When Terry Pegula introduced Jason Botterill, the Sabres’ owner immediately listed the accomplishments of his new general manager. The list was long and impressive.
But as much as those successes brought Botterill to the top of an NHL hiring search, it was the 40-year-old’s setbacks that made him the right man for right now.
Botterill won Stanley Cup rings as a Pittsburgh executive in 2009 and 2016, but plenty of hard times happened in between. The Penguins fired two coaches and one general manager. The career of Sidney Crosby was interrupted by concussions. Three times, the Penguins got bounced in the first round of the playoffs.
“As much as I look back on my time in Pittsburgh and the success we had preparing me for taking on this job, I think going through some of the failures was also going to allow me to be better-equipped for anything that comes in this job here,” Botterill said Thursday in KeyBank Center. “I came from an environment in Pittsburgh where, yes, we’ve had success the last couple of years, but for numerous years we didn’t achieve those results or had injuries.
“To me, the goal of the organization needs to be year in, year out competing at a high level, and one of those years you break through.”
Botterill finally broke through on a management level when Pegula hired him to be Buffalo’s eighth general manager. As an assistant and associate GM with the Penguins, Botterill’s name had been praised in hockey circles for years. Despite interviews, he never got a top job.
The round trip from success to failure and back again turned him into the ideal candidate.
“He’s pretty much done everything you can do in hockey,” said Pegula, noting Botterill’s success as a player, evaluator, drafter, developer and molder of talent. “That takes a lot of discipline and a lot of structure, and he’s obviously worked with some good people.”
Botterill praised his mentors with the Penguins for trusting and empowering him. Former GM Ray Shero hired him, allowing Botterill to work alongside assistant GM Chuck Fletcher, who is now GM in Minnesota. After the Pens fired Shero in 2014, Botterill continued under Jim Rutherford.
“From Day One of joining the organization, they brought me into every aspect of the hockey business and allowed me to be prepared to take on this role,” Botterill said. “I was able to handle everything and be a part of everything within the organization.
“I’m looking forward to building a hockey operations department here that challenges me and creates a collaborative environment that will make the best decisions for our organization.”
During Botterill's interviews with Pegula, the owner never brought up the potential for a president to work above Botterill. Instead, Botterill will likely set up a hierarchy similar to Pittsburgh, which had a GM, associate GM, assistant general manager and vice president of hockey operations.
"I’m committed to building an organization the right way with hard work, commitment to each other on and off the ice," Botterill said. "It's having a staff that is going to challenge me in closed doors about things and make sure that we have good opinions, and also empowering people on our staff – whether they’re in charge of amateur scouting, whether they’re in charge of pro scouting – with getting that information and making sure that information gets to me."
It’s a process that will take shape throughout the summer. Botterill will meet with the scouting staffs next week, and he’ll begin to evaluate their work. He’ll then decide whether to keep them or move on as they work through the NHL Scouting Combine, expansion draft and amateur draft.
Meanwhile, Botterill will take charge of the Sabres’ coaching search. He hopes to have it completed by the NHL Draft on June 23.
“I do want to talk to a lot of different coaches out there and get a good feel,” Botterill said. “Once we get down to whatever the finalists are – two or three or four different candidates that feel very comfortable – we’ll certainly be bringing Terry and" his wife "Kim involved in that process.”
Terry Pegula, after firing Tim Murray as GM three weeks ago, stressed discipline, structure, communication and character for the organization. Botterill personified those ideals with his opening talk.
He said there will be competition for jobs at the NHL and American Hockey League levels. He wants players to feel the same pride wearing the logos of the Sabres and Amerks that he did during the early 2000s. He wants a coach who shows the players who's in charge but still has an open-door policy. He wants assistants whose strengths complement the head coach’s weakness.
Botterill wants people who want to win for the fans of Buffalo and Rochester.
“I truly understand from my time as a player here in Western New York – both in Rochester and Buffalo – how passionate and loyal the fans in this region are toward the game of hockey,” Botterill said. “I know that they deserve success, and my job will be to try and bring an organization that provides that to them.”
Botterill comes back to Buffalo with a wife, Andrea, and two daughters, ages 5 and 18 months. He brings a master’s in business administration from the University of Michigan and a résumé that pushed him past six other candidates.
He also arrives with the knowledge that failures can build someone just as much as success can. He knows championship runs can be interrupted. He’s ready to put that information and experience to work in Buffalo.
“I’m excited about leading this organization to the next level,” Botterill said. “Today is truly a dream come true for myself.”