BUFFALO – Jason Botterill is usually measured in his comments, keeping his emotions in check. But discussing the Sabres’ wretched 31st-place finish made the rookie general manager seethe.
The Sabres hired Botterill from Pittsburgh, where he won three Stanley Cups in 10 seasons and never missed the playoffs.
So a lost season in which the Sabres won 25 games and earned a meager 62 points is humbling for Botterill.
“I’ve been here for one year and I was pretty pissed off and upset throughout the year,” a visibly agitated Botterill said this afternoon inside KeyBank Center. “I guess I could be articulate, but I’ll say it sucks we won’t be watching live playoff hockey right now. It’ll (be) just all on TV.”
Right now, Botterill the Sabres “have a culture of losing.”
While Botterill said he never underestimated the team’s poor culture, he noticed it right away, when the Sabres lost tight road games in October.
“We found ways to lose,” he said. “And to me, in those tight situations and those tight games, we did not have a lot of confidence.”
Conducting exit interviews with players earlier this week as other teams prepared for the postseason “flat-out sucked” for Botterill, who said there’s “been a lot of talk” in the past.”
“I don’t want to hear about how disappointed they are,” he said. “I want to hear about how what’s going to change, what is the action plan moving forward here? … It can’t just be about words, we have to have better results.”
Check back later for more on Botterill’s disappointment and his belief in coach Phil Housley, who will be back next season.
Botterill said changes will happen this offseason. Some of the team’s core players could be in play.
“When you finish 31st, you pretty much need to improve in every category, let’s be honest,” he said. “We’re going to get a good player wherever we pick in the draft, whether it’s one through four. That’s certainly going to help our situation.”
Some other notes from Botterill’s 20-minute session with the media:
– Botterill said Sabres center Ryan O’Reilly was giving “an honest opinion” when he said constant losing made him lose his love for hockey at times this season.
“In today’s sports world, that’s a little bit unique,” he said. “But you look at Ryan, he was a big part of our team. He played hard throughout the entire season. But it’s also an emotional game. When you don’t win, when you don’t get the results you want, it can be really draining on a player.
“What he said is probably indicative of a lot our players within our organization. That’s what we have to work through right now. Right now, we have a losing culture. We haven’t won here, and it’s up to Phil and I to work with our players to work through that to make sure we change our culture.”
– Botterill said “it’s imperative that we have more players in that locker room step up” from a leadership standpoint.
“This game cannot have one player lead the entire team,” he said. “It’s imperative that we have stronger voices in there, because we have some players who have NHL experience in (the) playoffs that need to feel comfortable stepping up in those roles. We have younger players … who can’t sit in the background. They have to be a part of it. We have to have (a) stronger leadership group.”
– The Sabres haven’t had any discussions with winger Sam Reinhart, who enjoyed a splendid second half, about a new contract. Reinhart will be a restricted free agent this summer.
“We felt where we were in the standings it wasn’t a situation where we wanted to talk contract during the year,” Botterill said.
– Housley’s staff will be discussed over the next of couple days.
“When you finish where we do, you have to evaluate everything,” Botterill said.
– Botterill said goalie Robin Lehner, who sought a second opinion for his lower-body injury, doesn’t need surgery.
Lehner’s status will be decided in the coming months. The Swede will be a restricted free agent this summer.