Botterill: 'We have to have four lines that can contribute'

The Sabres general manager joined Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on Wednesday

Photo: Bruce Bennett - Getty Images

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While the Buffalo Bills are gearing up for the 2019 season that is rapidly approaching, the Buffalo Sabres remain in offseason mode, gearing up for the start of the 2019-20 season in October.

This offseason has been a fairly active time for general manager Jason Botterill, who has made a number of roster moves to try and re-tool the roster with the hopes of returning to contention next season. Among the notable players being added this offseason includes forwards Jimmy Vesey and Marcus Johansson, as well as defensemen Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju.

Botterill's biggest task of the offseason was, arguably, getting Jeff Skinner re-signed to a long-term contract after the 27-year-old finished this past season with a career-high 40 goals in 82 games. The third-year general manager was able to get that done in early June before Skinner was able to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

In addition, Botterill also changed things up with the hiring of head coach Ralph Krueger back in May after a disappointing two-year tenure from Phil Housley.

The Sabres still have plenty of work to do before the start of the regular season, but activity around the National Hockey League has been relatively quiet for the past few weeks.

Botterill took the time on Wednesday to sit in with Andrew Peters and Craig Rivet on The Instigators to talk about this offseason, and what he hopes to see from his team following this summer's transactions.

Here is some of what he had to say:

 

Botterill on the versatility of free agent addition Marcus Johansson:

"It's one of the reasons why we wanted to bring him in. I think it's eight of the last nine years that he's been in the playoffs, but then it's also his versatility. You want to give the coach different options throughout your lineup, because you can never predict what's going to happen from an injury standpoint. The fact that he can play left wing or right wing, I think, is a great situation and it compliments our team very well."

 

Botterill on having a complete lineup in Buffalo:

"We understand that we can have the high-end scorers. Jack [Eichel], Sam [Reinhart] and Jeff [Skinner] all proved that last year, but we have to have four lines that can contribute. In the middle of August, I can't tell you exactly how the whole lineup is going to be, but we feel that we've at least given Ralph [Krueger] different opportunities and different options for once the season starts."

 

Botterill on Jack Eichel's ability to be a dynamic anchor on the top line:

"There used to be a lot of discussions [in Pittsburgh] on who's going to be on [Sidney Crosby's] wing. Now it seems like whoever goes up [on his line], he pulls the best out of them. You've seen that with the development with Jake Guentzel, not taking anything away from Jake Guentzel in Pittsburgh either. This year, they made trades for a player like [Jared] McCann, and he goes up there and has success too. I truly believe Jack has that same ability. He's that talented, he likes holding on to the puck, and he can create opportunities for anyone that plays up there with him."

 

Botterill on Eichel's play during the 2018-19 season:

"I think when you talk to Jack, he loved how he played in the first half. When our team was playing extremely well in November and December, I think he was playing at a Hart [Trophy] candidate level. But now it's a situation where, just like our team, Jack has to sustain his play for 82 games. That's what I love about working with Jack is that he's hungry. He's hungry to have success from an individual standpoint, but also hungry to have success from a team standpoint. It was great to see him going over to the [IIHF] World Championship in the spring. For myself, I always try to push our players to go over there. We need to get used to playing hockey games in the month of May, and for him to go over [to Slovakia], I think, was great for him. You learn from other players, you learn from different experiences, you play in games that are meaningful, and I think he's ready to take the next jump."

 

Botterill on the development of Sam Reinhart:

"I think there's been a great progression in his development over the last year or so; off the ice, taking more responsibility in the locker room. I worked with him at the World Championship this spring. I thought a couple of his best games was the semifinal game and the gold medal game. He played with [Philadelphia Flyers forward Sean] Couturier on our second line for Team Canada, I don't know how he didn't score in the gold medal game, but the fact that he played one of his best games in a gold medal situation is great for his development and shows that in pressure situations, he can handle it. If he plays with Jack [in Buffalo], we know they're going to create a lot. But whether he's playing with Evan Rodrigues or whether he's playing with Casey Mittelstadt, I think Sam's really taken the leadership role and wants to be a go-to guy on that line."

 

Botterill on the Sabres' salary cap situation heading into the 2019-20 season:

"[CapFriendly does] an amazing job of keeping everything up to date, but the bottom line is they're picking our roster for us right now in August. We don't have to do anything until the start of October. The bottom line is we don't have to make a trade. We have some players who are injured on our back end. Zach Bogosian is coming off of hip surgery, Lawrence Pilut had shoulder surgery, Matt Hunwick had a lot of injuries last year. There's going to be opportunities there to use the potential for long-term injury. We'll have to wait and see how things go at the start of training camp. Also, if you put a player in the minors, it's a situation where we can get close to $1.1 million in cap relief there."

 

Botterill on adding players despite being close to the salary cap:

"We want to add more competition to our group here. We want to make sure that if our young players perform well in training camp, they were going to be given the opportunity to make our opening day lineup. We want to have more depth where we have four lines contributing to our team. We knew when we made the free agent signing of Marcus Johansson that we were going to be close to the cap, but we felt it made our team that much stronger. We like the situation we're in right now. We don't have to make a trade to be cap compliant. We've gone over a 'zillion' different scenarios, and we don't have to make a trade to be cap compliant."

 

Botterill on the impact that Jimmy Vesey will have in Buffalo:

"I think the last couple of years, he's had 16 or 17 even strength goals each year. Those are good numbers, and I think if you add a little more to the power play, then we feel there's a little bit of an opportunity to bump that 16-to-17 into the low 20s. Yeah, there might be an opportunity to play with Jack, but I also think that whether it's Evan Rodrigues, whether it's Casey Mittelstadt, whether it's one of our other centermen, he's going to be an offensive player. We're trying to create four lines that can score, that can help out with our team. It's not only that Jimmy can score, but I think where he does score - he scores in front of the net."

 

Botterill on Vesey's decision coming out of college to joining the Sabres now:

"When you 're coming out of school as a 22-year-old and you have the opportunity to go to 30 different teams, it's a difficult choice. Now he's been in the league for a little bit and understands the opportunity that he has here. Just as we talk about the excitement of what he can bring, Jimmy is excited. We think we're going to get a very motivated player [because in a year's time from now], he's going to be an unrestricted free agent. He wants to have that big pay day. He wants to establish himself in the National Hockey League as not a 16-17-goal scorer, but a 20-25-goal scorer. We think we're going to get a very motivated player who is excited about being in Buffalo."

 

You can listen to the entire interview below:

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