Though deadline was quiet, Botterill vows changes for Sabres
Jason Botterill said he’s not happy with the Buffalo Sabres. More importantly, he showed it.
While summing up a trade deadline in which only Evander Kane went out and no immediate help came in, the Sabres’ general manager flashed back to this month’s home loss to Los Angeles. During the second period, Botterill had seen enough of his lackadaisical club. He let out a yell and slammed his suite door so hard it shook the press box.
Botterill was still seething Monday. His eyes transformed from camera-shy nervousness to a steely glare at the memory. He took a deep breath.
“I’ll be up front,” he said, the pace of his words slowing to convey his seriousness. “The situation in the L.A. game, one of the biggest disappointments for me right now is our home record. It’s unacceptable. I was looking at that game very closely because if you remember that L.A. game, that was a kids game. Do you remember what happened in our previous kids game?”
Why, yes. It was a 7-1 sleepwalk loss to the Dallas Stars in January.
“So you’re looking for a response,” Botterill said. “You’re looking for a performance. I understand where we are from a skill level sometimes, and that’s on management to improve our skill level. From a compete standpoint and preparation, we have to get better as an organization in those elements.”
Botterill seems determined to ship out the slackers, though he was unable to do it at the deadline.
“The trade deadline day is so built up, but it’s not the only time to actually make adjustments to your team,” Botterill said. “I think the conversations set up well for the draft and the summer. We’re going to improve our team again and certainly make adjustments to our group.
“The group that we have right now is not working.”
No, it’s not. Buffalo heads into Wednesday’s game in Tampa Bay with a 19-33-11 record, including 9-18-4 at home. The Sabres are 30th in a 31-team league.
Botterill doesn’t have a timeline for improvement.
“It’s important that we’re not looking to say, ‘Hey, in three years we’re going to be competitive,’ ” Botterill said. “It’s important that we go through a process here so year in, year out, we have a good team.
“It’s a difficult situation. We all know exactly where we are. You look at the standings, and we know where we are, and there needs to be a lot of improvement in this organization across the board. The beauty of our league right now, it’s a very competitive league. You can look at teams such as Colorado, such as New Jersey, they made the adjustment really quickly.”
Botterill was unable to make any quick adjustments during the league’s annual swap meet. He sent Kane to San Jose in exchange for two conditional picks in the 2019 NHL Draft and a prospect, forward Dan O’Regan, who will report to Rochester.
The second-round pick will become a first-rounder if Kane wins the Stanley Cup with the Sharks or re-signs with the team this summer. It’s up to San Jose whether the other pick is a fourth-rounder in 2019 or a third-round selection in 2020.
Botterill took the deal because he had no choice.
“The bottom line is we had one legitimate offer for Evander,” the GM said. “The market dictates what you’re going to be able to get out there.”
The general consensus is the Sabres didn’t get enough, especially when rental forwards Rick Nash and Tomas Tatar brought in larger hauls. But it’s also a case of addition by subtraction.
“We’re working in a salary-cap world,” Botterill said. “You understand what we have on the books for some contracts that are still here. You always understand what contracts are coming in starting next year. You also have seen our mix on the ice.
“I’m not putting the blame all on Evander Kane. There’s a lot of blame to go around: coaching staff, management, players. We have to be better in certain situations. The bottom line is the mix that we have right now is not working, so we had to make adjustments.”
Kane, a pending unrestricted free agent who never received an extension offer, had been the obvious adjustment for months.
“I really enjoyed my time here in Buffalo,” Kane said. “On the ice, we didn’t have the success as a team we envisioned and all wanted to, and that was the hardest part. But I was able to create a lot of good friendships outside and inside the organization, and those were friendships I’ll always have moving forward here. I have great memories of the community work I was able to do, and it was great playing in front of the fans in Buffalo.”
If Kane has a great time playing in San Jose, it could give the Sabres a better draft pick.
“I’m excited about his opportunity in San Jose,” Botterill said, “and hopefully he allows them to get in the playoffs and go all the way to win a Stanley Cup so we keep the first-round pick.”
The Sabres had other pending UFAs on the market, most notably forward Benoit Pouliot, but they will all be at practice Tuesday.
“We didn’t have the offers for the other players, so we made the one move,” Botterill said.
He’ll make more moves after the season. Again, he has no choice.
“When you take over as GM, you’re prepared for everything,” Botterill said. “You always try to hope for the best, but you have to be prepared for all different scenarios. There’s things that we’re not happy about. We’re not happy with where we are as an organization right now. There’s things that we have to go about to change that.”