would’ve been that player for Washington the year they won the Cup. He was just sort of coming and they could’ve traded him in for something more proven and probably done great but they hung on to him and he ended up producing.

JB: And if you are going to utilize first-round picks in trades, that’s imperative your second- and third-round players continue to contribute to your group. You look at different organizations: Tampa Bay, Washington, Pittsburgh, they’ve had some success in the second and third round for players coming in there, so that at least gives them more flexibility to maybe move a first-round pick. Boston’s another example that’s done a great job in strengthening their organization through second- and third-round picks.

 

MS: Who is the best second- or third-round pick you’ve got anywhere in this organization right now?

JB: In this organization?

MS: Yeah, like who’s got the highest upside?

JB: Well it’s a challenging position, but [Luukkonen]. Just his track record, from winning last year, from what he did coming over to North America in the OHL. He has the tools; it’s just that position, I understand people don’t want to hear it, but it’s patience with that position.

MS: No doubt. It’s also like the Wheel of Fortune with that position year-to-year. You have basically [Henrik] Lundqvist, who’s always good, and everybody else is, you know, just crazy.

CP: I’m all about patience with goalies. Don’t worry, I know the drill.

JB: We’re seeing it first hand just with our goalie right now, Jonas Johansson. Here’s a goalie that’s 24 years old now getting an opportunity and has worked his way up from the ECHL to Rochester to this year in the American Hockey League. It’s taken time for him, but he’s put the time in with both Seamus Kotyk, our goalie development coach, and now Mike Bales. It’s great to see him being rewarded here now.

MS: I think even Ullmark, I would say, has been up and down. You guys, like Ralph Krueger and a little bit you have talked about how really good he’s been. I don’t know, some of those numbers a month ago weren’t quite saying that, but he’s playing every game too.

CP: He was going really well then he got hurt.

JB: Linus has made a huge step in his development. You look at our numbers, especially even-strength save percentage, he’s done a great job for us. That’s certainly one of the disappointments, especially least week before we went to the All-Star break, I thought he did a great job there. I think that’s a huge step for a goalie, no matter what age, to go from more of that backup to that challenge of being the guy day in and day out. His mental strength has certainly been impressive this year.

Jason Botterill Media Availability (1/28/20)

January 28, 2020

Jason Botterill
Media availability (10:50 a.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/01-28-jason-botterill (8:59)

 

How much [is] this next stretch here going to determine, maybe, your direction at the deadline? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

Jason Botterill: Well, look, I think ever since the game against Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve — which was certainly a disappointing game, from you look at where we were at the mid-point of that game — I think Ralph has really focused a lot with our group about short-term goals. And that’s great for our internal group. From our standpoint, from a manager’s perspective, we do have to take a little bit more from a longer-range perspective from that standpoint and we’ll certainly see how things progress here. I think, you know, it’s exciting to have, what is it, eight of the next nine here at home? At the start of the year, that was a challenge to our group here, to have a strong home-ice presence. For the most part, I think, we’ve done a good job with that. And I think you’d really look at our group from the Christmas break on, we’ve played fairly well, but maybe haven’t got the results that we’ve wanted all the time. Now it’s important to — starting here tonight against Ottawa — to try get the results but continue to improve as a group.

You’re 10 points out of a playoff spot, but does it feel strange that it feels like you’re still in it because of all the home games and they way you’ve played here this year? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Without a doubt. And look, we understood that. It’s an interesting dynamic. You go last week with not playing games and other teams are going to be winning and they move up in the standings from you, and sort of pull away. But then you have to take a step back and realize — I believe we’ve won three of the last four and I thought, especially against Vegas, Dallas, Nashville, three strong Western Conference teams, we played fairly well in those games and could have come away with six points; didn’t, but that’s what we have to work on. You know, it’s important, with a young group, to continue to build, but it’s important that in crucial situations like we have coming up here, to earn points. It’s what Ralph and myself have certainly discussed the last couple days, is just how the group has come back here. Now we got to, obviously, go out there and perform that in the game, but I think guys are re-energized, guys are excited. I think our execution certainly was a lot better in day two of practice than day one of practice, but, hey, now let’s go out there and see what we can do.

When it comes to adding to this group, is forward probably the focus that you’re maybe looking for at this point? (Lance Lysowski – The Buffalo News)

JB: I think we’ve been very honest from that standpoint. From 1) Some of the injuries: [Vladimir] Sobotka, Tage Thompson; 2) Just the development some of our younger players, such as [Henri] Jokiharju or Lawrence Pilut. That’s what we’re trying to do, we’re trying to add to our group there. I think if we can add more to sort of our offensive mix, we would certainly look for it. I think, also, too, whenever you can add just our team speed up front, it’s another thing we can look at. But we are excited tonight to obviously get Jeff back in the lineup; that’s going to be a huge addition. And now see, for the first time, that sort of mix of Skinner-Johansson-Frolik, do they have chemistry as a line there?

 

How do you feel about the guys from Rochester? Do they feel like, to you — do you have the guys that you can plug in if need be? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)

JB: Well, we certainly think they can come up and you look at a player like Curtis Lazar, has come up and I think found a — with Curtis we gave him specific things to work on with his game when he got sent down, I think, the second time to Rochester. Talk about faceoffs, talk about PK, assertiveness getting to the net, things that we’re trying to work on up here. And I think he took it to heart and he sort of found a role from that standpoint. I think our players in Rochester, there’s roles they certainly can fit. As a group down there, they’ve dealt with some injuries at forward. I thought Remi Elie just earlier last week was playing extremely well, then had another setback from an injury standpoint. But we understand that we sort of have a good mix down there of younger players, but also players with veteran NHL experience that can come in and help our group if need be.

How disappointing was it to lose Tage [Thompson], considering his development, and you lose him on his shift at the end of his first game, and so forth. (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)

JB: Yeah, to put it bluntly, it was extremely disappointing. Because you’re talking about, and going around in circles, we were like, “Where’s the best spot for him in a development standpoint?” Whether it’s Rochester, whether it’s Buffalo, the National Hockey League, American Hockey League, what’s the best thing for his career? But the key ingredient from all that is he’s playing hockey. And that’s the tough thing right now is he’s not playing in those games. And the great thing that Tage did when we challenged him last year at the end of the year: He did that. He implemented that through the entire summer. I thought there was a disappointment with him coming out of training camp, but it didn’t affect his game at all. He knew exactly what he had to work on, he was excited about working on those skills. And you look at, not just his stats — you know, goals and assists — in Rochester, but how much offense he was creating and chances he was creating down there; it was great to see him making strides. When we did face some injuries up here, you just go, well, hey, that could have been a situation where Tage got a little bit more ice time. So it’s disappointing he didn’t get that experience. That being said, just like he did last summer, he’s been a beast in the weight room and that’s what he’s going to have to do coming off of this surgery. It’s something he’s going to have — the good thing about where the surgery, the time it happened — is he’s going to have a good summer of training and be ready to go at the start of training camp.

You have two veterans here in [Zach] Bogosian and [Evan] Rodrigues, who very publicly wanted out. And your coach said we want to play the players who want to be here. But now they’ve appeared back in the lineup. There appears to be some disconnect there. Why are they in the lineup when they don’t want to be here? Why shouldn’t they be sitting? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Well, they’re in the lineup at times that can help our team. In a situation where they can help our team, we’re going to do it. Whether a player makes his — we’re going to continue to make an evaluation of it. Hey, if a player does go to the media, it’s not going to change how we’re going to dictate things, how we’re going make — if something materializes and improves our team, we’ll certainly make that move from that standpoint. But I also think that, you know, it’s something the coaching staff reflects on every day and sort of sees what is the group that can help us win.

So is there, not necessarily a disconnect, but more an evolution from day-to-day? I mean, opinions can change from day-to-day? Can he help us today, can’t help us? Is that what it is? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Well, I would also say to their point, too, is that these players, they’re going to voice their opinion, but those players, too, have worked hard behind the scenes. And they’ve understood, they’ve had conversations with myself and, more importantly, with Ralph [Krueger] on just where their status is on our team here now and how we felt about some of their comments. To their credit, they’ve worked hard and tried to find a role on this team and that’s where it goes from a day-to-day standpoint of seeing what’s best for our group and how they’re performing in practice. Just like there is with so much other with the competition we have within our group.

What would you say is the level of desperation, all the way from ownership on down, for this team to get in the playoffs? (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Well, I don’t think our team’s that much different from anywhere else.

You have the longest drought in the league. (Mike Harrington – The Buffalo News)

JB: Yeah, but what team doesn’t want to be in the playoffs? What team doesn’t strive at the start of the year, going, “Hmm, let’s have a good year”? No, it’s a situation where I think there’s a difference between having that to be your focus every day, of “playoffs, playoffs, playoffs,” versus I think what we’ve realized with this group, and what Ralph has realized with the group, is when you keep it short-term, when you focus on the short-term goals, we seem to play better and we seem to focus better from that standpoint. So yeah, in our conversations the goal is ultimately to get to the playoffs and we understand the importance of our young players gaining that experience. It’s what we’ve tried to create in Rochester; it’s what we’ve tried to create in Cincinnati, is players gaining experience in playoffs in those situations. It’s why we’re ecstatic about Dylan Cozens being in the World Junior Championship, playing in gold medal games; you get that experience of pressure situations. We want our young players to be in that. So it’s across the board here in our organization, it’s certainly a focus, but it’s not something we talk about every day because I think there’s more short-term goals that we have to work on that will eventually lead to our long-term success and long-term goals.

Jason, what do you think about Casey Mittelstadt’s progress in Rochester since you guys have sent him down? (Brayton Wilson – WGR 550)

JB: Well, look, I think Casey has done a great job of integrating himself with the team in Rochester. [He’s] been very dialed in with our coaching staff there. It’s something I said that I’ve — one of my comfort levels of sending Casey to Rochester was his relationship with Chris Taylor. And I’ve think that’s blossomed here and I think over the last little bit, he’s done exactly what we’ve talked about. He’s played in key situations. I think last week in our game down in Cleveland, him and Lawrence Pilut hooked up for the game-winning goal in overtime. Look, I’ve said it before: I believe Casey could play in the National Hockey League right now, but we want him to not just survive, we want him to excel. We have high expectations for Casey and Casey does for himself, too. What we’ve really liked about his attitude in Rochester is he’s being very proactive in what he needs to work on and with the coaching staff, with his other teammates there. Overall, it’s been a good experience for him.

Jason Botterill Interview – The Instigators (1/28/20)

January 28, 2020

Jason Botterill
The Instigators (10 a.m.)
https://wgr550.radio.com/media/audio-channel/01-28-hr-1-the-instigators (16:30)

Andrew Peters: When you open a radio show, TV show, you got to talk about – set the table for everybody at 10 a.m. right out the gate. We’re going have General Manager Jason Botterill on and he joins us now. So, what’s up Botts, we’re talking James Bond.

Jason Botterill: Wow. You guys got the hot items right off the bat today, that’s good to hear.

AP: You know what’s funny, is we get you on now, I think about it. I was going to say well, are you a Bond fan, but you know what, Ralph Krueger would make one hell of a James Bond.

JB: I completely agree with you. He’s got that international flair to him and stuff, I agree with you on that one for sure.

AP: I think he would be a good James Bond candidate. You just see how he looks behind the bench, just dialed right in and dapper as can be.

Craig Rivet: He looks perfect in his suits. His tie — I don’t even know how he ties his tie so perfectly.

JB: [laughs] I need — in the offseason, he’ll have to sit down with me and help me out in that category, for sure.

AP: Hard hitting analysis here, Botts. That’s where we watch our games; we worry about the ties the coaches are wearing and everything. We don’t worry about the plays that were made. How are you? How was the All-Star break?

JB: It was good. I think it’s a great break, actually, for our players and everyone. You look at the Christmas break you get, it’s so short and the holidays are so chaotic. This allows players to get away, get refocused, re-energized for the last part of the season here. And what I’ve seen is just the development of the players, too. Now, back in your day, Petey or Craig, you take seven days off, guys would be terrible. But I think guys take care of themselves so much better nowadays and Ralph and myself have been very impressed with the effort in practice the last couple of days. I think our execution took a big jump from [day one to day two] and that will be the challenge here tonight against Ottawa. I think we’ll be, obviously, the fresher team than Ottawa, with Ottawa playing last night, but I think Ottawa’s execution will probably be a little better with getting that first game out of the way. It will be important for us to bring energy right off the bat, starting the game here tonight, but really trying to focus on our execution.

AP: Why us?! Why did you have center us out?

CR: I think he knows us pretty well, is what he’s trying say.

AP: How did you feel after a week off, Botts?

JB: Look, I’ll throw myself in that same boat. If I took seven days off in the middle of the year from skating, oh it would take…

CR: Three weeks it takes you. Three weeks it takes you to get back.

JB: For sure. Or hey, you get back the first day and you have a groin pull or a hip issue and you’re out for a month. But these guys, the way they take care of their bodies now, just the workouts. They came back in, I thought, great spirits and did a great job with the last couple days in practice. So looking forward to finally getting back into game situations here.

CR: Well, by no means, do I want to make this interview about me, but I will tell you that, looking back at what you just said, I can tell you that the reason why I felt so terribly when I came back — it wasn’t seven days off, it was what I did during the seven days. And that’s exactly where I feel the game has changed the most — before we get into some more in-depth stuff — is and are the athletes that these players have become just even in the last 15 years.

JB: 100 percent. They’re always looking for the edge. They’re always looking for something that can help them. They’re continually asking us, they’re continuing to ask other players in the league whenever someone has success. What are they doing? What training methods are there? They’re becoming extremely proactive in their development and I think our group, in general over the last couple of years, has taken a big step in that direction and you bring in someone like Michael Frolik; he’s just a conssumate pro. He’s played in Stanley Cup Finals, he’s played in World Championships; just how he handles himself day-in, day-out as a veteran player. I think those things are great sort of, learning experiences for our players and they’re bringing that into their own routine.

CR: Speaking of development, you know, we’ve got some young players on this team. A player like Casey Mittelstadt, making the decision to put him down in the minors for a little while to allow him to play more minutes, get into some different situations that he may not have gotten up here in the NHL. Guys like Rasmus Dahlin, [Henri] Jokiharju, where do you feel the development of some of these young guys are right now?

JB: Well, I think, especially you look at someone like Casey, we certainly talked a lot about what to do with his development. He can certainly play in the National Hockey League right now. But I think it’s more along the lines of just surviving in the league. We have high expectations for Casey and I know Casey has high expectations for his own career. I think just getting him in an environment where he has opportunities to make a few more plays, continue to work on his game and the thing that allowed us to have the confidence in making this move, too, was just the relationship that Chris Taylor developed with Ralph while being up here earlier in the year. Chris knows exactly what Ralph is looking for from Casey. I think Chris also saw Casey in some of his best games of the year, whether it was the first game of the season against Pittsburgh or another strong game against LA at the start of the season, and then he also saw him when he struggled and he knows the differences there. I think that knowledge has helped Chris interact with Casey very well in Rochester and we’ve been happy with his development over the last couple of weeks down there.

AP: What’s the mission — we’re joined right now on the line with Jason Botterill, general manager of the Buffalo Sabres, game night tonight, 7 p.m. at home. Ottawa in Buffalo, here — coming out of the break here, what is your mission between now and the end of the year?

JB: Well, our mission for our team is to win tonight against Ottawa. That has to be the focus. I think Ralph’s talked a lot about — ever since the disappointing loss to Tampa Bay on New Year’s Eve — just getting our group re-focused from a standpoint of trying to win two out of three games. You know, that’s not dictating whether you’re automatically going to be in the playoffs or what, but it’s going to at least give you a chance. And that’s what Ralph is focusing on the players from that element. The biggest thing is you try to look — we certainly have to look, from a management standpoint of a bigger picture, and so there will be decisions we’ll have to make by the end of the month from that standpoint. But from our team focus, and our individual day-to-day focus right now it’s, “Hey, what’s the next game up?” And we all know that we have, I believe it’s eight of the next nine games at home. We’ve also known that we’ve enjoyed — one of our challenges we set to our team at the start of the year was to have a home-ice presence and I think, overall, we’ve done a pretty good job with that and it’s important that we continue that over the next couple of weeks here. But I think when our team has played extremely well throughout the year, it’s because they’ve kept things small. They’ve looked at the small picture here. And Ralph has done a very good job with the group from that standpoint.

AP: You’ve said in a couple media scrums that you’re actively looking to make some moves. Does that ever stop? Is that ongoing? I guess, with the trade deadline coming up, how soon in advance do deals start to be made for the trade deadline, or how far in advance, may be another way to ask?

JB: Well, look, I think here’s always dialogue going on with different teams. It’s just, you’re talking with a team, you feel you’re close and they run into a couple strings of injuries during games. I think during the break, GMs get away from their teams a little bit, have opportunities to go through scouting meetings with their group and really see what they’re looking for the stretch run. And look, you just look at some GMs in the past, they’re certainly aggressive trying to get their deals done in January or the start of February. Others want to wait straight to the deadline, or close to the deadline. You also have to understand the GM you’re working with and what his background is from that standpoint. But we’re continuing to have dialogue from that standpoint. We did make the trade to bring in Frolik; we’ve been very happy with what he’s added to our penalty kill situation and we’re excited to see now, with Jeff Skinner coming back to our lineup tonight, just that line of Skinner-Johansson-Frolik, to see what kind of chemistry they can develop as a group there and we’ll see what materializes.

CR: What is your main area of need? What in particular — what type of player are you looking for? Or is there one?

JB: Well, I think we’ve been very honest, continuing to try and look at our forward group to try and improve that group. We feel we have some young players, but when you lose [Valdimir] Sobotka, when you lose Tage Thompson for the year, you’re looking to try to add to that mix, for sure. The development — we talked earlier a little bit just about the development of some of our younger defensemen. When we were sitting here in the summer making the trade for Henri Jokiharju, we didn’t have him, “Oh, this guy’s going to be on our team for sure.” And he stepped up from that standpoint and that’s allowed us to have more depth from a defensive standpoint. And the same thing with a player like Lawrence Pilut. You know, it’s a situation where he’s accomplished what we wanted him to accomplish in the American Hockey League. He’s come up and played well; he deserves the opportunity to stay here right now. When these players come into the mix, it gives us more optionshere on defense. But what we’re looking for, from a forward standpoint, I continue to think finding more offensive skill, but also, too, just speed. The way Ralph wants our players to play on the forecheck and tracking back, if we continue to improve our speed. But that’s something that’s going to be ongoing, whether it’s before the deadline, the summer, that’s something we’re going to continue to work at.

AP: Jason Botterill joining us here on the line. Botts, feel free, I know you’re busy, I know you have a game day, so just tell us when you got to go. Otherwise, we’ll keep you on until noon. That’s up to you. But one player I want to ask you about, obviously, we’d like to ask you if there’s any kind of preliminary talks with Sam Reinhart. But another player I’d like to ask you about, and I kind of feel like he was a free acquisition in the offseason, is Curtis Lazar. I know he’s not like the saving grace, a lot of people might say, but I’ve really liked his game. I’ve really liked his style of play and I’m wondering if he’s a guy that might be around for a while.

JB: Well, your first question in regards to Sam is, look, obviously Sam is represented by Newport Sports. We have quite a few clients from Newport, and it keeps those dialogues going very well. But we’ve sort of believed, hey, let’s have things continue to go here. Sam’s a restricted free agent at the end of the year, he’s having a very strong year, let’s keep the focus on just his play and moving from that standpoint. In regards to Curtis, we were excited about signing him, I believe we signed on July 1 last year and brought him in the mix. What I like a lot about Curtis is just it shows what we’re trying to strive for from a development standpoint here. When you talk about development, everyone talks about your young players such as Rasmus Dahlin or a Casey Mittelstadt. But it’s also about a player like Curtis. Former first-round pick, who sort of bounced through the league a little bit. I thought he had a very strong training camp for us, and then came up for our western road trip, got some feedback on what he can really improve on his game and I thought he really worked on those elements in Rochester. So when he came back up, I thought his penalty killing was that much better. I thought his assertiveness around the net was that much better. I thought his work on faceoffs were that much better and that allowed him to get into the lineup and, more importantly, gain Ralph’s trust in those situations there. I think he took that feedback to heart and really worked on his game, and he’s certainly added an element to a specific need there.

CR: Going back to the cap situation, I’m certainly not a capologist by any stretch of the imagination and I’m sure there’s a lot of people that are very much like myself. I hear a lot about, you know, we’re over the cap kind of right now and how that effects us for next year, the cap recapture. Can you explain, how you’re going to try and work the cap to finish the end of the season or how that works?

JB: Well right now, obviously, with some of the players that we have on long-term injury, the Pegulas have given us the opportunity to go above the cap. It’s great that you have that ability to go above, through long-term injury, whether it was Matt Hunwick at the start of the season or Vladimir Sobotka. But you also have to have your ownership agree to take on extra salary from that standpoint. It allows you to go over the cap during the season and stay compliant from that standpoint. It’s just where could be an overage for next year is if performance bonuses are earned. So we have players such as Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju and, before, Casey Mittelstadt, that could achieve performance bonuses. If they achieve those performance bonuses, then that will come out of our cap for next year. So that’s just something that we certainly have our eye on. We just want to have as much flexibility from year-to-year from a cap situation.

AP: Well, Botts, I think we’ve long overdone our time with you. So, appreciate your time. Did you do any scouting over the break?

JB: Did a little bit of scouting over the break. Also had — you always try to find the balance here with my family, too. So spent a couple days with my family, which I certainly enjoyed. What has excited me is just, you know, the energy of our coaches coming back after the break and just how re-energized our players have been. Now it’s for us to go out there and get results. Overall, I think we’ve played fairly well since the Christmas break, but there’s still the element of now getting results. And that’s what I’m excited about what this group could entail over the next couple of weeks here, starting here tonight against Ottawa.