Botterill is focused on his team's progression heading into the month of March

February 24, 2020 - 4:36 pm
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The Buffalo Sabres were busy ahead of the NHL Trade Deadline at 3 p.m. on Monday, making two trades with the New Jersey Devils and Pittsburgh Penguins to change over the group a bit at forward.

The day started with the Sabres acquiring forward Wayne Simmonds from the New Jersey Devils in exchange for a conditional fifth round pick in the 2021 NHL Draft. Later in the afternoon, Botterill made his second trade of the day by sending forwards Evan Rodrigues and Conor Sheary to the Pittsburgh Penguins for forward Dominik Kahun.

While it wasn't expected for Botterill to buy any players on an expiring contract with the team six points out of a playoff spot with 20 games remaining in the 2019-20 season, that's exactly what he did with Simmonds, who is expected to be an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2020.

"I think we've talked a lot about changing our forward group, adding to our forward group," Botterill said at his press conference on Monday following the trade deadline passing.

"[We're] excited about bringing in a veteran player such as Wayne Simmonds. We've talked a lot about this group playing meaningful games. For Wayne, playing meaningful games in the month of March and April is something that he's very accustomed to. I think you've heard Ralph [Krueger] talk a lot about net-front presence, playing a physical game. I think these are things that come natural for Wayne. We also know that we have a young group, he has a strong personality and I think his leadership is going to help our group out a lot."

Over the course of his 12-year career in the NHL, Simmonds has appeared in over 900 games with 251 goals and 247 assist for 498 points. He's made seven playoff appearances in his career, picking up eight goals and 13 assists for 21 points in 44 games.

This season with the Devils, Simmonds managed to score eight goals and amass 16 assists for 24 points on a team that sits as one of the worst teams currently in the league.

However, the Devils helped the Sabres out in this deal as the team agreed to retain 50% of his $5 million salary for the remainder of the season, meaning that Simmonds will only carry a cap hit of $2.5 million.

Adding a veteran player like Simmonds is exactly what Botterill believes will be beneficial for this group when the team starts to play more meaningful games in the home stretch of the season.

"As an organization, it's time for us to continue to build, and the next step as a group is to understand and play meaningful games into the month of March," Botterill said. "It's going to be a difficult challenge for this group. We're heading on the road here now. When we come back, our home schedule is against some of the top teams. It's going to be a challenge, but I think it's going to be a challenge for, sort of, our core players to go through with that. I know Ralph is extremely excited about working with these guys. Ralph has been very pleased with the response from the players and the interactions they have. I think it will be a new experience for our group, but we're excited about it moving forward here. What we try to talk about as a coaching staff and a management staff is how do we best prepare this group to face this challenge, and that's why we made the moves we made today."

As for the deal with the Penguins, the Sabres had a couple of different circumstances with their two forwards on the move.

Rodrigues had requested a trade back on Dec. 31 ahead of Buffalo's contest with the Tampa Bay Lightning, and Botterill had been working to figure out an appropriate move to grant the 26-year-old his wish. As for Sheary, he was on the final year of his contract that was paying him $3 million per-year.

In this type of deal with the Penguins, Botterill was looking to not only gain more cap space moving forward, but he was also trying to make a move to bring back in some talent that is NHL ready and eager to step in and contribute right away in Buffalo.

"We talked about the situation of trying to talk to different teams about what our value was for some of our players," Botterill said. "The way it worked out, we were glad that we were able to make trades to actually get a National Hockey League player back into the mix here and to help our needs. Especially the physical element and the heaviness of Wayne Simmonds. We've talked before about the development of our young players and our young forwards within our system. I think Dominik is a player that has NHL experience but still is a young player that is continuing to grow."

Kahun was in the middle of his first season in Pittsburgh after an offseason trade that saw him go from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Penguins. After an impressive 37-point rookie season (13+24) with the Blackhawks in 2018-19, the 24-year-old had produced 10 goals and 17 assists for 27 points in 50 games with Pittsburgh.

It was just recently that Kahun had come back to the lineup for the Penguins after missing eight games due to a concussion suffered just before the NHL All-Star break.

Botterill believes that the young winger is just another asset to inject into an already young group of players currently in Buffalo.

"[We're] excited to bring in a younger player into our mix," Botterill said."A player that is very useful and can play both wings, has a very good skill set, and also has a track record of success both over in Germany, had the opportunity to win an Olympic silver medal (in 2018) and had numerous times played in the [IIHF] World Championship."

Kahun was primarily playing on the wing while with the Penguins, but Botterill did say that he can also play down the middle at center when the option is needed.

He is currently set to become a restricted free agent at the end of the season, and currently carries a cap hit of $925,000, which is the league-maximum for a player signed to a rookie deal.

The Sabres are getting set to start a four-game homestand out west, starting with the Colorado Avalanche on Wednesday at the Pepsi Center in Denver. The Sabres have started to pick up steam with their recent play, going 7-3-1 in their last 11 games and climbing to within six points of a top-three spot in the Atlantic Division. Buffalo trails the Toronto Maple Leafs for that third spot, who have been reeling a bit with a 4-5-1 record over their last 10 games. In the fourth place slot sit the Florida Panthers, who have also struggled with a 3-7 record in their last 10 games.

Even though the team did not get off to a great start after the All-Star break, Botterill has been very pleased with the way his group has responded since then and have fought their way back into a respectable spot heading into March. That was one aspect the team took into account as they approached Monday's trade deadline.

"I think we've talked about a lot of different things that would happen," Botterill said. "You're always trying to prepare months in advance of what you're going to try to accomplish at the trade deadline. We've been very happy and are proud of how our group has responded after a difficult start to the homestand. We understand with a young group we're just going to continue to have disappointments and challenges along the way, but how we responded from that has been very positive. I think that's just this past weekend with a difficult win in Pittsburgh and then also finding a way to grind it out against a very good Winnipeg team.

"We've talked a lot about playing meaningful games in the month of March, and I think with some of the moves we made today, we're hopefully setting our team up to better accept that challenge."

Now with just 20 games remaining in the season, the time to make a statement in a push for the playoffs is now. While the likelihood of the Sabres making the playoffs is still slim, Botterill is just looking forward to seeing how the team will react to being in the hunt late in the season, a spot that the team has not been able to maintain in several years since their last playoff appearance in 2011.

"I think there's always pressure to win in this league, without a doubt. You want to have success," Botterill said. "We understand that we're not a finished product. These moves here we feel it helps our team right now, [especially] going into this road trip this upcoming week, just facing the month of March. But we also think that adding a player like Dominik is going to help us in the future too and trying to work from both ends there. The experience that a Jack [Eichel] or Sam [Reinhart] or Rasmus Dahlin or Rasmus Ristolainen can gain in the next few weeks is going to be important for their development here. You look at the parity [of the National Hockey League], you're not looking for the big jump. You're looking to win marginal points here and there, and that's the ultimate opportunity to eventually get into the playoffs. We can look back when we changed something here, we changed something there, it's small margins. That's what our group has to understand is for us to eventually get to where we aspire to. We have to do a better job in those small margin situations."

Botterill also talked about his process of trying to move defenseman Zach Bogosian before his contract was eventually terminated by the team on Saturday. He says that the team tried to find a solution and find a trade out of Buffalo, but nothing ever materialized.

The Sabres will return to the ice for practice on Tuesday before boarding their plane to head out to Colorado.

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