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Mike Harrington: Botterill crosses key line at right time for Sabres' growth

Jason Botterill knows it might be a longshot for the Sabres to make the playoffs, but it was pretty clear the general manager stepped over a line he had yet to cross here with this year's version of the NHL trade deadline.

Botterill isn't dealing with just futures anymore. Getting Brandon Montour was about today, something the Sabres haven't been about nearly enough in a good long while. And when you live in the present, you send a message to your dressing room that's pretty clear.

"It's always important. It's exciting when you get your players excited about the teammates that are coming into the organization," Botterill said Monday during his post-deadline briefing in KeyBank Center. "To be honest, it was something that I underestimated this summer in bringing Jeff Skinner into the group.

"When he came into the group, it wasn't a situation talking about futures or a prospect. He was a player that helped our group right now and I know that got our players very excited."

I was not in Toronto for the game Monday night, but the word was that there was quite the buzz in the visiting dressing room at Scotiabank Arena over the move. This team has needed help for several weeks. Botterill was probably late in providing some, but this kind of deal may have only come up in the last few days once Anaheim GM/interim coach Bob Murray decided to go behind the bench and see what he had and what he needs down the road.

Montour checks every box for the Sabres. He's a right-shot defenseman. He's young (24), relatively cheap (cap hit of about $3.4 million), under contract for next season and only a restricted free agent after that.

He can skate and carry the puck out of his zone and shoot it, the kind of defenseman Phil Housley had at his disposal in Nashville. It was no surprise when Botterill revealed Housley's input was key, with the coach recounting his positive impressions of Montour when the Predators beat the Anaheim Ducks in the 2017 Western Conference finals.

He's exactly how you use your asset chips. Brendan Guhle, who just never got over the hump to become an NHL regular but might be fine in Anaheim, and a first-round draft pick is a big giveback. But it's what you do to get a proven NHL player now and cut out the development time.

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The Sabres have gone through the development process with Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen. It's ongoing for Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt.

Montour immediately steps into the team's core group.

"A young player that's already established himself in the National Hockey League but we think there's more of a ceiling to him," was Botterill's assessment. "It's the balance we're always trying to work here. For the long-term success of our organization, we have to develop young players within our organization and develop depth.

"But it's also having young players in the National Hockey League right now. We want to support them as much as possible. We felt this was a move that helps our group right now but also is someone who can grow, someone who can develop into a better NHL player."

Unexpected trade motivates new Sabres defenseman Brandon Montour

When he spoke to reporters last week in Tampa, Botterill said he trusted his players and that's why he had not made a big move. This trade doesn't show a lack of trust. If anything, the Sabres grew quite a bit in the games against Tampa Bay and Washington. Given the chance to show he trusted his current group even more, Botterill seized on the opportunity.

"We weren't getting the results the last couple weeks that we wanted to but we were impressed and happy with some of the things we were seeing behind the scenes: Our practice habits, our interactions with our coaching staff," he said. "That then carried over to our last couple games, where you saw finally the results against two excellent teams.

"It's going to be very difficult getting into the playoffs but that's what this league is all about. ... As I said last week, this is the next challenge for our group here, to find ways to win games in the second half of the season."

Botterill said he didn't have many opportunities to get involved with bringing in a forward. Perhaps he didn't share this corner's affinity for Minnesota center Charlie Coyle, who went relatively cheaply to Boston. And the only move he made Monday was the expected selloff of disgruntled blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu to Winnipeg for a sixth-round pick.

That's a loss leader move, as Botterill gave up a third-rounder to get Beaulieu from Montreal 20 months ago. Montour's arrival gave the Sabres nine defensemen. The only guy who was dissatisfied with his playing time was the easy choice to move and the Jets have been looking for blue line depth, a fact augmented by a shoulder injury to Josh Morrissey on Sunday.

Another better move for today.

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