I’m not surprised Jason Botterill will be back for a fourth season as general manager of the Buffalo Sabres.
I’m just not happy about it.
It’s mostly about what's happened with the franchise in his tenure, but Kim Pegula’s comments only added to my ire. The Sabres team president and co-owner told the Associated Press on Tuesday, “I realize, maybe it’s not popular with the fans, but we have to do the things that we feel are right” in explaining the reasoning for keeping Botterill for a fourth season. Pegula added, “we have a little bit more information than maybe a fan does, some inner workings that we see some positives in.”
Sure would love to hear what those positives are because they don’t seem so evident to this fan.Botterill has had three seasons on the job and the Sabres don’t feel much different than they were under his predecessor, Tim Murray. They have yet to make the playoffs, and couldn’t even earn a spot in the new 24-team postseason field resulting from the shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The Sabres remain one of the worst teams in the National Hockey League. They are still a team bereft of scoring talent, relies way too much on one line, and has average goaltending to go along with sub par special teams. And it's not like there is a gold mine of talent in the pipeline. There’s no reason to believe that in the final season of his contract, Botterill will all of a sudden have a magic touch when it comes to constructing a playoff roster.When Botterill was hired away from the Pittsburgh Penguins in the spring of 2017, he inherited a Sabres team that finished with 78 points, placing them 26th in the NHL standings. Three years later, the Sabres have moved up one spot in the overall standings to 25th and were on pace to finish with 80 points.
In Murray’s final season as general manager, the Sabres ended up 15th in the Eastern Conference and eighth (last) in the Atlantic Division. This season, they were 13th in the conference and sixth in the division. Keep in mind, the two teams they beat out in the division were the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings, who have blown up their teams and have been shooting for high draft picks. Murray had the job for three-and-a-half years. If you just use his three full seasons, Murray’s teams totaled 213 points. In Botterill’s three seasons (including the projected 82-game point total for this season), the Sabres have totaled 218 points, a mere five-point improvement.You might say Botterill was dealt a bad hand to begin with and was saddled with a bad roster that he hasn’t had enough time to fix. There are two players on the current roster who are on a contract Botterill inherited - Rasmus Ristolainen and Kyle Okposo. Feel free to point out that Okposo was the only contract he was “stuck” with since there is a no-move clause. Ristolainen could have been traded if Botterill was so inclined.
Every other player on the roster was either brought in by Botterill or has been re-signed by him over the last three years.
Don’t blame ownership for not giving him resources either. The Sabres had less than $1 million in cap space this season and actually went over the cap when you include the salaries that were on long-term injured reserve. All of that spending produced a 25th place team.In addition to all of that, his first head coach choice bombed, and he probably stayed too long with a clearly in-over-his-head Phil Housley.
Botterill has been chasing a top-two center since he traded Ryan O’Reilly to the St. Louis Blues. Not only is he still chasing the center behind Eichel, but the return in that deal has amounted to nothing for the Sabres.
Botterill’s very first draft pick, Casey Mittelstadt, wasn’t ready for that spot and was sent to the minors.
Speaking of the minors, don’t look to Rochester for any top-level talent waiting to help the team next season. Maybe Rasmus Asplund is here as a depth forward, and perhaps Will Borgen steps into the top-six on defense. At this point, the pipeline, as far as next season is concerned, is Dylan Cozens, who might need to be the No. 2 center by default, and Arttu Ruotsalainen. If you’re looking for something positive, according to CapFriendly.com the Sabres have more than $36 million in cap space next season and just 10 players under contract, so the roster could have a different look. But the track record in Buffalo would give no indication Botterill is the man turn the franchise around.