Jason Botterill has a long list of things the Sabres must change. ©2018, Hickling Images

Sabres GM Jason Botterill ticked off over poor season

BUFFALO – Sabres general manager Jason Botterill spoke like a man embarrassed by what he had just experienced and hellbent on never letting it happening again.

Botterill is usually measured in his comments, keeping his emotions in check. But discussing the Sabres’ wretched 31st-place finish this season made him seethe.

The Sabres hired Botterill last year from Pittsburgh, where he won three Stanley Cups in 10 seasons with the Penguins and never missed the playoffs.

So a lost season in which the Sabres regressed so badly they morphed into the NHL’s worst team is humbling for Botterill, who, like his boss, owner Terry Pegula, is ticked off.

“(Pegula’s) level of anger is … high,” a visibly agitated Botterill said Wednesday during a news conference inside KeyBank Center. “I don’t blame him. I’ve been here for one year and I was pretty pissed off and upset throughout the year.

“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.”

Botterill said conducting exit interviews with players earlier this week as other teams prepared for the postseason “flat-out sucked.”

Right now, Botterill said the Sabres, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, “have a culture of losing.”

Botterill said he noticed it right away in October, when the Sabres lost tight road games.

“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.”

Botterill said “there will be change” this offseason. Perhaps everyone other than slick center Jack Eichel could be available.

“When you finish where we were, you have to look at everything,” Botterill said. “That means looking at even changing up some of our core players. From a free agent standpoint, we’ll be involved in free agency. But I’m a believer that you just can’t build a team just through free agency. It has to come from within our organization.”

The Penguins built from within and added key pieces through free agency and shrewd trades. Meanwhile, in the last seven years, the Sabres have only drafted one player outside the first round, defenseman Jake McCabe, who became a regular.

They lack talent and depth. No wonder they won only 25 games in 2017-18.

So what are Botterill’s priorities to improve the Sabres?

For starters, they won’t go anywhere until they get faster. They sorely need speed, the most precious commodity in today’s NHL.

“We have to add more skill, and I felt that came with (center) Casey Mittelstadt (late in the season),” Botterill said. “We just have to get faster on the wings.”

Botterill said he also wants more players to “step up” in the dressing room.

Clearly, the Sabres, who used four alternates instead of a captain this season, possess a weak leadership group.

“This game cannot have one player lead the entire team,” Botterill 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 often couldn’t follow the game plan and committed the same mistakes all season, signs of poor leadership and even stubbornness.

Botterill, however, wouldn’t say some players are uncoachable.

“We have some players with some strong opinions,” he said. “Part of the reason for those strong opinions got them to the National Hockey League because they were motivated, they were dedicated.”

Botterill said that can change by improving communication.

“We have to make sure our coaches and our players are on the same page,” he said. “You can just see it in any successful organization, you see some of the teams that have turned it around this year. You talk about the relationship with star players, the relationship with core players and the coaches all being on the same page.

“The good thing with our team is whenever we did it, we did have success.”

Botterill believes the Sabres will enjoy more success when their words turn into actions. He said he’s tired of hearing “about how disappointed they are.”

“I want to hear about how what’s going to change, what is the action plan moving forward here?” he said.

For example, Botterill wants to see a better commitment to offseason training. When that changes, perhaps the Sabres’ habits will improve.

“They don’t come natural for us right now,” Botterill said. “And what I mean by that is practice days, intensity in practice, taking care of ourselves, communication with our coaches and our players. We have to do more in that, so when we got into those situations, those tight games, we have more confidence to find a way to win.”

Botterill, of course, has hope for the Sabres, who beat some of the league’s best teams.

“We deserved to finish 31st, but … when we were on the same page, when we played the system, when we were prepared, we had good results.”

2 thoughts on “Sabres GM Jason Botterill ticked off over poor season”

  1. While I don’t blame him creating a losing environment, I do think he takes blame in thinking a SLOW team was going to succeed. Matt Moulson..? Come on now. And the way O’reilly started until Dec….he was so damn slow…. then Jan he turned it around. Anyone over 28 has to go and we need some solid goaltending! So…now what???

  2. I keep seeing blanket statements by fans that show a decided detachment from reality, and if implemented would be counterproductive and only serve to perpetuate the mediocrity. You can’t hold a fire sale or purge “everyone over 28”, and throw a bunch of rookies in the meat grinder of an 80 game season and expect a miraculous turn around. Veterans are needed, those with leadership skills. The course the team is on is the correct one, only 1 player picked outside the first round making the team the last 7 years shows how bankrupt in talent the organization is, and is a glaring indictment of the previous GM. Housley should stay at least 2 more years. Resisting the temptation to force the issue and bring up Guhle, and other good prospects gave them nearly a year to learn, adjust to a faster game, etc, and many appeared to be ready to transition to the NHL when they were called up late in the season. Was waiting painful? Undeniably yes. For fans that’s an understatement . But, like most things in life, no pain means no gain. The short cuts and quick fixes have all miserably failed. You don’t build a house in a day, a playoff contender in 1 season, or fix the mess by another coach firing. There’s plenty of blame to go around, but it’s put up or shut up time. You can point fingers, but O’Reilly set a face off record. Eichel started producing and exceeded his previous season’s point total. Reinhart finally produced. Some of the problem was due to necessary experimentation to see what worked and what didn’t. Even those core players need to make changes, make commitments to taking action to make the turnaround happen. That means sticking to the system and game plan. It worked when they did that. If you look, the signs of what can be were there. Casey Mittelstadt, with 4 points in 5 games is going to be good. In a couple years, with good drafts, a key free agent signing , etc (I don’t mention trades, fact is, right now, after this season there isn’t a whole lot of trade potential around. Any team with interest in a player will be looking for a huge bargain), I can see a situation like Pittsburgh, having 2 super star players, namely Eichel and Mittelstadt, hopefully Guhle and others, propelling the Sabres into the playoffs years in a row. Inconsistency is just a symptom of immaturity and not having bought in to the system 100%. I can’t wait for next season, and the upcoming draft (April 28th the top 4 positions will be determined by the draft lottery).

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