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COMMENTARY

Jason Botterill admits frustration with Sabres goes all the way up to ownership

Mike Harrington

The Buffalo Sabres can drive their fans crazy with their inconsistency, so it was about time we heard some of that feeling emerge from inside the walls of KeyBank Center on Tuesday.

Coach Ralph Krueger said in the morning that it's bugging him to no end and General Manager Jason Botterill didn't hold back on the point early in the evening prior to the game against Colorado.

Then Botterill unearthed a nugget that you don't get too often: Terry and Kim Pegula aren't happy either. And this was before the 6-1 embarrassment against the Avalanche cleared many of the fans out of the arena by the second intermission. Just imagine what the owners (and the team president) think now.

"In my conversations with Terry and Kim, they're frustrated with the results. They want better results," Botterill said during his regularly scheduled appearance on WGR Radio. "We're in constant dialogue. The dialogue goes to what are the solutions? What are we doing to get better?

"From a management standpoint, that's one of the reasons I came to this organization. The resources are given to us to have success. ... If you're frustrated with the results, hey, challenge management. But what our ownership has given us? They give us the tools to have success."

The growing perception from fans is that the Pegulas don't care about this club and that the Sabres have become the forgotten stepchild to the Bills. That doesn't meet reality.

The Pegulas regularly attend games near their Florida home. I've seen Terry in Toronto this year and he checks in at practice every so often. They were in Sweden as well.

Terry Pegula simply is not the kind of owner to sit in the center-ice suite so the TV cameras regularly catch him. Optics-wise, Kim was probably better advised to not tweet pictures from the pre-Super Bowl parties because of the way the hockey team has been imploding (oh, the replies). Still, she's also the president of the Bills and the Bowl was in their backyard.

The Pegulas want to win. They simply don't know how to. And Botterill has yet to lead them down the path that Brandon Beane and Sean McDermott have in Orchard Park.

As the implosion against the Avalanche showed yet again, this team isn't close. Wonder what the conversations with the Pegulas will be like the next time Botterill talks to them.

The Bills have gone to the playoffs twice in three years. The Sabres are much further behind where they should be. There's simply no excuse for last week's losses against Ottawa and Montreal or whatever Tuesday's game was. Saturday's solid performance against surging Columbus seems to be an aberration.

"We had two games last week against Ottawa and Montreal and that we had to win. We should win," Botterill said. "From day one this season Ralph and myself have talked about having a home-ice presence. I think you look at our home-ice record, we've done a fairly good job with that. But in crucial situations, when you have an opportunity to have a team come in that's lower than you in the standings, you have to capitalize on it.

"So I can understand our fans' frustration. Our organization is frustrated by that. My dialogue with Terry and Kim is frustrated from that. As an organization for us to take a step forward, we have to make sure that we capitalize on games like that."

Prior to the All-Star break, this team handled Vegas and Dallas before a clunker in Nashville. The Sabres are 3-0 against Florida this year, have split with St. Louis and swept both Edmonton and Dallas.

There's just no consistency from this team and we saw that again Tuesday. The Sabres had a solid start, then gave up two goals in a 45-second span to dig an first-period hole and then fell apart in the second thanks to an absurd number of defensive breakdowns and some soft goals given up by Carter Hutton.

"I think there's a lot of self-reflecting that needs to be going on," said Sam Reinhart. "Guys need to demand a lot more of themselves than they have.  It's all coming down to the players at this point. The systems and the game plans that are set out for us give us an opportunity to have success. ... Guys need to demand more of themselves and a lot of guys need to step the hell up."

Reinhart got agreement from Rasmus Ristolainen, who admitted he's been a part of far too many of these performances in his career.

"Everyone has to look at themselves in the mirror first and figure out their game," Ristolainen said. "We can't worry about what happened tonight anymore. We've got to regroup. I've had a lot of these games here the years I've been here. They're not fun to play."

Botterill's disgust over the Ottawa and Montreal games marked probably his sharpest public comments since he famously said "this is not working" during his press conference following the 62-point disaster of 2017-2018.

But talk is cheap. What this organization really needs is a veteran president of hockey operations. Botterill has Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley as his assistant general managers and is more than content with them being his eyes and ears.

The GM doesn't want to have an intermediary between him and the owners. The owners should tell him after this season that's what they're going to do.

"I love the fact my interaction is directly with Terry and Kim," Botterill said. "I respect that and certainly think that's a strength of our organization. I have strong ideas and strong people providing ideas to me. What I like about our group is they're not afraid to challenge me. I don't have a bunch of yes guys around me. I feel comfortable with the management group that we have and we understand that we have to continue to be better."

Ownership needs to be better. So does management. And coaching. The guys on the ice still aren't remotely good enough. And that's on everybody. Still a problem this organization struggles to solve.

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