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Mike Harrington: Botterill a solid choice, but he starts in hot seat as coach decision looms

The results of the general manager search have been widely known for a week, simply waiting for the Penguins and Capitals to finish their playoff series. It's a job well done by the Sabres. Jason Botterill has a solid resume and, of course, that Pittsburgh pedigree Terry Pegula seems to love. He's highly regarded around the NHL and his first chance to be a general manager seemed overdue. Of course, other than the Steel City part, the same could be said for the other candidates as well.

In fact, much of the above could have also been said a little over three years ago when then-president of hockey operations Pat LaFontaine introduced Tim Murray to be the team's GM. Since then, Murray had plenty of hits and plenty of misses. Only by viewing things through the prism of time will we be able to tell how good Botterill will be at his new job.

Sabres hire Penguins' Botterill as general manager

We're about to get our first nugget of insight. To this corner, any of the candidates the Sabres talked to would seem to be workable. But who will be the coach of this team? Right from the top, Botterill is on the spot.

Had the Sabres hired Nashville assistant GM Paul Fenton, the favorite to become the coach would have been Preds assistant and former Buffalo defenseman Phil Housley. Had they gone with Los Angeles' Michael Futa, the inside track would have seemingly gone to deposed Kings boss Darryl Sutter.

As for Botterill, Sportsnet connected dots last weekend and said he might look right at Penguins assistant and longtime NHLer Rick Tocchet. And while you would think Tocchet would be a candidate, you would hope Botterill and Pegula would take time to interview candidates like Housley and Chicago assistant Kevin Dineen among others before making a choice.

Pegulas' fondness for Pittsburgh often on display

One point to note here: While the Sabres didn't have to wait for his team to finish in the playoffs to hire Botterill, they will have to wait for candidates like Housley and Tocchet to be eliminated -- or win the Stanley Cup -- before they could be hired. So it's possible they could go without a coach well into June.

While he's never hired an NHL coach, you have to be heartened by the fact it was Botterill who hired Mike Sullivan for Pittsburgh's Wilkes-Barre/Scranton affiliate and set the stage for Sullivan to earn a promotion last season and lead the Penguins to the Cup victory over San Jose.

Botterill has plenty of pressing issues greeting him right out of his introductory news conference. What does he do with Evander Kane? Is Robin Lehner going to be his goalie, like Murray had anointed the big Swede? Who gets protected for the expansion draft and what deal might be worked with Vegas GM George McPhee? Can he close the deal on KHL defenseman Viktor Antipin? What happens to ace goaltending prospect Cal Petersen if he opts to leave Notre Dame?

Mike Harrington's Power Take: Sabres' new GM should deal his first No. 1 pick

And there's more. Botterill has to prepare for the amateur draft. Maybe find a taker for that No. 8 overall pick to dangle for another NHL-level defenseman. And he needs to get ready to negotiate a longterm deal with Jack Eichel come July 1, something that should go much more smoothly now that Dan Bylsma is gone.

So with all that as a backdrop, this coaching hire might become the most important one this franchise has made since Pegula walked in the door in 2011.

Any of the GM candidates would have been qualified to tackle all the above tasks. But the next coach must be able to work with this group of players far better than Bylsma did. And if the newcomer can't, how many of these players can stay and where will the Sabres' rebuild be then?

Good luck to Botterill. He's going to need it. Some unsolicited advice for him:  Don't preach patience. There's not much left in this town for this franchise. Especially as people here have watched Toronto and Edmonton play this spring while the Sabres are snapping Instagrams from the golf course.

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