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Mike Harrington: Time for the Sabres' GM to make his mark

Phil Housley and his players have put up 63 games of work with many mediocre results.

Now it's Jason Botterill's turn to take the spotlight for a day.

The Buffalo Sabres' rookie general manager has never been in the No. 1 chair at the NHL trade deadline so we don't have a handle yet on what kind of personality he's going to have. Will he show an itchy trigger finger and get players moving in the morning thinking he's already received the best offers? Or will he take things right to the shadow of 3 p.m., forcing teams to pit their wares against each other in a who-blinks-first showdown for the right to, say, Evander Kane?

Botterill can help put the direction of this franchise in a better place on Monday. The Sabres are sellers (again) but this can't just be a firesale for draft picks. That kind of currency is simply too far down the road for a franchise running out of time in the eyes of the paying customers.

It would be more than nice to see Botterill get some NHL players back on Monday. Not stars. But depth players who look to have a role here, along the lines of Scott Wilson. Botterill is going to be looking for a big package for Kane and you would think something more than bags of pucks for Benoit Pouliot, Josh Gorges and others.

And who's interested in a Robin Lehner or Chad Johnson model goalie? Goalies are a tougher question. Not many teams have needs in that area and two that did (Philadelphia and the New York Islanders) seem to have answered their question, the Flyers by acquiring Detroit's Petr Mrazek and the Islanders by seemingly deciding to stand pat.

"I'm a hockey nerd so I'll be looking at stuff pretty much most of the day," Sabres winger Kyle Okposo said after Sunday's solid 4-1 thumping of the Boston Bruins in KeyBank Center. "It's an exciting day for the league with teams jockeying for position but at the same time it's tough to see friends go, tough to see teammates go. But it's part of the business."

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Unless Botterill pulls off a hockey trade that no one on either side of the border has speculated on, his biggest grade will come based on what he gets for Kane. The Sabres long ago decided they were not negotiating an extension for their top pure goal scorer and instead have opted to seek a package of assets.

Botterill will certainly have to do as well as the Rangers did for Rick Nash, a player seven years older than Kane with 12 fewer points this season. To get Nash into town Sunday, Boston gave up a 2018 first-round pick, NHL winger Ryan Spooner, college defenseman Ryan Lindgren (a teammate of Casey Mittelstadt at Minnesota and on the World Juniors team in Buffalo), veteran minor-league forward Matt Beleskey and a seventh-round pick in 2019.

That's quite a haul. So is Botterill getting a first-rounder, a player, a prospect, a minor-league player and another pick for Kane? That seems doubtful, given the fact Kane has never played a postseason game in his career. But he darn well can't just dump Kane for a couple of mid-round draft picks either. The Sabres gave up a ton of assets to get Kane in 2015 and he's scored 68 goals for them the last three years.

Botterill is likely dealing with suitors that include (in no particular order) Pittsburgh and Philadelphia, Nashville, Calgary, San Jose, Anaheim, St. Louis. We'll see if any darkhorses emerge.

Sunday was a day with a flurry of activity. Nash showed up off an airplane from New York and skated right on to the KeyBank Center ice with the Bruins. The Maple Leafs got Tomas Plekanac from Montreal, making you wonder when Tampa Bay GM Steve Yzerman is going to strike (Erik Karlsson, anyone?).

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Monday seems to be the day we'll find out about the likes of Karlsson, Kane, Rangers captain Ryan McDonagh, Detroit's Mike Green, Edmonton's Patrick Maroon, Columbus' Jack Johnson, Montreal captain Max Pacioretty and old friend Thomas Vanek of Vancouver.

Housley said he just wanted his players to enjoy the day off on Monday, satisfied with the feeling they got from Sunday's solid effort in the wake of the uneven showing they put forth Saturday night in Washington.

But let's face it, that's not going to be possible. In the era of social media, a player on the move is going to hear about it from friends, teammates and family members.

"There's a lot of things that go into it. I'm sure everybody will be watching the TV and being alert to what's going on," Housley said.

Okposo is 29 years old, an alternate captain in the second year of a seven-year contract. What does he want to see Botterill do to get things accelerated here?

"I'm not going to touch on that. That's his job," said a smiling Okposo, who then touched the question. "He's a very, very smart individual who really has a vision for where the team wants to go.

"It's a situation where this isn't where I thought I would be a year and a half into my tenure with the Sabres but it's the situation that I'm in and that we're in as a team. I have to try to get better. We all do. And we all have to take what tomorrow brings, go from there and try and build some culture here."

Housley says he has daily talks with Botterill about players on his team but that the GM has not discussed players from other teams with him. You wonder when that changes on Monday.

"I think Jason and my vision are in the same direction," Housley said. "He's going to do what's best for this organization moving forward here. It's exciting in one respect but also there's probably players moving."

Players and assets – good ones – better be coming back. Botterill has skated a little too much in this trying season as fans spend an overabundance of time blaming Housley, Lehner or injuries for the Sabres' fate. The GM has made some nice additions in Wilson and Marco Scandella and is reaping the reward of patience with Casey Nelson. But he also has to live down Nathan Beaulieu, Jacob Josefson and Jordan Nolan, among others.

"It's a business and we all understand that but it's obviously hard to see teammates go," Okposo said. "That comes with not having the season that we want. We just kind of have to sit back, wait and see and be professional when we come to the rink on Tuesday."

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