Jerry Sullivan: Botterill knows you're never too deep at center - The Buffalo News

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Jerry Sullivan: Botterill knows you're never too deep at center

Column as I see 'em:

Seven years ago around this time, then-Sabres general manager Darcy Regier invited a hail of ridicule by insisting that Tim Connolly and Derek Roy were two of the top 20 centermen in the NHL.

At that point in their careers, Connolly and Roy were marginal No. 1 centers at best. Diminished by concussions, Connolly was out of the league in two years. Roy labored for six teams over the next five years, averaging 35 points a season, before retiring in 2015 at the age of 32.

Those years taught me that a hockey franchise is never too deep at the center position, where the most skilled tend to reside. You can't be sure what will happen two or three years down the road, or how young players will develop, so it's best to stock the cupboard, just to be sure.

So I had no problem with the Sabres taking centers – Minnesotan Casey Mittelstadt and Swede Marcus Davidsson – with their first two picks this past weekend, despite more pressing, immediate needs on defense. Sometimes, you take the best value on the draft board, especially if it's a center.

Mike Harrington: With lots of needs on all sides, Sabres stay down the middle

Granted, general manager Jason Botterill had desperate needs on his blue line, which he addressed later in the draft and will likely pursue by trading for a veteran, perhaps by moving forward Evander Kane.

But Botterill said he wasn't going to "force it" with the eighth overall pick on Friday and suggested he could go center again in the second round Saturday if the board fell that way. That's what happened as he doubled down with Davidsson.

Botterill made it clear that the Sabres weren't going to make rash moves to win in the short term. He's not out to create a big splash for the fans, as Doug Whaley and Tim Murray did in previous Pegula administrations. Fans are justifiably impatient, but this new Sabres personnel department is not.

After Murray's big moves the previous two years, the quiet in Chicago was a bit of a letdown. Botterill said the phone was at his ear, but I suspect his counterparts around the league were asking for the moon from the new GM. He might be reshaping his roster, but he's not giving guys away for a song.

It's understandable if Botterill values the center position. His old club, the Penguins, won back-to-back Cups with Sid Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the top two centers, with clutch two-way man Nick Bonino and ageless Matt Cullen giving them matchless depth in the middle.

The Sabres are rock solid at center with Jack Eichel and Ryan O'Reilly. After that, it gets a little thin. But a few years from now, people might talk about the Sabres as the best in the league at the position.

***

It was a tumultuous weekend for Chicago's winter franchises. The Blackhawks made two huge deals before the NHL draft, moving veteran defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson and young winger Artemi Panarin, who scored 30 goals in his first two seasons playing on a line with Patrick Kane.

The Bulls traded star shooting guard Jimmy Butler to the Timberwolves for young guards Kris Dunn and Zach LaVine. Chicago also swapped the No. 7 overall pick for Minnesota's first (16 overall) in Thursday's NBA draft.

GM Stan Bowman did what he always does: Rework the Hawks roster to stay ahead of salary caps issues while getting younger and improving team chemistry. Panarin is a tough loss, but Bowman reacquired Brandon Saad, a popular team guy and better two-way player.

Hjalmarsson was a defensive stalwart for 10 years, winning three Cups. Bowman gambled by moving him to the Coyotes for Connor Murphy, who is six years younger and has five years on his contract. Saad has four years left on his deal. He and Murphy have roughly the same combined cap hit as Hjalmarsson and Panarin.

The Bulls' trade is more dubious. They traded a borderline superstar (Butler) and got two raw young talents in Dunn and LaVine. They got the seventh pick, which they used on 7-foot Lauri Markkanen, but the Bulls appear to be taking a step back and admitting they can't compete with the Cavs in the short term.

Dunn shot poorly in his rookie year with Minnesota and might not make it as a starting NBA point guard. LaVine is a tremendous athlete and scorer, but he's a brutal defender, which didn't endear him to coach Tom Thibodeau. He's also coming off a torn ACL and entering the final year of his contract.

The Timberwolves, who went 31-51 last season, got the best of the deal. Butler, one of the best mid-sized defenders in the NBA, makes them a solid playoff contender. They have two of the league's rising stars in Karl-Anthony Towns and Andrew Wiggins, who are both 22 years old.

Towns (25.1 ppg), Butler (23.9) and Wiggins (23.6) were the 12th, 14th and 16th leading scorers in the NBA last season. Ricky Rubio's assist totals should soar if he's healthy. The Wolves will be better and certainly fun to watch.

***

It has been an eventful offseason for the K.C. Chiefs. In late February, they cut Jamaal Charles, their career rushing leader. In late April, they traded two first-round picks to the Bills, including next year's No. 1, to move up for Patrick Mahomes at No. 10 overall. Last month, they expanded their front office.

Early this month, they released top wide receiver Jeremy Maclin. But the big stunner came last Friday when the Chiefs fired GM John Dorsey and gave head coach Andy Reid a five-year contract extension. There will be a search for a new general manager, but Dorsey's departure leaves no doubt that Reid has the ultimate say on personnel matters.

That also means the pressure on Reid will intensify. The Chiefs are 43-21 in Reid's four seasons as head man, and 22-4 in their last 26 regular-season games. But there won't be much sympathy for Reid if the Chiefs take a step back after such a dramatic organizational shakeup.

Bills fans will be watching closely. The farther the Chiefs fall next season, the higher their No. 1 pick and the greater Buffalo's chance of using it to get a prime pick – maybe their next franchise quarterback.

Bills trade with Chiefs to move down from 10th to 27th pick of NFL Draft

***

The Twins began Sunday with a 38-34 record, just a half-game behind the Indians in the AL Central. But the numbers say they're in for a rude awakening.

Minnesota had been outscored by 42 runs on the season, which suggests they should be six games worse. They've lost by scores of 17-6, 16-8, 14-3 (twice), 13-4, 13-8, 12-3, 11-4 and 11-1. They're 14th in the AL with an ERA of 4.91, ahead of only the Orioles.

The Orioles, by the way, tied an MLB record Friday by allowing five runs or more in 20 straight games – and they were only two games under .500. The last team to do it was the 1924 Phillies.

This is a good time to remind baseball nuts that I'm putting together my annual trivia quiz this week. I have a lot of doozies, but I'm always looking for good stuff. Send me a question on email (jsullivan@buffnews.com) and if it's a gem, I'll use it and even give you credit.

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