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Mike Harrington: Good vibes continue around Botterill after first big deal

Victor Antipin. Nathan Beaulieu. Marco Scandella.

The addition of that trio isn't bringing you any Stanley Cups. But it's creating depth and stability and that's a key first step for the Buffalo Sabres. Their defense is a whole lot better now than it was in April.

New General Manager Jason Botterill knew the blueline was his heavy lift for the offseason and he's getting the job done in methodical fashion. We shouldn't forget that it was former GM Tim Murray who got the ball rolling with Antipin back in March and Botterill closed the deal with the KHL standout. Beaulieu, who fell out of favor with Claude Julien in Montreal, seems like an interesting top-4 pickup for a third-round pick.

And Scandella was the big acquisition in Friday's blockbuster trade with the Minnesota Wild that also marked the return of former Buffalo captain Jason Pominville. Scandella is a 27-year-old with a $4 million cap hit poised to perhaps be Rasmus Ristolainen's sidekick on the top pair. He can help with the transition game, make the first pass out of the defensive zone, move the puck with mobility and be an anchor on the penalty kill.

Sabres acquire Scandella, Pominville from Wild for Ennis, Foligno

"He’s a horse to play against, really competitive and has a rocket of a shot. He’ll be a big add to the team," Pominville said on a conference call. "He’s a big boy. He’s got a long reach. He’s physical. He can shoot the puck really well. He’s one of those guys that’s really annoying to play against."

Sounds like just the kind of asset Phil Housley can work with back there. With Ristolainen, Scandella, Jake McCabe, Antipin and Beaulieu, you should not be subjected to 20-plus minutes a night from Zach Bogosian or Josh Gorges anymore. Justin Falk, the re-signed Taylor Fedun and hot prospect Brendan Guhle will all be ready in Rochester for a quick call as well.

But Botterill said Friday this is not a finished product either. Free agency opens Saturday. His eyes and ears remain wide open.

"Let's be honest: As NHL general managers, we're always looking for more," he said. "We're very greedy. You always want to have more defense up there."

One thing, however, than can be put to rest it appears is the Kevin Shattenkirk Sweepstakes. It's too pricy and too much of a risk for the Sabres. Buffalo should let Shattenkirk get overpaid by New Jersey or wherever else he might land.

"The expectation for tomorrow would probably be more positional players, finding the right fit with it vs. a big bang," Botterill admitted. "We don't have to force issues here. There's something that makes our team better, we'll certainly do it but we don't have to do anything crazy."

The Buffalo power play was already No. 1 in the NHL last season. Shattenkirk would clearly upgrade parts of the Sabres' game but he's not nearly good enough in his own zone, as we saw during the playoffs with Washington. Term and dollars are also worrisome. The Sabres took on money Friday and Botterill admitted he's worried about overages from bonuses on entry-level deals that Jack Eichel or Sam Reinhart could reach.

That roughly $20 million the Sabres have on the cap right now can go away quickly. Robin Lehner, among others, needs a new deal. Eichel is looking at $9-$10 million a year starting next season. Trading Foligno and Tyler Ennis leaves the Sabres even thinner at left wing. It makes you wonder if they're moving forward with Evander Kane, at least for now.

Botterill's rep is as a cap savant. This is going to be fun to watch.

Sabres' Botterill hopes to sign Lehner in next month, has good talks with Eichel camp

Botterill talked about more short-team deals in free agency coming. That might preclude the addition of a Nick Bonino type. I would rate a reunion with Thomas Vanek as an interesting possibility but as of Friday it appears the Sabres have not made any contact with their 40-goal scorer, who is now 33.

Trades, of course, come with some dose of regret. Giving up Marcus Foligno is a tough move. He was very well-respected in the dressing room and you could see him having a solid third- or fourth-line role in the days the Sabres climbed up the NHL ladder. The league is trending to speed but the Sabres just got a lot less physical.

Foligno, Ennis fondly recall Buffalo, excitedly look ahead to Minnesota

It's interesting to get reads on Botterill from people. The glowing praise leading up to his hiring and the days after was almost hard to believe at times. But you've really heard nary a cross word to this point.

Ennis and Foligno both had nothing but good things to say about their now-former GM on Friday.

"He said he liked the player I am," Foligno said. "When Tim was fired, you kind of have to start over again. Jason is a first-class guy. I met him last week. It was normal conversation, nothing saying that I was going to get traded. He was professional, and he's going to be a great GM for the Buffalo Sabres. Nothing but high praise for that guy. It's the game of hockey. You get moved around."

There's plenty of symmetry that Botterill's first big trade was with the Wild. Minnesota GM Chuck Fletcher is a close friend of Murray -- and was involved in the hiring of Botterill in Pittsburgh 10 years ago.

"Jason is very well prepared, very knowledgeble about players in the league," Fletcher said. "Obviously a very good friend, just like Tim Murray is. But they're both tough to deal with. I like Jason because he's upfront. He indicated what he would do and what he wouldn't do. That's not always the case when you call around the league. There's lots of guesswork sometimes. At least with Jason, we had a pretty good lay of the land and worked on this for a while."

It was 10 years ago Saturday, remember, that Darcy Regier watched helplessly as Daniel Briere and Chris Drury walked out the door into free agency. The Sabres haven't won a playoff series since. Until the Sabres find a way to win, July 1, 2007 is a date that continues to resonate through this franchise.

As we head to July 1, 2017, there probably won't be any big splashes but there won't be any generation-crushing disasters either. The good vibes out of the GM's office continue.

 

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