When Jason Botterill looks at the Sabres’ organization today compared to when he inherited it in May, the general manager is happy.
“You go into a draft, you go into free agency, you’re trying to accomplish things,” Botterill said Saturday. “We are very happy with what we accomplished on the back end. We still want to change things around from an offensive standpoint up at the forwards. We’ll continue to talk to people to see if there’s some fits that can certainly make us better and maybe make us a little quicker up front, but we are happy.”
In the last few weeks, the Sabres have added defensemen Marco Scandella and Nathan Beaulieu, forwards Jason Pominville and Benoit Pouliot, and goaltender Chad Johnson. There’s depth and competition throughout the lineup.
That was the plan.
“There’s always going to be competition for spots,” Botterill said. “There’s going to be openings. As a group, we’ll continue to look at the possibility of signing more players if the right fit is there over the next couple of days or from a trade perspective over the next couple of months. Whether it’s this week or waiting more toward training camp or the start of the season when some teams may face a cap situation, we’re always going to be continue to look to improve our team.
“With our track record, there’s going to be competition for spots. But if one of our young players, whether it’s training camp or the start of the season in Rochester, steps up, we will always find the opportunity to get them up into the National Hockey League and give them a chance to have success. I think it’s important that young players learn how to fight for their position and fight for ice time so when they get to the National Hockey League level they’re comfortable with that and know how to handle that situation.”
Botterill is pleased with Buffalo’s goaltending. Robin Lehner and Johnson will play in Buffalo, while Linus Ullmark and new signee Adam Wilcox will play in Rochester.
“We’ve always viewed Ullmark as a very importance piece of our organization moving forward,” Botterill said. “He’s a goalie that has taken big strides in his game the last 12 months or so here. He’s a guy that I’m getting more familiar with.
“I think he could handle the backup role in the National Hockey League this upcoming year, but it’s also as a young goalie, I’m a big believer that he needs to be playing. I think with the scenario of having Robin and Chad, and Ullmark in the three hole, it’s a real strength of our organization. If there is injuries along the way, we’re going to be well-prepared.”
Other items from Botterill’s conference call:
*He denied a report that Buffalo offered a seven-year deal to free agent defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk, who signed with the Rangers.
“That’s certainly not the case,” Botterill said. “We never put a seven-year contract on the table. We had some good conversations with the Shattenkirk camp, but it was a situation as we discussed yesterday when we got Scandella in a trade, we felt we had shored up the defense there, and that certainly was not the priority.
“We continued to have some discussions, but we just felt our group was in a good spot right now.”
*He sees Pouliot having the opportunity to skate on the second, third or fourth lines.
“If you look at Ben’s history in situations where he’s had a difficult season, he’s been able to bounce back strong,” Botterill said. “That’s what we’re looking for for him coming to Buffalo. I think there’s opportunities on our left side right now. I think he’s a guy that can play anywhere in the two, three, four hole. It’s going to be a matter of how he comes in and how he performs.
“But you look at his size, the ability to get on the forecheck, we just felt it was a guy that could complement our centers and be a guy that could sort of get his career back on track.”
*Andrew Allen will be back as the goaltending coach.
*The GM is happy with the hire of Chris Taylor as coach of Rochester.
“He was a player who was a high-end offensive player at the minor-league level that found a way to contribute and play games in the National Hockey League as a defensive player,” Botterill said. “I think it just goes to show you the hockey sense that he has and sort of the hockey mind. He had different roles here in Buffalo and Rochester from player development to being an assistant coach.
"The thing where I had the most familiarity with him was over the past year being (an assistant) in Wilkes-Barre, interacting with Clark Donatelli, our head coach in Wilkes-Barre and just getting a feel for how I ran things, how the Pittsburgh Penguins ran things with the relationship between Pittsburgh and Wilkes-Barre there.
“It’s going to be a scenario where he comes in, he’s extremely well-organized, he’s obviously very familiar with Rochester and will have that presence to interact with the players.”