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Mike Harrington: The organization means more than just the NHL

As his day wound down and Jason Botterill took a few minutes to chat with reporters on a conference call early Saturday night, he summed things up pretty simply in eight words.

It's been a good week for our organization.

It's hard to disagree there. The Sabres are certainly better defensively with the addition of Marco Scandella, and suddenly deep in goal with Robin Lehner and Chad Johnson in the NHL to join Linus Ullmark and newly-signed Adam Wilcox in the AHL.

But it's the last word Botterill used above that struck the biggest chord.

Organization. Or, if you want to honor Canada Day, Organ-eye-zation. And with a capital O.

That's what the Sabres are working to build here. There's been so much talk about their failures at the NHL level in recent years, with no playoff series victories since 2007, that it's been easy to ignore what's been going on below them.

The Rochester Amerks have been a mess as well. Former GM Tim Murray helped build a Calder Cup winner in Binghamton -- with Lehner as his goalie -- but completely failed to bring any success to Rochester.

The Sabres were 26th overall in the NHL last season. Lo and behold, the Amerks were 26th in the AHL.

Like parent, like child.

You can easily make the case the Sabres and Colorado, which had 28th-place San Antonio in the AHL, were the two most pathetic organizations in hockey last season. Blame injuries all you want. The numbers are the numbers. There was no excuse for them.

Once full of draft picks, assets and prospects, the Buffalo cupboard was awfully bare for a team teetering on the edge of the salary cap and getting no bang for their bucks.

Now, the Sabres still have flaws at the NHL level. But they're deeper than they've been all over the ice except at left wing. And maybe taking a $1.15 million flyer on Benoit Pouliot, a veteran with a lot to prove after flaming out in Edmonton, might help more than you'd think at first glance.

But Botterill made it clear from his first day on the job that the Amerks will be a priority. New assistant GM Randy Sexton, now in charge of Rochester, certainly made a huge push Saturday to get things in order.

Maybe the likes of Wilcox, Matt Tennyson, Seth Griffith, Jacob Josefson and Kevin Porter won't see the NHL at all this year. But one thing they should do is create a better environment for those pearls the Sabres need to see develop. Think Alex Nylander, Brendan Guhle, Justin Bailey, Hudson Fasching, Nick Baptiste, Sean Malone and others.

Sabres have something to prove as Botterill creates competition everywhere

Some of those guys will get a real chance in training camp to break through and make the big club. Frankly, its high time a couple of them did. But if they go back to Rochester, they will no longer deal with the ugliness of last season. The word making the rounds prominently is that most players didn't care if the Amerks won. They wanted their goals and their exit ticket. That's not going to work anymore.

Botterill wants Rochester to be like places that perennially win in the AHL. Think Grand Rapids, Syracuse, Hershey, Milwaukee and his own former stomping ground of Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, among others. Did you watch Pittsburgh's Jake Guentzel and Nashville's Frederick Gaudreau in the Stanley Cup final? They played a combined 99 games in the AHL last season before becoming sudden stars in the spring.

"For our long-term success with our organization, it's imperative that there's a winning culture and a winning environment down in Rochester," said Botterill.

Amen to that. Left unsaid, of course, is what the Flower City and the Pegulas are going to do about outdated Blue Cross Arena but those are issues for another day. At least on the ice, the Sabres have built a firmer foundation.

In new Rochester coach Chris Taylor, they have a guy long familiar with the Sabres and Amerks -- and familiar with Botterill, as both a former teammate and a co-worker last season at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. And a guy who knows what it's like being both a high-end scorer in the AHL and a defensive-minded player in the NHL.

That's really what Saturday was about. The Sabres really weren't involved much in Stupid Season and, for once, there seemed to be decent restraint around the league. There have been too many buyouts and regrets over the years on July 1 and maybe NHL GMs are finally learning some lessons. Ville Leino, anyone?

Botterill discounted an NHL Network report that the Sabres made a seven-year offer to Kevin Shattenkirk but in saying there were good conversations with the veteran's camp, he probably made at least the offer Shattenkirk got to play for the New York Rangers (4 years, $6.65 million per year). Shattenkirk chose his hometown and that wasn't a huge issue with Scandella already in Buffalo's back pocket.

Botterill gave some hints that he's probably moving forward with Evander Kane, pointing out his top returning goal scorer is really the only majorly tough forward the Sabres have in their lineup with Marcus Foligno now in Minnesota. Because realistically, how much is Nic Deslauriers going to be playing this year?

With more options both in the NHL and AHL, guys who shouldn't be seeing a lot of ice time no longer will be out there. That's a huge key. For all his warts, there were nights last year when Dan Bylsma didn't have a lot of choice who he was going to use. Phil Housley should have plenty of choices.

That's how an organization should be.

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