BUFFALO – Sabres general manager Jason Botterill understands 40-goal winger Jeff Skinner needed to know something important before making a huge decision.
“If you’re going to sign a long-term contract with an organization, you kind of want to know who the head coach is,” Botterill said Wednesday after announcing Ralph Krueger as the 19th head coach in franchise history.
Skinner, who turns 27 on Thursday, can become an unrestricted free agent July 1. Until then, the Sabres have exclusive rights to him.
Given Skinner’s age and scoring prowess – he just finished a career-best campaign and has scored 244 career goals – he will likely command a long-term contract worth perhaps $8 million or more a season.
Botterill has said for months the Sabres want to re-sign Skinner, an NHL All-Star in his first season in Buffalo. Botterill said the team and Skinner’s camp have been talking.
“We’ve kept in dialogue with Jeff and certainly made him aware of who we were going to name here as head coach today just as we did with a lot of our leadership group,” Botterill said.
Krueger plans to talk to captain Jack Eichel and winger Sam Reinhart, two young Sabres stars representing their countries at the World Championship, next week in Slovakia. You can bet Krueger will also be picking up the phone and calling Skinner soon.
“It’s going to be very important for him to build a new relationship with Jeff and make sure that he feels comfortable with what our plan is moving forward here,” Botterill said.
Two Sabres defensemen – Zach Bogosian (hip) and Lawrence Pilut (shoulder) – have undergone offseason surgeries and need five to six months to recover, meaning they could miss training camp and the start of the season.
Do those injuries alter Botterill’s offseason plans? Probably not.
“We’re looking long-term here,” said Botterill, who acknowledged he must plan for the start of the season without the Bogosian and Pilut. “It’s got to be a situation that 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.”
There’s a belief the Sabres could trade defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen this offseason. The Finn, 24, was an NHL-worst minus-41 last season.
Ristolainen might need a change of scenery after enduring six straight losing seasons.
Botterill expressed confidence in the development of three of the organization’s defense prospects: Will Borgen, Jacob Bryson and Casey Fitzgerald.
“We think that there’s a situation where they could possibly push for jobs at the start of the year,” Botterill said. “Does it mean that they’ll 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.”
Botterill, who has been running Team Canada’s World Championship entry with Ron Francis and Ron Hextall, doesn’t believe Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour suffered a long-term injury Monday.
Montour, who’s traveling back to Buffalo to have his lower-body injury examined by the team’s doctors, won’t play in the tournament again this year.
Botterill said the Sabres will know more about Montour later this week.
“It’s very disappointing because it was the first time that Brandon had the opportunity to wear the maple leaf and represent his country,” Botterill said. “He had a lot of excitement being over there and a lot of pride.”
Believe it or not, Botterill’s father, Cal, was Krueger’s fifth grade teacher in Winnipeg.
“So there (are) some unique touch points, but to be honest, (we’re not) long-lost friends or anything, not at all,” Jason Botterill said. “There’s a private school in Winnipeg, St. John’s Ravenscourt, and my father was a teacher there. I believe (he) was Ralph’s fifth-grade teacher way back in the early 70s.
“But over the years, I didn’t know Ralph, as there wasn’t that personal relationship there.”
Botterill said Penguins GM Jim Rutherford, who knew Krueger from his time as a Carolina Hurricanes consultant, recommended he speak to him two years ago when he was searching for Dan Bylsma’s replacement.
“(He) spoke very highly of his interaction with Ralph during the time that he was a consultant in Carolina,” Botterill said.
Botterill said Krueger, who’s in Europe, will join him next week when he returns to Slovakia.
Krueger plans to come to Buffalo next month and be with Botterill for the NHL Scouting Combine and Draft.