November 14, 2019
Schopp & Bulldog (5:30 p.m.)
Mike Schopp: Last week was quiet with the two games then in Sweden and then this week has been quiet since. Tonight that changes. Buffalo and Carolina. Mike Schopp and the Bulldog from (716) joined now by Sabres GM Jason Botterill. Hi, Jason.
Jason Botterill: Hi.
MS: How was Sweden? Was there a lot of ceremony during the week? I remember one player after Friday’s game talking about, like, somebody asked one of the players if it was more physical because the guys have been together like a lot this week? Was there a lot of that? What kind of an experience was this?
JB: Well overall you’re certainly disappointed you couldn’t come away with at least one win over there, but I thought the experience was amazing. I think our players took the responsibility of representing the National Hockey League very serious. So many of them have sacrificed so much to get to the National Hockey League and if you’re a kid from Western Canada, later on next month we go out there, you get to play in Vancouver, you get to play in front of family and friends. You make a trip to Toronto, so many kids from the Ontario area. But for them to be over there, to be tour guides for everyone, to show off Stockholm — the first couple of days we had amazing weather over in Sweden there too, so it was great to see the city. But, you know, like a kid like Rasmus Dahlin, you know, I think the two experiences I think that Ras will probably bring out, you’ll have to talk to him specifically, but like the opportunity to meet Nick Lidstrom — you forget 19-year-old Swedish kid being able to meet Nick Lidstrom, what an honor. And then to stand on the blue line and you’re playing a National Hockey League game, you dream of being a National Hockey League player, then you get to hear the Swedish National Anthem? I got goose bumps listening to the National Anthems there, especially the Friday evening. So, I think just in general, everything went, from a logistics standpoint, went extremely smoothly and overall it was a great opportunity for our players to stay, to get together and understand so many of the North Americans where these, where the Swedish kids came from and how, why they are so proud about their country.
MS: I did hear Linus Ullmark make a point about the anthem on Friday. When he played Friday and he said, “That was pretty good.”
JB: And it’s not just listening to [it]. The entire building is singing the Swedish national anthem, and that’s where it just gives another element to the whole thing.
MS: Do you feel like you know it now? How many times did you hear that?
JB: I’ve heard it quite a few times in international competitions, but there’s no way that I’m going to be able to sing that one.
Chris Parker: I did, I heard that Dahlin was maybe visibly nervous, shaking to meet Lidstrom and, you know, the thought I had was, like, Dahlin, yes he is so young still, but he was so highly touted, I might have wrongly assumed that he would’ve met Nicklas Lidstrom at some point coming up through Swedish hockey.
JB: Yeah, and it’s just one of those things that never materialized and you sometimes forget, most of the time in big opportunities on the ice, Ras has such calmness. He has, nothing seems to really bother him, he handles it extremely well. But, again, that’s one of your idols, that’s one of the reasons you develop your game like. When our coaches are talking to Rasmus Dahlin right now, no matter how many points let’s say he gets on the power play, he still wants the opportunity to play against other team’s top players. He still wants, working on his defensive game and a big part of that is because he watched Nick Lidstrom growing up. That’s who he wants to mimic his game around. It was a great experience for him to see that stuff and have that interaction.
CP: How would you say that’s going here early in year two for Dahlin?
JB: Well I think it’s what we like so much about him is that running the power play as a 19-year-old and making the right decisions out there is a difficult job and he makes it look so easy. He’s worked extremely hard on his game in the offseason. He’s worked on his strength and he wants to take on the opportunity about playing against other team’s top lines. I still think that’s another step in his development there. He has to continue to work on, to earn those opportunities and not only just be in them but excel in those situations there. You have to understand, you look at Nick Lidstrom when he won all those Norrises, you look at other defenseman throughout the league, just a gradual process with it. What we love about Ras is he’s just not looking at, “Hey, oh I got some points on the power play. My game’s good.” He understands that there’s still more to his game, especially from a defensive standpoint, that he can work on.
MS: What do you think he’s struggling with though? I mean, I think you would probably agree his game is not quite at the level it was most of last year, or no?
JB: I think he’s having tougher matchups from that standpoint, I think it’s just, you know, earlier in the year I think he mimicked our entire team. We did an excellent job of moving out of our zone and getting the puck to our forwards to have more offensive zone opportunity time. I think you looked at the last three or four weeks, that’s where we’ve slipped a little bit. We’ve spent too much time in our defensive zone. Look, he’s changed a lot of different defensive partners over the last couple of weeks here. We think it’s a good fit here with [Brandon] Montour. We’re excited about bringing more guys back in the equation, like we have with [Marco] Scandella here tonight. I think that’s, not only just for Ras, but I think for our entire team, making that quick adjustment with the puck and getting out of our own zone.
CP: You are starting to have extra bodies back there. We talked a couple weeks ago, Scandella maybe had just been hurt. [Zach] Bogosian wasn’t practicing yet, but that’s changed. [Lawrence] Pilut was with you in Sweden, he’s back in Rochester. It feels like you might be getting to like a maximum density standpoint with healthy defenders who can play in the NHL. Does that make your job easy? Does it make your job hard? What changes for you, if anything?
JB: Well I think it’s great because we’re having options now, at least. You know, and it’s the same thing, just the development of [Henri] Jokiharju has given us more opportunities to say, “Hey, he’s not down in Rochester right now, he’s up with our team.” So it gives us more opportunity and more, sort of options, that our coaching staff can utilize during the game. But you look at it, like, it’s great that Scandella can come back. I think that he, especially with Henri, had some good chemistry before he got hurt there. It’s great to have Montour finally back into the mix and playing. There’s no, sort of, we have to wait and watch his minutes now. We can play him at full strength here. It’s great to see Zach Bogosian, and I think if you saw some of the quotes, he was pretty emotional yesterday. It’s been a long road for him to get back and it was a great step in his development and his road back to actually playing, being with the practice. But it’s still going to take him some time until he’s 100 percent game-ready there. But from my standpoint, it just gives us more opportunity, more options. Plus, you look at, I think we have, I know at the end of the month we got five [games] in seven [days], and I think we have starting tonight 10 games in the next 17 days. We know we’re going to utilize these players.
MS: One issue seems to be scoring and scoring depth. What’s the problem? Are you thinking that you have the personnel to get more out of your forward group than you’re getting? What particularly can you say is causing this drop off?
JB: Well I think it is — I think we have the personnel to do it. I think they’ve proven it at the start of the year to be able to create opportunities. I think a big step was how our top line played over in Sweden. I think their 5-on-5 scoring, they hadn’t been producing a lot and they really stepped up from that standpoint. You look at a trip, we’re talking earlier about the Swedes, for Victor Olofsson. I don’t know if the weekend could’ve gone any better other than getting a couple wins. Him creating opportunities out there, capitalizing on some situations there, I thought it was great from that standpoint. Do we think that there’s still players that are, some of our forward guys, that can certainly produce more? Yeah. And I think that’s where Ralph [Krueger] has changed up the lines a little bit, trying to find a mix that can work. But overall, I’ve liked our game in transition. I think we’ve done a pretty good job there. I’ve certainly liked how our power play has moved the puck around and the process that it’s had. And also, too, the sheer numbers that it’s producing. So I think whenever that power play can continue to produce, it just allows and gives our guys that much more confidence at even strength.
CP: How much temptation, if at all, is there — it probably is alleviated with how that, the line and Olofsson played in Sweden, but [Jeff] Skinner was very productive up there last year, of course. You can understand why you want to leave him where he is, but, like, I don’t know, as you’re watching, do you ever find yourself thinking, “We’ve got to put Skinner up there with Jack [Eichel]”? Or no?
JB: I think that’s where Ralph has a great feel and then what my job is, and what our job is, is to try and give him as many options as possible. I think we’re trying to do that on the defensive standpoint and we’re trying to create more opportunities for him to figure out the lines on the forward group and stuff there. I think it’s, what I’ve loved is that, you know, earlier in the season I thought [Marcus] Johansson and Skinner had really good chemistry. They cooled off a little bit from that standpoint, but there still is that dialogue going on. We’re just trying, I think Ralph is trying to find what the mix is going to be from our lines, two, three, four lines type of things there. I think you see Ralph too how he changes it up in certain situations. Sometimes he does, especially at the end of periods type of thing, throw Jeff up there with Jack and Sam [Reinhart]. We certainly understand that there is chemistry there, but you’re trying to find not just the one line, you’re trying to produce the others. And I also would say, it’s also a reflection and it’s a great sort of statement for Victor Olofsson of how much our, not just Jack but anyone who plays with him, how much they enjoy playing with Victor and just his hockey sense. You heard that through Marcus Johansson in training camp, he played a little bit with Victor. You certainly hear that from Jack and Sam right now. He’s done a lot up there that our players want to interact with him and want to be on the ice with him.
MS: So you have all these — you mentioned how many games you have coming up and there’s been a lot of time off here in the last two weeks. You started 8-2 and since 1-6. You feel like you know, like, what you are at this point? Or do you want to, are you looking at these 10 in 17 maybe to do that? Are you still sort of wondering what your overall quality is?
JB: I think you’re always looking to see, trying to figure out exactly what your group is and how is it going to — we believe there’s still opportunity for our younger players to grow and have bigger significant roles. But it’s going to be the evaluation, can they handle it? I think the NHL does a great job in setting us up. You look at our schedule before going over to Europe and coming back, they made it very easy for us from that standpoint. But the bottom line is, is you’re going to condense things differently once you come back and that’s what we’ve got right now. We’re going to be in a condensed schedule. It’s going to be challenging for our group, but on the other hand you’re going to get in the mix [of] just playing. And I think that’s what our players are looking for right now. You look, especially the last four games that we’ve lost in regulation, it’s against teams that, you know, we’re hopefully getting to that standard eventually. You’re looking at Washington, Islanders, Tampa Bay, over the last two or three years, those teams have been top teams. It’s where we want to eventually get to. I certainly, I don’t think anyone’s going to sit here and say our performance against Washington was very good, but beyond that, there was opportunities to win the games now it’s a challenge of our group to make sure that we find ways to ways to get those results moving forward here.
MS: [Curtis] Lazar coming up, why him and what does he give you?
JB: Well I think he did an excellent job in training camp coming in here. It’s a player that maybe Ralph and our coaching staff didn’t know that well but was impressed with just his ability to get to the net, his ability to finish checks. Did a nice job in PK too, certainly through training camp. Had an opportunity to come out with us on the West Coast trip when we were out in California, he fit really well with our group there.
MS: Oh, he was on that trip?
JB: Yep. He didn’t play but he was out there and stuff with our group there. And then, you know, obviously we’ve been staying in touch and it’s been great how Rochester’s been playing over the last couple of weeks here. We feel we have different options down there who we can call up, but he certainly deserved the opportunity to come up. He’s going to be in the lineup tonight and we’re excited to hopefully give a little bit of energy to our group.
MS: Yeah, he’s got almost 250 NHL games, so he’s not like debuting or anything like that. His Sabres debut tonight.
JB: Yep, Sabres debut, but a former first-round pick who’s played in big environments in World Juniors. His attitude, he’s looking for an opportunity, that’s why he signed with our organization. I think it’s been a good fit so far. I think we’re looking for him to give a little spark here this evening.
MS: Your Sabres debut, that would’ve been your first NHL game, right? Did you come up, or no?
JB: My first NHL game was with Dallas. My first NHL goal was with Atlanta.
MS: Against [Martin] Biron.
JB: In Buffalo here, yes.
MS: Sorry Marty, by the way. Like, he listens to the show. Why do I just need to say that? I don’t know. He’s so easy to sort of pick on, Marty. But eventually you get tired of it, right, Bulldog? You do. You get tired of it.
CP: Oh yeah, you can only have it for so long.
CP: How is Tage Thompson doing down in Rochester?
JB: He’s doing well. And look, it’s exciting for us. You look at the offensive opportunities that he’s creating down there. He certainly creating a lot of chances, and that’s great to see. I think there was an article on the AHL website this past week on just him understanding what the process is and working on staying in front of the net, some of the details of protecting the pucks in the offensive zone, being stronger along the D-zone walls and understanding what he has to do to get to the National Hockey League and not being comfortable and enjoying life too much in the American Hockey League, but understanding what he has to do. That’s where it’s been great to see from him. The biggest thing that we’ve loved with Tage is his engagement, whether it’s in Rochester or with Buffalo on what are the little things he can certainly work on. We’re excited about him coming up to our group here eventually and we think his size, his shot, those are elements that can certainly give us a different look.
CP: I know Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen got in an ECHL game. Is there a timeline on him getting to Rochester at this point?
JB: No, it’s not a situation right now. Right now we just want him to — he’s going through the process of pretty much a training camp and getting through the mix there. Got into a game then got his first win this past weekend in Cincinnati. As a young player like him we just want him to play. And we feel we have two good, solid goalies in Rochester right now. We’ll continue to evaluate the situation and when it’s right for UPL to get up to Roch, but right now we just want him playing games as much as possible in Cincinnati there.