An angry Jason Botterill talked about this past Sabres season

April 11, 2018 - 5:06 pm

Buffalo, NY (WGR 550) - Sabres general manager Jason Botterill held his first NHL end of the season press conference and he showed up in ill humor. Botterill is angry from watching the last place team in the NHL and he said owner Terry Pegula isn’t amused either, “His level of anger is fairly high and I don’t blame him," the GM said.

“I’ve been here for one year and I was pretty pissed off and upset throughout the year and I’ll just say, it sucks that we won’t be watching live playoff hockey now.”

Botterill is sick of hearing talk and right now he's all about action, “I think what’s happened at times in the past here is there’s been a lot of talk and when I talked to the players, I don't want to hear about how disappointed they are, I want to hear about what’s going to change, what is the action plan moving forward here.”

I think it’s obvious that for this organization to get better, some of these players must be moved out. Botterill said, “When you finish where we are, you have to look at everything and that means even looking at changing up our core players.”

Many around Buffalo think that changing coaches every season is the way to success. Jason Botterill doesn’t share that belief and he said, “Yes, 100-percent, Phil Housley will be our coach next year. I’ve certainly enjoyed working with Phil. I think the way that I want to put the team together and the way he wants to play is a good mix and he’ll certainly be here as our coach next year.”

I'm hearing there’s a good chance there could be an assistant coach or two fired. Botterill said, “With the staff, we will have meetings within the next couple days and we will be reevaluating everything. We’ll talk about what opportunities present themselves for the individual coaches, but also what’s best for our group here.”

Ryan O’Reilly said on Monday that there were times during the season where he lost his love for the game. Botterill spoke to O’Reilly in his exit interview and said, “I think he gave you an honest opinion and, in today’s sports world, that’s a little bit unique. You look at Ryan and he was a big part of our team, but it’s also an emotional game and when you don’t get the results you want, it can be draining on a player and what he said is probably indicative of a lot of our players inside the organization.

“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 make sure we change our culture.”

Many are wondering if Jack Eichel will be named captain next season. Botterill said that’s still a conversation he has to have with Housley. He went on to say, “Jack is going to be a big leader within our organization here. I will sit down with Phil and see what’s best for us from a captain perspective, but as excited as we are with Jack moving forward as a leader, it’s imperative that we have more players in the locker-room step up.

“This game cannot have one player lead the entire team, it’s imperative we have stronger voices in there because we have players that have NHL experience in the playoffs and they have to feel more comfortable in those roles. We have younger players that have been part of this organization for three, four, five years who can’t sit in the background anymore. They have to be a part of it, we have to have a stronger leadership group.”  

Practices have been sloppy here ever since Lindy Ruff coached this team. It’s shocking watching a good team practice then watching this team. Botterill said, “We have to improve our habits, they don’t come natural for us right now, intensity in practice, taking care of ourselves, communication with our coaches and players.”

I have felt for the last few seasons that a huge problem with this team is they have too many players that are uncoachable. Botterill said, “I wouldn’t say uncoachable, but we have some players with some strong opinions and part of the reason they do is it got them to the National Hockey League because they were motivated and dedicated, but we have to improve our communication. We have to make sure that our coaches and our players are on the same page.

“We finished 31st, we deserved to finish 31st, but when we were on the same page and played the system, when we were prepared, we had good results, we were just far too inconsistent.” 

Robin Lehner is not going to need surgery and is a restricted free agent for the Sabres. When asked about Lehner’s status, Botterill said Linus Ullmark will be one of their two goalies next season and they’ll make a decision in the next few months on who he’ll be up here with. He also said, “I think Robin had a year where he was certainly disappointed in the final results and if you look at our goaltending overall, like our team, it needed to be better.”

Many are in a rush to get the young players in here as soon as they sign their contracts instead of letting them develop properly. Many like Casey Nelson. Brendan Guhle and Nick Baptiste got that experience, but how much did the losing sour them? Botterill said, "Everyone talks about how valuable NHL experience is and it goes both ways. It was great that Casey Mittelstadt got his first National Hockey League goal, that’s a positive experience, but he lost five out of six games and he has to make sure that he doesn’t fall into the trap of losing.”

Mittelstadt is not the fastest skater in the world and Botterill said they need some faster forwards, “A couple of things that I really want to improve on is our team speed up front. We have to add more skill and I think that came with Casey Mittelstadt, but we just have to get faster on the wings.”

July 1st, free agency is when general managers across the league put their stupid hats on and sign players to contracts that they regret two or three years down the road. Free agency in Buffalo has been nothing but that in Christian Ehrhoff, Ville Leino, Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo. Botterill said don't expect a big splash,“We will be involved in free agency, but I’m a big believer in that you can’t build a team just through free agency."

Botterill is more into finding the undrafted college free agents, like newly signed Andrew Oglevie from Notre Dame. If they work out, it's like receiving a free draft pick. Yes, he's 23 and C.J. Smith is 23 and Casey Nelson is 25, but they also get a more mature player. 

So that wraps up one of the worst seasons in Buffalo Sabres history. Nothing I heard from Botterill tells me that he's not up for this job. He made no bones about his anger and I think you will see some big changes here before opening night in October.

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