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

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- One last time, Jason Botterill got to celebrate his 10 years of work for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

What a night it was for the Buffalo Sabres' new general manager here Sunday in Bridgestone Arena. Such food for thought it must leave in his mind going forward.

"It's an amazing feeling," Botterill told The Buffalo News on the ice shortly after the Penguins clinched the NHL's first back-to-back Stanley Cup titles since 1998 with a thrilling 2-0 win over the Nashville Predators in Game Six.

"To think where the organization was even a couple years ago -- having some success but finding challenges keeping it from getting over the hump in big games -- is something. Then you look at this year. Look at what guys did. Marc-Andre Fleury with a shutout against Washington, Matt Murray coming in against Ottawa.

"Whenever we faced a little adversity, instead of getting nervous they accepted the challenge and played one of their best games. It's fun to see so many of these guys come through this system. Our pro scouts feel good about it, our amateur scouts feel good, our development staff. It's amazing how the whole thing came together."

At that point, Botterill had to be gently reminded it really isn't "our" anymore. It's really "their." Even if he did have a Penguins towel slung over his shoulder and a championship banner on a stick in his hand.

"I'm not 'our' anymore and I know that but it was certainly nice they invited me back hoping to see a celebration for sure," he said. "It's been a hectic 3-4 weeks. I'm certainly focused in on trying to accomplish as much as I can in Buffalo. This is the finale for me with Pittsburgh and it's a pretty good way to go out."

Botterill, who was in Pittsburgh over the weekend, was invited by Pens GM Jim Rutherford to attend Game Six. Botterill and his wife hopped the Pens' family charter here Sunday morning and emerged into the madness of the Music City in the afternoon to get to the arena.

When the game ended and the Cup was in Sidney Crosby's hands, the Pens passed it around to all of their players and coaches. Botterill came down for the celebration as well and joined in the traditional team photo with the Cup, in the upper right of any shot you see. It was certainly unusual to see a sitting GM of one team celebrating with another, but in this case it seemed appropriate.

The Penguins have spent the last two weeks lavishing Botterill with praise whenever they've been asked and were more than happy to see him get to take part.

"It's just great for 'Bots,' said Pens coach Mike Sullivan, the first American to direct a team to back-to-back titles. "His fingerprints are all over this team and this organization. He's such a great person, works extremely hard. He's a very prepared guy. I'm thrilled for Bots. No. 1, he gets to be a part of a Stanley Cup again and also because of the opportunity he's been given in Buffalo. I know he's going to do a terrific job."

Goaltender Matt Murray knows all about Botterill, one of his big backers last year when he was still in the AHL at Wilkes-Barre. Murray was sitting on the bench still in full gear doing interviews and was red-eyed with emotion after his second straight shutout made him the first goalie in history to win a Cup in his first two years in the league.

In the chaos of the post-game celebration, Murray had not seen Botterill. He spoke in reverent tones when told Botterill was on the ice.

"He was so big for me, came down to Wilkes-Barre when I was there," Murray said. "Always told me what their plans were, put the confidence in me to play a lot of games there. When they decided to bring me up here last year, he was a huge, huge part of that. I owe a lot to Jason Botterill and he means a lot to me. I'm going to go find him."

There will never be another Nashville for the Cup final -- OK, maybe Las Vegas could be like this someday -- but it's not hard to wonder what things would be like around Canalside and Alumni Plaza if Botterill could work some magic in Buffalo someday.

He has so much work to do with a franchise that hasn't been in the playoffs since 2011. Sunday's victory was the Penguins' 49th playoff game the last two years, an NHL record for back-to-back seasons. Want some perspective on that? You have to stretch all the way back to 2001, to their seven-game loss to Pittsburgh in the Eastern Conference semifinals, to get to the Sabres' last 49 playoff games.

Pittsburgh's dramatic victory Sunday certainly works in the Sabres' favor. The worst-kept secret in the hockey world right now is that Botterill is lurking to interview Penguins assistant coach Rick Tocchet and Nashville assistant Phil Housley for his open head coaching slot in Buffalo. He had to wait until this series ended to do that, and a potential Game Seven wasn't going to happen until Wednesday night.

The sudden end to this series, with the Penguins getting Patric Hornqvist's winning goal with 1:35 left to break a scoreless tie, certainly moves up that process.

It's known that Botterill has already interviewed Bob Boughner (who was officially hired by Florida on Monday), Todd Reirden, Craig Berube and Scott Arniel. But those all stand as the preliminaries.

Now it's time for the main events.

Bucky Gleason's Power Take: Botterill deserved celebration with Penguins

"We've had some very good discussions with people," Botterill said of the coaching search. "But all the options will be there now and we have to make a decision."

When might that happen? Botterill said it's not outside the realm of possibility the job could be filled this week. Who's the favorite? Asking 20 or 30 people here got a total split.

For a first-time GM, Tocchet would be the familiar one to Botterill. Housley, meanwhile, would be the former Sabres legend to likely direct the team through its 50th anniversary season, and he could certainly do for Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, newcomer Victor Antipin and others what he did for the Predators' blueline corps.

(Tocchet could not be located by reporters looking for him on the ice as the Pens milled about in celebration. He likely had retreated to the dressing room, which is closed to the media after the Cup-clinching game.)

Whomever Botterill brings to owners Terry and Kim Pegula for their final stamp of approval has a heavy lift ahead. But Botterill is ready for the challenge.

"The passion is already there," he said. "It's amazing for the final to see the TV ratings in Buffalo. There's a core there that's got me so excited about that job. But we're going to have to do a better job developing players. We've got some work to do. A lot of work.

"Look at how great this team is in Nashville. They were the 16th team in the playoffs. A lot of people say Tampa Bay should have beaten Pittsburgh in the conference final last year and here they don't make the playoffs this year. There's just so much parity everywhere."

Meanwhile, Botterill said filling the Rochester Amerks job is still a couple of weeks down the road at least, as he's planning to do some interviews for the position during draft week in Chicago.

Rutherford was thrilled Botterill was able to take him up on the offer to come to Nashville.

"He's a big part of this," said Rutherford. "He did a lot of this work. He's a great guy to work with. I wish him all the best of luck. He's going to do a great job in Buffalo but I'm really glad he was here. I'm going to have a beer with him pretty soon tonight."

And how soon did Rutherford expect Botterill to ask permission to talk to Tocchet and perhaps maybe even fellow assistant Jacques Martin?

"Like I said, we're going to have a beer," Rutherford said with a smile. "I'm sure that's why he wants to have one with me."

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