Do I Like What The Sabres Have Done?
by Kevin Sylvester
I have been asked that question on Twitter, the grocery store, the airport, and at my favorite watering hole. I used to answer that question with a question:? What have they done? The answers were fired Tim Murray, Dan Bylsma, hired new GM Jason Botterill, and signed KHL defenseman Victor Antipin. There were other moves, firing the travel coordinator, massage therapist, and hockey department administrator, but of no consequence to fans (but were people I enjoyed working with when I was there). Now, there is more to the answer.
Firing the GM and Head Coach helped remove organizational disfunction. I think it’s fair to say Murray and Bylsma weren’t even reading the same book, let alone on the same page. Jason Botterill comes from an organization, the Penguins, that is well run from top to bottom. He played in the Sabres organization when it was built on prospects, not by tanking and mega free agent deals. Botterill also has an MBA, so he is schooled in how to run a business, an office, and staff. I think those will be great pluses. I hope he doesn’t fall into the trap of desperation, allowing him to make prudent decisions.
The first big decision the rookie GM made was hiring Phil Housley as the team’s coach. It’s ironic that Housley wanted to be in Buffalo as an assistant under Bylsma, but Disco Dan didn’t hire him. The current players hated Bylsma (too much chatter about that), and it showed on the ice. Housley has shown the ability to relate to younger players through his work with USA Hockey and the Nashville Predators. His ran the defenseman in Nashville, and patching up the blue line is priority number one in Buffalo for the Hall of Famer. He’s a coach that can relate to today’s player, knows when and how to push, and most importantly, is able to adapt. I think today’s athlete doesn’t adjust, the coaches need to.
Now for the players, I wrote the following for a BSP preview in early June ‘Pinning the hopes of a vastly improved defense on former KHL blue-liner Victor Antipin isn’t fair to him or the his new teammates. Will he be an upgrade, yes. The biggest upgrade would be solid play from Josh Gorges and Zach Bogosian, but I’m not counting on it. Injuries have taken their toll on both players. Games played were limited to 66 and 56 respectively. These veterans are supposed to take some of the burden off of Rasmus Ristolainen, Jake McCabe, and Brendan Guhle (if he makes the team). Botterill will have to explore the free agent market. The priciest guy would be Kevin Shattenkirk of the Capitals. I don’t hate the idea, but I know I’d the hate the price. I think trading a forward for a defenseman is in order. Tyler Ennis (I doubt someone wants his $4.6 Million cap hit), Zemgus Girgensons, and Marcus Foligno are forwards I’d consider dealing. You have to give to get.’ Pretty close, huh? The trade with Minnesota was all about defenseman Marco Scandella. Getting Jason Pominville back in the deal was about matching some Tyler Ennis and Marcus Foligno dollars. Pominville is pro’s pro, and an even better person. It’ll be great to have him back in Buffalo, but even better having a horse like Scandella on the blue line, logging 20 plus minutes a nights.
Goaltending was another area of some concern. Cal Petersen not signing in Buffalo out of Notre Dame was no shocker. Him signing in L.A. was. He will not be Quick to find the lineup. Robin Lehner emerged from RFA status with a 1yr deal for $4 million. I like the deal because it gives Botterill time to figure out if he wants to commit long term to Lehner, and it gives the netminder more incentive to play well, as a good year will lead to even more moolah.
Yes, I like what they have done, even down to bringing Randy Sexton on board as assistant GM (he’ll run the Rochester Americans). The Sabres should contend for a wild card spot, and that’s something the team should be embracing.