Jason Botterill’s former boss says the Sabres’ new general manager can quickly turn Buffalo into a winner and is prepared to tackle a coaching search and the salary cap.
“The best way to sum it up is Jason is a No. 1 pick as a general manager,” Penguins GM Jim Rutherford said Thursday on “The Instigators” on WGR-AM 550. “He’s a first-rounder all the way.”
The Sabres have made Botterill the eighth general manager in team history, and they’ll introduce him at 4 p.m. Thursday in KeyBank Center. Botterill has worked for the Penguins since 2007, including five years as assistant GM and the last three as associate general manager.
“Jason Botterill was my guy that I went to all the time,” said Rutherford, who replaced Ray Shero in 2014. “He’s worked with more than one GM. I think he’s seen different ideas, different ways to do things, and he has his own ways of looking at it.
“Because he’s on top of each team, he knows basically what’s there with the Sabres, what the needs are. As general managers and as fans, we all like to fix things within a week. It doesn’t happen that way. But I do think the fact that the Sabres had some key injuries this year and they have a really good core of players there, with Jason there leading things I think this team will get turned around very quickly.”
The Sabres fired GM Tim Murray and coach Dan Bylsma last month, so Botterill will get to pick a leader behind the bench.
“I have a short list of coaches always, even though I have a good coach, and I’m sure he’s well-aware of who the good coaches are available,” Rutherford said. “He’s going to meet with them and see if there’s some chemistry between him and the coach. Once he does that, there’s still some very capable coaches out there, and I’m sure he’ll pick a good guy.”
Botterill emerged from a pack of seven candidates to claim the GM job. It sounds like the Sabres and top executive Russ Brandon inquired about the 40-year-old before they let Murray go April 20.
“I got a call from the president,” Rutherford said. “I’m not exactly sure when it was, but certainly within the last month, and there shortly after the change was made in Buffalo. So at that point in time, I gave them permission to talk to him.
“They were really good with me. The communication was great on each step as far as the first interview and then the second interview and the timing of all this. The Sabres handled it very well. I was very pleased with it.”
Owner Terry Pegula said last month the Sabres didn’t decide to fire Murray until after their year-end meeting, but Rutherford’s comments back up a report by longtime broadcaster Kevin Sylvester that the decision came before the talks.
For what it's worth: I'm told the decision to fire Murray and Bylsma was made before the meeting with the Pegulas yesterday.
— Kevin Sylvester (@kevsylvester) April 20, 2017
Among Botterill’s top traits is his ability to crunch numbers. He has an economics degree and master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan, and he worked as an intern in NHL Central Registry. His knowledge of players, salaries and the collective bargaining agreement has allowed the cap-strapped Penguins to continually find ways to add players at the trade deadline.
“He’s very good at managing the cap,” Rutherford said. “There’s not a tougher situation in the league than what we’ve dealt with over the last few years with injured players and guys on (long-term injured reserve) and all those things. Jason works through that very quickly. He understands it. He works well with Central Registry, which is all part of this also. He’s well-connected there.
“From all the things you have to deal with in a complex game now – the cap and analytics and scouting – everything that an organization deals with he’s very good at, and he’s very well-prepared.”
Because the 68-year-old Rutherford has shown no inclination to retire, the Penguins allowed the Sabres to hire Botterill.
“He will be missed, but I’m happy for him,” Rutherford said. “This is a great opportunity to go to an organization that I see under his leadership will be on its way in very short order.
“He’s a very bright guy. He’s a hockey guy. He knows the game. He knows players. He knows players at all different levels. He studies that on a regular basis. He’s a guy that will not leave any stone unturned. He’s a hard worker, and he’s on top of things.”