Share this article

print logo

Mike Harrington: Anger is awesome, but now Botterill has to match words with actions

We got the anger we wanted to see and it was awesome.

Good on Jason Botterill to wear it all over his suit coat sleeves and let fans get confirmation he's as ticked off as they are.

Now he has to put his fury to work and fix this mess.

It took a while for the steam coming out of the general manager's ears to dissipate Wednesday afternoon after he left the press room deep within KeyBank Center. It's not hard to imagine what Botterill was dealing with this season.

He just spent the last 10 years with the Pittsburgh Penguins -- repeating, the Pittsburgh Penguins! -- and now had to watch this hot garbage of a team the Sabres iced for the six months. Think of what he came from: Three Stanley Cups in the Burgh. Back-to-back titles the last two years. Standing in the team picture in both San Jose and Nashville after clinching Game Sixes, the shots captured for all time when you walk in the door at PPG Paints Arena.

And now this.

"We finished 31st. We deserved to finish 31st," was one of several sound byte-worthy clips Botterill gave reporters Wednesday in his 20-minute State of the Sabres Union.

So was this bell-ringer: "Right now we have a losing culture."

Mike Harrington: It's back to work for Botterill after one last celebration with Penguins

Wowza. This was the angriest I have ever seen a Sabres GM at an end-of-season presser. And that's exactly how you start to send a message that losing is unacceptable and things damn well better change around here.

But let's not get blinded by it either.

It was Botterill who chose Phil Housley to be the head coach and we don't really know how that's going to turn out, partly because the GM gave Housley such a poor roster in his first year as an NHL head man.

It was Botterill – and not Tim Murray – who brought in many of the names that have made fans cringe since October. Think Nathan Beaulieu, Jacob Josefson, Jordan Nolan, Benoit Pouliot and Matt Tennyson. Not to mention an overmatched Marco Scandella and far lesser retro versions of Jason Pominville and Chad Johnson.

It was Botterill who traded Evander Kane for pennies on the dollar and is left hoping beyond hope that Kane will either stay in San Jose or the Sharks will make a run to a surprising Cup victory in order to get the first-round draft pick he coveted in the deal.

It was Botterill who stood pat and watched the season slip away by Thanksgiving, with the only move of consequence being to reach out to Detroit and trade for former Penguin Scott Wilson. It was an interesting move for a player who could serve a nice bottom-six role here, but one who is hardly a game-changer.

So there's a lot of blood on his hands and it sounds like Terry Pegula has let his new GM know about it. The owner doesn't talk to reporters about hockey unless he's firing somebody, so the only way to get his reaction was through the GM's eyes.

Botterill, to his credit, pulled no punches.

"His level of anger is fairly high," Botterill said. "It is high and I don't blame him. I've been here for one year and I was pretty ... upset throughout the year. I guess I could be articulate but I will just say it sucks we won't be in live playoff hockey right now. It will just all be on TV. Because we do have all the resources here to have success."

There were a lot of takeaways from these 20 minutes with the GM. He needs to get more speed and skill up front. wants to see much better goaltending, knows he's going to draft a super prospect no matter where the lottery balls land. A big one was that it would been worth paying good money to be a fly on the wall during his exit interviews with players. It was pretty easy to read some of the tea leaves scattered behind:

  • When Botterill says he may have to change the core, he's not talking about Johan Larsson or Zemgus Girgensons. It sure sounds like Ryan O'Reilly and/or Rasmus Ristolainen better keep a good real estate agent's name handy. Same for associate coach Davis Payne, as Botterill didn't give the staff any sort of the endorsement he gave Housley.
  • Linus Ullmark is going to be one goalie next year and a decision is in the future on the other. Translation: Botterill is certainly hoping to trade Robin Lehner, and it's fortunate for the Sabres their now-former No. 1 goalie apparently does not need surgery on what's believed to be an ailing hip. If there's no takers, Botterill is likely to just walk away from the restricted free agent and let him go become unrestricted. Hey, he's not the GM who traded a No. 1 pick for Lehner.
  • If you're not going to listen to the coach, you're gone. When this team did listen, oddly enough, it had success. The Sabres had a combined seven wins this year against Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto, swept the Western Canaada three-game roadie for the first time in 20 years and had three fewer points on the road than Pittsburgh. How in the world did they finish 31st?
  • A clear message from the interviews: It's not excuses, it's performance. Enough of the disappointment. Bring forward an action plan. Work hard this summer and be ready for training camp. When Botterill said "We can't have the man-games lost we had this year," is he talking about anyone other than oft-injured and wholly overpaid Zach Bogosian?

Botterill is used to watching his teams playing in May and even June. That's how things rolled in Pittsburgh for many years and how it worked last year for Housley in Nashville. The only hope of that in these parts this year is if the Rochester Amerks get rolling in the Calder Cup playoffs.

The GM said one thing he's learned from this season is what he came with from Pittsburgh reinforces "what a good organization looks like and how it should function." That is certainly not the Buffalo Sabres. Hasn't been for many years.

What's it been like doing so much talking this week and not getting ready for games?

"Going through exit interviews on April 9th and 10th flat-out sucked," Botterill said pointedly.

So did watching most of these players the last six months.

Sabres GM Jason Botterill: 'There will be change'

Prospects Asplund, Olofsson expected to join Sabres next season

Sabres sign Notre Dame forward Andrew Oglevie

Sabres' Botterill on contract status of Lehner, Reinhart, Nelson, Moulson

Story topics: /

There are no comments - be the first to comment