Sabres Practice Times (Subject to Change)
- No Practice Scheduled September 18, 2019
- Morning Skate September 18, 2019 at 10:00 am – 11:00 am KeyBank Center
- Practice September 18, 2019 at 12:00 pm – 12:45 pm KeyBank Center
- Blue Group Practice September 19, 2019 at 10:00 am – 11:15 am KeyBank Center
- Gold Group Practice September 19, 2019 at 1:00 pm – 2:15 pm KeyBank Center
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Tag Archives: Jason Botterill
The Instigators (11 a.m.)
Andrew Peters: Welcome back to The Instigators and we’re instigating already. [We were] just told we could have 15 minutes with General Manager Jason Botterill, you looked to Chris Bandura like, “Fifteen? Are you serious?” Good morning, Jason.
Jason Botterill: Good morning, how are you today?
Martin Biron: Do you want more time with us, or do you want less time?
JB: Yeah, I was hoping for maybe half hour, an hour, that’d be great.
AP: Just like normal players, eh, Botts? We all want more ice time, don’t we?
JB: Look, I’m looking for knowledge, and I want to get it from you guys.
AP: You came to the right place, let’s get right to it.
JB: I’ve heard you have some very creative ideas about our team moving forward, so it’s great, I’m looking forward to it.
AP: There’s nothing wrong with playing fantasy hockey, Botts. When you can’t have the real job, what do you do? You play fantasy.
JB: Well we actually have our pro scouting meetings going on right now, and we have Craig’s board up, you know, and then we have what we’re planning on doing.
AP: Well then hey, you know what? Let’s get right to a legit question that is probably a player you haven’t even been asked about recently, because you hear about (Jeff) Skinner, [Rasmus Ristolainen], all these other guys. Victor Olofsson, is he a guy that, because on our board, Craig likes the cost-efficient idea of a guy that might be able to put up 20, 30 goals next year at about a million bucks. Is that a guy, with what you saw at the end of the season, because I think he surprised a lot of us. I think he was a better skater than most of us probably had expected. The pass to Jack was amazing, which showed that he had incredible vision, and we already know about his shot. Is that a guy that has impressed you to the point where you’re like, “We gotta give him a serious look this year for that cost-efficient role on a top line?”
JB: What we like about having a bulk of young players, [is] there’s going to be competition in training camp. I think it’s always difficult to project which guy is really going to step up from that standpoint, but we have multiple players that we’re looking to try to put into the lineup there. Victor, I thought he had an amazing season. When you make that transition, coming over to North America, you don’t know how it’s going to go. We’ve always talked about the shot, but what we likes was his ability, as the season progressed, [to] get to the net more, getting into the forecheck more. He did a very good job in the defensive zone in the American Hockey League and really earned the opportunity to get called up. I think both Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) really enjoyed playing with him at the end of the season, simply from the standpoint of his hockey sense. You talk about the shot to finish off chances, but also to create chances. I think the only thing that we have to guard against is games a the end of the season when you’re out of the playoffs are different than the intensity of the National Hockey League at the start of the season when teams are all ready to go. But we’ll certainly give him a great look at the start of the season and see where it goes.
MB: Who else from Rochester are you looking at that you can say is either NHL ready or just on the cusp of making it to an NHL team?
JB: Well obviously Alex Nylander, I thought, took great strides last year. [It] was disappointing when he got up here that he did run into the injury, just to add more games to his experience level there. Also, you saw C.J. Smith. You saw last year where he was at. Coming up, I thought he shows the ability to score, the affinity to finish off chance. He’ll be another one that gets a lot of looks. I think a lot of guys on our team, you look at a Rasmus Asplund, is he ready to make our team right out of training camp? Last year, he comes to training camp, it’s experience. Just get a feel for it over in North America. Now he’s going to come to be really pushing for a spot on our team.
MB: Is the second half of the season for Asplund something that you say, hey, if he can have 30-40 games at the start of the season the same way, that now you’re really looking at him being a big piece of your team going forward?
JB: Yeah, what’s the safe, conservative thing to do? Probably say, “Hey, at Christmas time we’re looking for him to really be in that call-up spot.” But with this kid’s work ethic, and how he handles himself in the off season, we’re certainly going to be open to what he can do in training camp and see where it goes from there.
Craig Rivet: You know what? I think there’s a lot of people, going back to (Victor) Olofsson, there were a lot of people that we’re saying when he got called up he looked really good. His skating was there, he was making plays. He was also, something that you had mentioned, he looked really solid defensively. And these were things where, “Why wasn’t this guy up sooner? He could have helped the team.” And the reality is he probably wasn’t ready a that time, and that’s where, I think you’ve talked a lot in the past about having guys develop their game so when they do get to the National Hockey League, they’re able to jump in and not only just be a player, but help the team move forward. That’s one thing that I remember a lot of fans were wondering why he wasn’t up sooner. The reality is he probably wasn’t ready at that time, but when you did call him up, he looked pretty darn good. And there was another player too, Will Borgen. We talk about all these forwards, but Will Borgen is a guy that skates exceptionally well, he’s got a physical presence to him, and he spent the whole year in the minors. Where do you see him as a possible guy coming to training camp and possibly earning a job?
JB: Well we’ll start with Will there. What we loved about Will is just the progression throughout the year. He came from a very good program at St. Cloud, had an opportunity to represent our country at the Olympics, but still, making that transition to pro hockey is an adjustment. What we love is he went from sort of a third-pairing guy, low minutes at the start of the year in the American Hockey League, to a player that our staff down there felt comfortable throwing in any situation out there. He brings a different attribute, that physical play, that is different than a lot of our other prospects. He got us excited pretty much the start of training camp at the rookie tournament. He played with (Rasmus) Dahlin, and I know Mr. Dahlin can make a lot of other players look good, but I think they complement each other very well there. Giving him some games at the end of the season was great for him to understand just how hard it is in the National Hockey League, how physical guys are. You talk to him a little bit about battling Anders Lee in front of the net, how heavy a guy like Anders Lee is, and that’s what he has to do. As a young guy, he’s got good size, good frame, but he still has to get stronger. Having that experience is going to help him a lot from a motivational standpoint in the summer, what he has to do. But we’re certainly looking at him to push things at the start of the season. You look at, especially with (Zach) Bogosian going to be out at the start of the year, he’ll get a great look in training camp, Will, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I do want to say, going back now to Victor (Olofsson), that’s where, you know, there’s always that transition coming from Europe over to the North American game, and going through the experience of going into a Syracuse on a Saturday night and the intensity in a small building like that, and he really handled those things very well. What I like about Chris Taylor, what he teaches down there, is Victor was a big part of our penalty kill down there, and I think, just that reliability, it teaches them better defensive habits that will allow him to come up to the National Hockey League because as good of an offensive player Victor is, it’s difficult to earn that time on the power play right off the bat. With his penalty kill ability, it’s going to allow him to get more minutes at the National Hockey League level.
MB: So you’re looking at prospects, let’s move on to trades, offer sheets, free agency, to fill in spots on your team.
JB: Well you have it all covered there.
MB: Well no, but I’m asking you, there are some aggressive GMs out there, and there’s GMs that like to kind of see things develop a little bit more. This summer’s interesting because of teams that are in cap hell or cap jail right now, a lot of RFAs that are high-end RFAs available. You have some cap room. Where do you feel are some of the maybe tools that you can use as a general manager to maybe get one or two pieces to help your team and your roster?
JB: Look, these teams that you talk about in cap hell, it’s eventually where we want to get to. Not because you’re in cap hell, but because you have a lot of talented players in your organization. That’s where you look at, some of these teams that are in financial restraints, it’s because they have a lot of very talented players. We’ve tried to, over the last couple of years, utilize our cap space to our advantage and bringing in more skilled players to our group. And that’s what we’ll continue to look at. I think it’s going to be a very interesting market just because of so much uncertainty with the RFA market and what’s going to happen out there. I do think it could freeze up a little bit of the possible trade market, and also just the unrestricted market, just because teams don’t know how much they’re going to have to spend and how are these contracts going to play out. If you go long-term, are the numbers going to be very high? If you go shorter-term, you certainly have a little bit more space to work with. There’s a lot of unknown going on from that standpoint. But we’re certainly in a lot of dialogue. In our situation, short-term, we certainly have cap space. With our young players, you always have to look in the future too, and you just want to make sure you’re making the right choices there.
MB: You’re saying that the RFA market may freeze what trades could happen or where the UFAs may go, so do you expect the trades to be a little bit slower when considering trades and player movement because of what July 1 has in store for teams?
JB: To be honest, Marty, it’s difficult to assess. Is there a lot of communication going on out there? Yeah. But I think, you see whether the trade deadline, you see leading up to the draft and July 1, there’s always a lot of [communication]. The way things have worked, obviously we made a trade last (year) later in the summer with Jeff Skinner, but that doesn’t really happen that much throughout the year. It seems to be so focused on improving your team at two spots: the trade deadline and July 1. So there’s certainly a lot of discussion going on there. Predicting, “Hey, is there going to be more trades or anything like that?” I think that’s always difficult to handle. I talk about the unrestricted market certainly being, I think that sort of that second or third tier, it might be frozen up a little bit, but you know teams are always searching for higher-end skill talent. I don’t think there’s a lot of talk about this unrestricted market. I think there’s certainly some very talented players at the high end that will get very good contracts and very good offers out there. I think that second and third tier, it could be something that slows down a little bit just because of the unknown of the restricted market.
AP: Just a lot of optimism and confidence around the Jeff Skinner contract. I have to ask you, Bottts, there’s speculation out there. Ralph Krueger was asked about it yesterday, just seemed optimistic about the conversation that he had with Jeff Skinner. Where are we at? You’re not nervous at all?
JB: Well look, it’s what I’ve said before, Andrew. Until you have a contract signed, nothing’s for sure. But what I’ve enjoyed about the negotiations is that there’s no threats, there’s no posturing. It’s just trying to go through people’s expectations and people’s desires and trying to find a resolution to it. It’s been very straightforward from that standpoint. We have a very open dialogue with Newport Sports, we’ve worked with them very closely the last couple of years, especially with Rasmus Dahlin coming into our group last year and just making sure that everything was set up from that standpoint. I think there’s a respect level from the agency there towards how we handle things in our franchise, so that’s where the optimism comes from. It’s been my job to try to find a resolution to it. He’s a player we certainly want to get signed, but we have to look what’s best for the organization and we’re trying to get it done.
MB: Do you talk every day? Is it an every day conversation? Is it twice a day, every other day? I’m just saying because if I was a player, I’d be calling my agent morning and night and be like, “Hey, did you guys talk, what happened?” And I would put pressure on the agent maybe to get that conversation. What he does, it’s his business and he gets paid for that, but I’m curious to see if it’s an every day text or email or phone call.
JB: I think what people are forgetting, too, is just that we didn’t have a head coach for the last month and a half or so, and that was a situation where nothing was going to be resolved. If you’re signing a long-term contract, you’re not going to just sign a long-term contract with an organization until you know who the head coach is. And so once we had that set up, obviously there’s communication with Ralph (Krueger) and Jeff. As I mentioned yesterday, it’s the power of the players right now. The players that played under Ralph, the players that, whether it was Edmonton or at the World Cup, there were a lot more touch points than I anticipated with Jeff, and I think that probably gave Jeff even more comfort of having Ralph as our head coach there. Then it just comes down from a situation of communicating with it, and yeah, we’re in constant communication with Newport over the last little bit here and trying to get something set up.
AP: In conversations about eight-year contracts, long-term deals with any player at this age on any team, does the conversation come up — obviously it would be from the team side — about fear of the production later in the contract?
JB: It always has to be a part of the equation, especially when we have such a young team, those are the dialogues that we look at. The comfort level that we have with Jeff’s situation is, part of the reason why we like him so much as a player and he’s been a good fit for our team, is just the professionalism that he’s brought to the locker room. The focus that he has. You talk to him, and if you followed him on social media a little bit, you understand he’s been bouncing all over the United States and it’s not just on vacation; he’s going to train with different people, trying to find different elements to give him that edge, and I think he’s very focused on his health, very focused on new ways of training. I think he really integrated well with not only our players on our team, but also our staff and some of what our sports performance ideas from a staff can bring him, and I think he was invigorated by it. Look, there’s always risk, there’s always risk of an injury that you can’t control, but how he takes care of his body off the ice is very impressive and it gives us comfort in offering a longer-term contract.
AP: You looking forward to going to Vancouver for the draft? Can you give us four players, I mean you’re drafting at No. 7, can you give us four players that intrigued you? We talked to a couple really impressive young men, one of them ranked later on in the draft. Who was the other one we had? Cole Caufield. What are you looking at going into the draft at seven?
JB: We’re looking for the best player, Andrew. Best player. Andrew, I’m not going to present my list, because I think it’s a very unique year. Obviously you have your top two players at the top of the draft, and then I think what’s exciting about going into Vancouver: One, the draft is always a great time, just because you have the entire hockey world in one spot. For a communication standpoint with agents, with other GMs, and just being on the ice surface there at the rink, it’s exciting. It’s a fun atmosphere, and you’re bringing talented players into your organization. But what the other thing is, is you look at the draft this year, whether you want to go three to 10, three to 12, there’s some very talented players in that group, and I think teams have the same players sort of in there, but it’s going to be a different mix from that aspect. I can’t predict on hey, there’s going to be a lot of trades because teams want to move up to get their guy maybe a spot or two ahead, or there’s a group of players that they’re going to feel comfortable that they come down to them anyways.
AP: You’re not picking first or second, you went to the World Championship, you got to see (Jack) Hughes and Kaapo Kakko firsthand. I’m not going to say who would you pick at No. 1, but what did you think of those two guys and how did you feel about the chance that we may seem some movement or some surprises at No. 1 and 2 this year?
JB: I don’t think you’re going to see any surprises at one or two. Look, those are two talented players. Very different players, but both are going to step in and help their organizations immensely right off the bat.
CR: Will both play in the National Hockey League next year?
JB: I certainly think so. My anticipation is after three you’re probably not going to have as many playing in the National Hockey League.
CR: After three, so you feel that three players out of this draft will…
JB: No, I believe one and two will play in the National Hockey League for sure next year. Beyond that, I don’t think there will be a lot, but that being said, I was impressed last year, there were some players: (Jesperi) Kotkaniemi and stuff too, that stepped in right away and had a great season, that maybe our projection I wasn’t thinking they were going to be in the National Hockey League. You go through the combine last week and you just realize, it’s astonishing how prepared these guys are and how physically built a lot of them are now through their programs. Whether they’re skating at such a young age, working with trainers, strength trainers at such a young age. These guys are more mature and more prepared to step into the National Hockey League at a young age.
AP: Are you watching the Raptors?
JB: Watching the Raptors, without a doubt. It’s great for Canada basketball and just the atmosphere up in Toronto right now at those games. Insane.
The Howard Simon Show (9:30 a.m.)
Jeremy White: You mentioned in your press conference that Ralph Krueger would meet soon in Slovakia, maybe, with Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] over at the World Championship.
Jason Botterill: Yeah, it’s just going to be a situation where I head back over on Sunday to continue my duties with Team Canada. Obviously, when we get there, just going to sit down with Ralph for about four or five days, go over different things, get things prepared for the summer here. Also, it’ll be a great opportunity to sit down with both Jack and Sam. It would have been Brandon [Montour] also, being over there, but unfortunately, Brandon sustained an injury and had to come back.
JW: You know those players at this point a little bit better than [Krueger] does. Did you have conversations with them before the hire, you know, maybe exit interviews? You’re mentioning those two are going to meet and talk with the coach. Maybe you know what to expect from them. What have they said to you about the state of the franchise, about what maybe needs to be different, that you might expect them to impart on Ralph?
JB: Well we always go through exit meetings at the end of the year, but most of our exit meetings are discussing their own individual play, and what needs to change from their standpoint moving forward, what they felt was good. Both those players, specifically, I thought had outstanding seasons and they did change things last summer in their training and their thought process and preparation for the season, which I thought was outstanding. When we did go through the process of changing the coach, that was more of a management situation. That was a discussion with Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself. But there’s been a little bit of feedback from our players and they’re certainly excited from what they’ve heard from their fellow colleagues throughout the National Hockey League that played under Ralph in Edmonton. I think, as I said in my press conference, from day one, these players are going to realize the passion that Ralph has right off the bat, the enthusiasm he has for the game and just how focused he is on helping their development and our team’s development.
JW: When you think about the job that’s ahead of Ralph Krueger and you, I think there’s something interesting about the way the season played out. Back in the win streak, I think a lot of people knew you guys weren’t as good as that win streak, and down the stretch, when it was going poorly, I think there were a lot of numbers that indicated that you weren’t as bad as that — the save percentage, the PDO — it was so bad that it almost seemed like you couldn’t catch a break. I know things went poorly down the stretch, but did you have a similar evaluation of how it finished? The results were not good, but it was almost the reverse of the win streak. It ended up looking a lot worse than it was.
JB: I think you’re right. We were on a roller coaster through the year. As an organization, we have to have a lot more consistency to our game. I think when things are going really well, we have to continue to improve on different things. I think we got caught up a little bit in the emotion, the excitement of what was going around it, and not working on some of the holes that we did have in our game. Later on in the year, we needed more players, staff members — everyone in the organization needed to find a better way to stand up and when some of the losing streaks were at two or three games, we have to end it there. And we didn’t do a good enough job from that standpoint. As I’ve said before numerous times, winning in the second half in the National Hockey League, it’s a change, and I think we saw that right off the bat. We came out of the All-Star Break, played a game in Columbus, which was fine, but then we played Dallas in our second game and you could just see the physical nature of it. They really went after some of our good, young players in Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt from a physical standpoint. I think it really taught our guys a lesson that this is how you have to win, and these are going to be the type of games you’re going to play in the second half. I think, as disappointed as our players were at the end of the season, they’ve learned a lot from what they went through the entire year, and now it’s important that we don’t make those same mistakes next year.
JW: The answer to this might be “both.” Is it on those players, individually, to bulk up and become more mature, as they might just naturally, or is it about putting together a roster that maybe can withstand that kind of thing a little bit better?
JB: I think it’s a little bit of both, but it’s also…it’s not about size at all, it’s about compete. It’s about battle. You look at the playoffs in the National Hockey League, there are certainly strong, physical players, but it’s about getting to the front of the net. It’s about winning the battles in the front of the net in your own [defensive] zone. We have players that have enough size; it’s now just understanding how do you go into the corner and win battles. I go back to my own experiences being part of teams in Pittsburgh that played in 2008 and 2009 against the Detroit Red Wings. [Pavel] Datsyuk and [Henrik] Zetterberg would always come out of the corners with pucks. You have to find a way, whether it’s physical strength or using your skill, to win those one-on-one battles, and I think that’s something we have to continue to improve on as a team.
Howard Simon: On that note, what have you identified in terms of areas where you need to improve? You talked about “compete” and “battle.” As you do an overall breakdown of what this roster was, whether it’s offense, whether it’s defense, whether it’s speed, whether it’s toughness, or any of the stuff you can go through on the list; what have you identified as areas where, “I need to make this roster better in these particular areas”?
JB: Well I think you just look at our depth scoring that’s been talked a lot about up front; we just relied too much on Jeff [Skinner], Jack [Eichel] and Sam [Reinhart] for scoring this year. We have to look to bring in more talent from that end, and then we also have to continue to develop our own talent, whether it’s Casey Mittelstadt, whether it’s bringing up [Victor] Olofsson or [Alexander] Nylander. It’s Tage Thompson taking a step in his development. It’s Conor Sheary, who we think there’s more offense that he can provide there. But I think the areas that I mentioned before; in front of the net, we gave up way too many chances in our own defensive end. We have to learn to protect that area better. We have to learn to win our one-on-one battles in there a little bit more. And the same thing in the offensive zone. I thought we didn’t have enough shots right from that “red zone” area right in front of the net. You look at the playoffs, how tight it is, there’s always traffic out there…the goalies are that good. You’re going to have to get players to go there more and have more success there.
HS: Can you convince guys who didn’t do it enough to do it, or do you have to go out and get guys that do that?
JB: I think with young players you can always convince them. I think you see players evolve and learn from their experiences, and understand a little bit what it takes to have success in the league. So yeah, you can certainly teach that trait.
HS: You mentioned Casey Mittelstadt a moment ago. I’d love to get your thoughts; that’s a guy that everybody, I think, we look at and go, “Down the road at some point, hopefully [he’s] a top-two center with Eichel, and ‘boom’ you’re all set on your top two lines.” What did you see from him last season? Do you think he is — I don’t know how to phrase this — can you project him as a number-two [center], or it’s still too early and you’ve got to go find someone else to handle that role?
JB: We continue to have high expectations for Casey. The great thing is that I know Casey does too. And I think sometimes you come in at the end of a year and you have a little bit of success offensively, like you did the year before, you sort of assume that that’s going to happen and carry over, and then you realize how difficult it is to sustain success over 82 games in the National Hockey League. What I did like a lot about Casey was his compete, his battle. He didn’t shy away from those difficult areas. But I did think he wore down as the season progressed. Especially in back-to-back situations; you look in February, March, April…I think he struggled there. Some of his best hockey, I thought, came after breaks, when there was a day off or something. So I think he still can take his conditioning to another level, and I think he’s focused on that this summer. I think his offensive creativity that he can bring will allow him to eventually go into that top-six role.
JW: The latest on Jeff Skinner; without negotiating in the media, how are you feeling, how should Sabres fans feel about it? And just as a natural off-shoot of that, do you and other people in the front office, as you try to chart the offseason and make plans, is there a contingency plan if he does not want to sign? Do you have a Plan A, do you have a Plan B, knowing there are multiple ways this thing could go?
JB: You always have to have different plans. The way this game operates, you have to have plans. We didn’t expect to have some of our defensemen such as Lawrence Pilut or [Zach] Bogosian to go down with injuries. You have to have different plans in place in case those situations arise. A contract is never done until you get it signed. But our discussions with Jeff have been extremely positive. I think it’s been a relationship that’s worked out very well for the Buffalo Sabres and I think it’s a relationship that’s worked out very well for Jeff. Just as we went through the coaching search here, sometimes people get a little impatient, well we wanted to make sure we went through the process correctly. I think what’s going on with Jeff and ourselves right now is there was never going to be an extension announced before the coach was hired. The coach is now hired; we’ll continue our discussions there and get the chance to sit down with Jeff and go over things on how we see him fitting in and how Ralph is going to coach this team and how he’s going to interact with his players and his structure moving forward. And then hopefully we’ll find a way to get a deal done. But from our standpoint, our discussions with both Jeff and Newport Sports have been extremely positive.
HS: I know you said you don’t want to negotiate in the media, but let me ask you this: After he talks to Ralph Krueger and hopefully things go well on that, do you think you could still sign him before free agency or can you tell us at all if they’ve give you an indication, “Hey listen, he still wants to play there, he’s still interested in re-signing, but as long as we’re this close, we would at least like to see what’s going on in the market”?
JB: Look, I can’t mind-read them. All I can say is we’ll sit down with them. I think Ralph getting to know Jeff, and Jeff getting to know Ralph, is going to be an important part of the equation here moving forward.
JW: What about Johan Larsson? There was a conflicting report that he may be leaving. Do you have any update on what’s going on with Johan Larsson?
JB: No, from everything in our discussions with both Johan and his agency, with Newport Sports, there’s nothing to that report last week.
HS: One name who always sparks an interesting debate in Sabres Nation, if you will, is Rasmus Ristolainen. I’m not going to ask you, “Are you going to trade him?” because you wouldn’t answer my question anyway, but give me your evaluation. You’ve had two years to watch him play. Is he a guy that you think, “You know what, guys. He’s a top-two [defenseman]”? Or, “He’s a three-to-four [defenseman]. He’s not a 25-minute guy, he’s a 20-minute guy.” What is your honest evaluation of Rasmus Ristolainen and what you believe his value is to your team at this time?
JB: I think in today’s game, we put too much value on it. You talked a little bit about, “Where do you see Casey moving forward, top-six, top-nine, whatever it is.” I think what we’re trying to create here is a situation where we have four lines that can score. And I think the same thing is, from a defensive standpoint, you’re looking for sort of the top four. Whether they’re top-pairing or second-pairing guys, to me you’re looking for top-four guys that can handle different roles for you and play the bulk of the minutes on the back end. We certainly view [Ristolainen] in that category there. [Ristolainen’s] like anyone else; he has his faults, he has to continue to improve his game, just like so many of our other players. But what we’ve loved seeing him in action is when he’s in that matchup situation. I think about in the end of February, we played back-to-back games against Tampa Bay and Washington. He had the specific role of playing against [Nikita] Kucherov and playing against [Alex] Ovechkin. I think when he has that specific matchup, he does an amazing job with that. You’ve seen in the playoffs how the physical game is escalated. You think of what [Ristolainen] can do over a seven-game series; I think it can be very effective. It’s now our job to surround him with enough talent and enough skill to make sure we get into the playoffs.
HS: A follow-up on [Ristolainen]: You mentioned a moment ago, like every player, he has his flaws. He’s got 424 games in the NHL. When you reach 400-plus games, do you believe a player is who he is, and if he can get better, what do you think Ralph Krueger can do to help Ristolainen?
JB: I think players continually develop. Game played is not the big factor; to me, it’s age. Especially with [Ristolainen] in his mid-20s right now, there’s plenty of development still going on there. You look at — and these are elite defensemen — but you look at Nicklas Lidstrom, you look at Kris Letang, all these defensemen, it’s more in their late-20s, early-30s where they really, I think, come into their prime. There’s always an injury factor that you have to play into, but I think with most young players, there’s always an opportunity for growth, and certainly for defensemen. With Ralph coming into the equation, the biggest thing I think that he needs to continue to work with [Ristolainen] on is picking his sports and when to jump up in the rush, when to move the puck a little bit quicker in different scenarios, because I think at times he plays so many minutes, one of his assets of being able to support the rush and get up there, he just doesn’t have the energy to do it. So I’m going to continue to — as a whole with Ralph coming in, bringing a different structure and hopefully a little bit more of a structure — making it a little bit easier on our reads for some of our defense will hopefully help our entire group [of defensemen].
JW: Finally, before we let you go, are you allowed to tell us who you think is going to win the Cup? Do you have a prediction or just any thought, maybe, on these playoffs? You’ve had all four division winners get knocked out. Some would say it’s wide open, and it’s one of those years; [ESPN’s] Greg Wyshynski [on the Schopp and the Bulldog show] called it “a glitch.” This year’s just a wacky kind of year, so I don’t know if there’s anything you’ve got from the playoffs.
JB: I would just say it just goes to show the importance of finding a way to get in. If you get in, you have an opportunity — you have a chance. Maybe you don’t have the best team on paper, maybe throughout the course of 82 games, you weren’t the better team, but come a seven-game series, you have a chance. You look at a team like Boston, who are now in the Stanley Cup Final after last night, they have a great balance of veteran players and young players. They sustained some injuries on defense and they have the depth and they’re not the “Big Bad Bruins” on defense. They’re the active, mobile defensemen that they have back there. I do think you get to these situations with how physical the games have been, how emotional the games are. I do think the fact that they were able to finish it off in four games and give them a little bit of rest — whereas I do believe that St. Louis-San Jose series is going to go right down to the wire and both of those teams are coming off seven-game series from the previous round — I think a fresh Boston team is going to be very difficult to beat.
HS: The one thing I’m really curious, as a general manager, there have been two high-profile missed calls/apologies in the playoffs. The hand pass last night and the high stick in the San Jose-Vegas series. The next time the general managers get together, do you think there will be — or even should be — an expansion or something with video review to cover what’s happened?
JB: It’s a very, very difficult decision, because I agree you need to get it right. We need to find a way to get it right. Especially with the magnitude of these games — and we’ve talked already about the parity that’s in our league — these little plays have a huge impact on games and series. But you also look at what NCAA hockey did these past couple years with some of the reviews of hits to the head or hits from behind; it really slows down the games.
HS: Frozen Four games were stopping every five minutes, it felt like, at times.
JB: Exactly. I know people have strong opinions right now because of the emotions of the games, and teams’ seasons are ending over some of these calls, but if you go the other way and do everything and have all these delays, one of the best parts of our game is the speed of our game. The pace of our game. We don’t want to lose sight of that. I certainly believe there will be a lot of discussions, but to say that I have, “This is what we need to do moving forward,” I don’t have that perfect answer right now.
KeyBank Center (11 a.m.)
Jason Botterill Press Conference (20:22)
Good morning everyone, thank you very much for coming down. Before we begin, I just want to congratulate our Buffalo Bandits on an outstanding season, and certainly wish them all the best in Game 1 on Saturday night. As was released earlier this morning, we are extremely proud to announce Ralph Krueger as the 19th head coach in Buffalo Sabres history. Ralph is a great communicator and has a history of being a strong leader. He’s had the opportunity to be a head coach in the National Hockey League, World Championships, World Cup and Olympics. I think his past has shown that he has a great ability to interact with players and get the most of a group. As we went through this process, we felt Ralph was going to be a great fit to be the next head coach of the Buffalo Sabres. Ralph would like to be here today. Obviously, he’s taking care of a personal matter in Europe right now. He’ll be with me next week when I return to Slovakia for the World Championship and he’ll have the opportunity to sit down and meet with Jack (Eichel) and Sam (Reinhart) over there. And probably after the combine, he’ll be coming in to Buffalo. He’ll be working with me through most of the month of June leading up to the Draft and free agency. Open to taking your questions here right now.
Q: Jason, what, I mean obviously it’s a different kind of experience than maybe what would be viewed as a conventional hire that he brings to the table, and you touched on it a little bit, but what makes him the best fit given his background? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)
A: Well, I think when Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to start going over names on who we wanted to interview, who we wanted to do some background information, sort of checks on, we talked a lot about experience, we talked about NHL experience, but we also wanted to make sure we opened it up. Through this process, maybe it wasn’t always out in the media, but we looked at a lot of coaches that had NHL experience but also up-and-coming young coaches. We wanted to make sure that we just got the right person to come in here. And as we sat down with Ralph, we like what he has from an NHL background. The fact that he worked with Carolina as a consultant for five or six years while he was the head coach with Team Switzerland. We like the fact that he was on the bench for three years in Edmonton. But we also put a lot of stock into his experience at the World Championships, World Cup and at the Olympics. Those are high-pressure situations where you have to make adjustments, you have to make quick decisions. And he got results in those situations. And that’s what’s impressive from our standpoint. And when we did the follow up talking to different players who had worked under Ralph, they felt he was very good communicating with them, so that ability to get the most out of a group and communicate with a group, we felt was a very good fit for our situation here in Buffalo.
Q: In 2016, when you guys hired Phil (Housley), there were reports out there that you guys had talked with Ralph. What led to not going with Ralph then and what makes him the right fit to turn this franchise around now two years later? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)
A: Well, it’s a situation where I did have some conversations with him back when I first got the job, but those conversations didn’t lead very far just because Ralph had the commitment to Southampton. It became evident that it wasn’t a situation where he could leave Southampton at that time. When we made the coaching change here in April, I did reach out to him again, and he remained interested in the situation and that’s where we began our discussions.
Q: Jason, with the experience Ralph’s had with Southampton, you know, being in the upper echelon of an organization, will you lean on him more than maybe you would have other coachea when you and Randy and Steve are making decisions? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
A: Yes and no, Paul. I’m going to lean on him for sure, but I’ve done that as a general manager all the time. Same thing when I worked with Phil. I think the general manager and the coach need to talk about everything that goes on in the organization. There needs to be that communication daily of what are we looking at? What type of players are we looking to bring in to the organization? What players do we need to make adjustments on? To keep that communication going there. And when I sit down with Ralph, going through this process, I felt at ease and that’s part of why I felt very comfortable making him the head coach. I think our level of communication is going to be very strong.
Q: There were reports that Ralph, if he returned to the NHL, he wanted be in management. Did you have to do any convincing? Did you go in knowing that he might not even want to be a coach anymore? How did that work out when you first approached him? (Bill Hoppe – Olean Times Herald)
A: In all our discussions, it was always about coaching. Certainly with Ralph’s resume, I know he had other opportunities. And that’s what gets us excited is that he wanted to come here. And he wanted to be part of our group here. And as much as he has a unique resume, you look at it, he is a kid from Manitoba who loves the game of hockey. And I think he’ll talk to you a little bit here later, is that he loves coaching. He has a passion about being a teacher.
Q: Ralph has some NHL experience, but he’s probably not a name that the casual hockey fan is super familiar with. What does he bring to the table from a strictly coaching standpoint? What are the things that he does well that made him such an intriguing candidate for you guys? (Matt Bove – WKBW)
A: I think the ability to get he most out of his group. You look at, going back, I was at the 2006 Olympics in Torino watching my sister actually play, and I was in the building when Team Switzerland knocked off Team Canada. That was a shocking upset. And I think the biggest sign of respect is eight years later, when Team Canada was putting together their 2014 Olympic team, they wanted Ralph to be a part of that. They wanted to utilize him as a resource. You look at the coaches that were on that staff, that’s a very impressive staff. I think that’s a huge sign of respect right there. And I think that’s also going to allow Ralph to make this adjustment back to the National Hockey League that much quicker. Because he’s kept those relationships with all those coaches. You look at that team back in 2014, you look at the coaches that he’s interacted with with Team Europe, he’s kept that dialogue going with them. And sometimes when you’re not working in the National Hockey League, people actually talk to you a lot more and give you more advice. I think Ralph has actually learned a lot from all those interactions over the last couple of years.
Q: Ralph has obviously not been a head coach for an entire 82-game NHL schedule. How do you sort of strike that balance where you like the skill set but how is it going to translate to an NHL season? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)
A: I think the fact that he’s at least been on a staff in Edmonton for a couple of years that have been through an entire 82 games is certainly something that he learned a lot from. And that’s something that he brought up a lot. I also think that it’s important that we surround him with a good coaching staff that can help him out through those processes. But the thing that we kept on coming back to were those high-pressure situations that he’s been involved with and he’s excelled in those environments. Trying to figure out different ways to motivate your team over 82 games, there’s certainly something there. The fact that he can bring a group together, the fact that he can motivate a team in high-pressure situations was very intriguing for us.
Q: How would you describe his style? You mentioned that he gets the most out of players. How does he do that? Because that can be tricky for a lot of coaches with the modern player as the league is now. What does he bring to the table in that regard? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)
A: I think you look at what he accomplished in Edmonton there with a young group, trying to play more offensive, he had success implementing a more up-tempo style that’s going to be aggressive all over. And that’s what we’ve talked a lot about, with using our main asset, which is young players who have speed. That’s what we’re going to try to do, whether it’s on the forecheck, backcheck, pressure all over the ice. I brought it up a little bit about his interactions with Team Switzerland, pulling off upsets. I think he also adapts to the group. So once he gets in here, once he relates to players and understands, he has an ability to see, hey, what he can get the most out of, what type of style he can play that’s eventually going to give the best results for the Buffalo Sabres.
Q: You mentioned he’s a great teacher and a great communicator. How pivotal was that knowing that this is still, I guess, relatively a young group age-wise, not necessarily games-wise, that they’ve played, but how pivotal was that to get a guy who could maybe relate to players and communicate maybe a little more effectively with the younger players? (Nick Filipowski – WIVB)
A: When Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself sat down to sort of put together a list of the qualities of the coach and sort of put together a coaching list, those attributes were right at the very top. We understand that where we want to go as an organization, allowing some of our young players to make that jump from Rochester to Buffalo is going to be key. But as I’ve sat up here before and talked to you, a big part of our success is going to be the development of Rasmus Dahlin. The development of Jack Eichel. The development of Sam Reinhart and Casey Mittelstadt. Players who are already at the National Hockey League level. We’re going to expect Ralph to communicate well with them, expect Ralph to help their development to move along here for our organization to get to the next step.
Q: His international experience is pretty well-known. How important was it to have a coach to have that sort of knowledge given the make up of a lot of your organization having guys from all across the world? (Joe Yerdon – The Athletic)
A: I think it helps, but it gets back to the previous question. Our main focus was just trying someone that can communicate with our young players, that can get the most out of our young players moving forward here. Is it an added benefit that he’s been in the international scene a little bit and understands a little bit more, whether it’s his time coaching in Austria, coaching in Switzerland, being in England? Certainly. That’s a benefit that he can maybe get and build a stronger personal relationship with some of our European players. We think that’s an important element to get that relationship with our players no matter whether they’re from Europe or they’re from North America.
Q: Jason, as you move forward this summer, first I’d like to ask you what happened to Brandon Montour and how’s he doing? But in conjunction with that, you’ve got two defensemen who may or may not be ready by opening night, we don’t know. As you now talk trades or as you build this team, do you keep that in mind or are you more focused on the long term, that hey, the trade might help us long term. It may in the month of October hurt us, as we’re getting healthier, so how do you view it as you move forward now and I wanted to ask about Brandon. (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
A: Brandon obviously sustained an injury in Team Canada’s last game, which was very disappointing. It was the first time that Brandon had the opportunity to wear the maple leaf and represent his country and I know he had a lot of excitement being over there and a lot of pride. He’s on his way back to Buffalo here actually right now, will see our doctors. We don’t believe it’s long term, but it will be something that we can give you a better idea and a more accurate description later on this week. From the standpoint of (Zach) Bogosian and (Lawrence) Pilut both having offseason surgery, you have to make sure you have a plan to at least start the season off, because it will be important, as any season is, to have a good start. But we’re looking long term here. If something comes up that helps our team throughout the course of the second half next year or even beyond that, we’ll certainly look at that. We like how some of our young defensemen this past year, like a Will Borgen. We have Jacob Bryson and we have Casey Fitzgerald joining our organization. We think that there is a situation where they could possible push for jobs at the start of the year. Does it mean that they’re going to be able to help us over the course of 82 games? That’s a big step for young players. But we certainly think they can help us at the start of the year.
Q: As you mentioned, you talked to quite a few people and interviewed people. When in the process did he really rise to the top? And as you mentioned he communicates well with players. What in your personal communication stood out? (John Vogl – The Athletic)
A: I went back to two years ago, just the ease that our dialogue went through and how we sort of viewed how the game should be played, how you should go about, how the interaction between the general manager and head coach should be. And how that should then go on to the players. Ralph did come in to Buffalo at the end of April. He actually spent a weekend here and went to a lot of different establishments and I guess was a little bit undercover. I don’t think that will be able to happen as he moves on here. But no, he was very excited about the city, about our dialogues and then also getting to know the Pegulas too. It was a situation where within the last week, just going through a timeframe here, last week we furthered our discussions and we came to sort of a verbal agreement last week. I did notify the other candidates last week too that we were going to go in another direction. And then obviously made the announcement here today.
Q: What traits, specifically, about Ralph, make him a great communicator? You’ve referenced as one of his strongest traits. What specifically makes him a strong communicator? (Jon Scott – Spectrum News)
A: I think you’ll sit down with him and you’ll get a feel for it. There’s an energy to him right off the bat. And I think players are going to feel a comfort with him. I think he does find out, gets to know players on a personal level, understands when a player needs some positive reinforcement and when someone needs a little push. And when we talked to some of the players that had worked under Ralph, some star players in the National Hockey League that have worked under Ralph there, that was some of the things that they talked about, and just, they felt that, whether it was practice drills, looking through video, he was looking for innovative ways to help them improve as players. And there was a real buy-in from the players that this guy cared about them and that this guy wanted the best, not only for them individually, but for the team. And I think when players feel that, it’s a buy-in from both sides.
Q: Jason, the Jeff Skinner situation obviously continues. You guys have done that mostly behind the scenes, but how much of that kind of had to grind to a halt here until you had a coach, and how much now is it imperative for Ralph to quickly build a relationship with him maybe before anyone else on the roster if you want to be able to keep him on this club? (Mike Harrington – Buffalo News)
A: Well, understandably, I think anyone, if you’re going to sign a long-term contract with an organization, you kind of want to know who the head coach is. So we’ve kept in dialogue with Jeff, and certainly made him aware of who we were going to name here as a head coach today, just as we did with a lot of our leadership group. But yeah, just as it’s important next week for Ralph to touch base with Jack and Sam over a the World Championship, it’s going to be very important for him to build the relationship with Jeff and make sure that he feels comfortable of what our plan is moving forward here, both as a team and an organization but where we see Jeff fitting into the mix.
Q: How far back does your relationship date with Ralph, Jason, and I guess how much did that relationship sort of, that familiarity kind of help? (Lance Lysowski – Buffalo News)
A: So there are some unique touch points, but to be honest that we’re long-lost friends or anything, no. Not at all. There’s a private school in Winnipeg, St. John’s Ravenscourt, and my father was a teacher there and I believe was Ralph’s fifth-grade teacher way back in the early ’70s. But over the years, I didn’t know Ralph. There wasn’t that personal relationship there. When I did get the job, obviously I had heard about Ralph’s name, just in the hockey ranks. When I did get this job, Jim Rutherford certainly recommended that I speak with him and spoke very highly of his interaction with Ralph during the time that he was a consultant in Carolina. That sort of led to my initial discussion with him a couple of years ago.
Q: Did you guys ever speak with Joel Quenneville? (Frank Wolf – From the 300 Level)
A: I’m not going to go through individual guys that we went through, just out of sheer respect. What I would like to say just is that we started the process off, Randy Sexton, Steve Greeley and myself, and we tried to go through an extensive list. I really appreciate a lot of teams, that I never had one team that didn’t allow me to speak with their employee. I respect the fact that a lot of these teams kept it very quiet from that aspect, so that’s why I’m not going to get into each individual that we talked to just from that standpoint. But certainly we really appreciate how some teams kept things quiet as we moved forward here.
Q: I just wanted to ask you about Chris Taylor as far as if he’s ready to become maybe an assistant in the NHL? Obviously he’s not your head coach, so he may still need some development coaching. Would you rather see him still be in Rochester developing your youngsters or would you maybe like to see him as an assistant on your big club? (Paul Hamilton – WGR 550)
A: That’s a good question. I think those are questions we’ll continue to talk to Chris about. I think right now he’s really enjoying being the head coach and getting that experience. And I think that’s probably best for his development moving forward here. He had the opportunity to be an assistant coach in both Rochester and Wilkes Barre for a good period of time and now is really relishing being the head guy down there. We certainly talked about Chris through this process. What we have going on in Rochester right now, what Chris and Randy are developing down there is one of the strengths of our organization. When we hired Chris, we were excited about it and we think he’s done an excellent job down there the last couple of years.
Q: Jason, it’s probably fair to say recent years have tested fans patience around here, and obviously a lot of pieces still have to come into place. Where are you, as general manager, setting the bar in terms of results in the immediate future? (Adam Benigni – WGRZ)
A: Look, no team every comes in going we’re going to work hard this year and we’re building towards next year. You always want to win. And in a lot of our exit interviews with our players this year, we realized that. They got a taste of it. Just like our fans got a taste of it in November and December, our players got a taste of it and they want more of it. And that’s what we are right now. You see the parity that’s in the National Hockey League right now, there’s no reason why we cant be in that discussion. We should be in the discussion for playoffs. And once you get in the playoffs, as you see what’s happened over the last couple of weeks, you always have an opportunity. Now, are we there? Certainly not. Our results speak for itself the last couple years. But we believe hiring Ralph, development of some of our young players, the adjustments and changes we’re going to make to the team this summer, will put us in a position where we’re in that discussion next year.