Should the Sabres general manager stay or should he go?

Nearly three years of poor results indicate a change is needed

Howard Simon
March 03, 2020 - 3:06 pm
Jason Botterill

Photo: Buffalo Sabres (@BuffaloSabres)

One of the hot topics, if not the hottest, over the final month-plus of the Buffalo Sabres season will be the status of general manager Jason Botterill.

He still has one year left on his contract, but speculation about his job security has already begun. The Sabres are facing a critical offseason with numerous contract decisions regarding who to bring back from the current roster. They will have plenty of cap space to play with. 

According to CapFriendly.com, the Sabres have just 10 players on the current roster under contract for next season and have more than $34 million in cap space. If he remains on as the general manager, Botterill can re-make the forward group if he so desires.

There are only four forwards under contract after this season: Jack Eichel, Jeff Skinner, Kyle Okposo and Marcus Johansson. Five players on defense have term left: Rasmus Ristolainen, Colin Miller, Jake McCabe, Rasmus Dahlin and Henri Jokiharju.Carter Hutton is the lone goalie under contract.

Is Botterill the right man for the job going forward?

If it were up to me, I’d be looking for a new general manager come April.

Botterill was hired away from the Pittsburgh Penguins in April of 2017, and nearly three years later it's hard to find any noticeable improvement in the on-ice product. I think they have a better group of defensemen, but that's about it.

Botterill has swung and missed more than he has connected. Trading for Skinner, despite the recent goal drought, and Jokiharju were his best moves made to this point. However, the Ryan O’Reilly trade turned out to be a disaster and the Sabres are still chasing a No. 2 center behind Eichel.

Botterill’s first ever draft pick, Casey Mittelstadt was thrust into that spot before he was ready and is trying to develop his game in the American Hockey League.

He hung on to defensemen Marco Scandella and Zach Bogosian for far too long. Conor Sheary made no difference and was recently shipped back to Pittsburgh. The offseason acquisitions of Johansson and Jimmy Vesey have produced less than anticipated, and the in-season pickup Michael Frolik has done nothing. Hutton has had a miserable season in goal. 

When Botterill replaced Tim Murray, who was fired after three and a half seasons on the job, he inherited a team that finished the 2016-17 campaign with just 78 points. This is how that Sabres team ended up:

  • Eighth in the Atlantic Division (last place)
  • 15th in the Eastern Conference (second-worst)
  • 26th in the league standings (fifth-worst)
  • 25th in goals-for
  • 20th in goals-against

Now lets take a look at how the current Sabres, on pace to finish with 83 points, which would be five more than they had three years ago, stack up in those same categories:

  • Sixth in the Atlantic Division
  • 13th in the Eastern Conference
  • 24th in the league standings
  • 21st in goals-for
  • 18th in goals-against

Not much to write home about.

Three years ago, there were four teams that finished with fewer points than the Sabres:

  • Colorado - 48 points
  • Vancouver - 69 points
  • Arizona - 70 points
  • New Jersey - 70 points

You might be wondering how those teams have fared since the beginning of the 2017-18 season. I’ll save you the time that it would take to do the research.

Colorado is about to make the playoffs for the third straight season and has 68 more points than the Sabres over this stretch. Vancouver missed the playoffs the last two seasons, but currently hold down the first Wild Card spot in the Western Conference and have 24 for more points in the two-plus seasons than Buffalo. Arizona was also a non-playoff team the last two years, but they are currently tied in points for the second Wild Card out west and also have 24 more points. Vancouver and Arizona are playing meaningful games in March and might in April too. New Jersey made the playoffs two years ago, but have gone backwards since, and have 29 more points since the start of the 17-18 schedule. 

Who knows what Terry and Kim Pegula will decide, but I have one piece of advice to the Sabres owners: While you may be reluctant to fire another general manager in your employ, continuity for the sake of continuity is not a good thing.

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