By Jourdon LaBarber for Sabres.com
One can only imagine what the past two weeks have been like for Jason Botterill. With the title of Sabres general manager came a laundry list of pressing responsibilities: scouting meetings with an unfamiliar staff, preparations for an upcoming draft and expansion draft, and a coaching search among them.
Botterill joined Andrew Peters, Craig Rivet and Marty Biron on The Instigators Tuesday morning to shed a bit of light on how his first two weeks have gone, as well as what to expect in the weeks ahead. Press play on the SoundCloud link below to listen to the full interview, or read on for some of the highlights.
On the coaching search
After spending last week conducting amateur and pro scouting meetings, Botterill said he has had discussions this week regarding the search for a new coach. He reiterated Tuesday what he had said at his introductory press conference - he intends to speak with several candidates and, while he has no specific date in mind to make a hire, he feels it's vital to have a coach in place by the draft.
"I know it's not right around the corner, we've got a little bit of time, but to me, just having that in place for the draft, especially then for the talking period with the free agents right after the draft, it's key to have your coach in place," he said.
As for what he'll be looking for in a potential hire - and in the organization itself - Botterill stressed communication, and used Penguins coach Mike Sullivan as an example.
"Mike Sullivan's in control of that locker room," he said. "He's very respectful of his players but he's in control of that locker room. This is what we're doing, this is why we're doing it. And I think that directness with the players is respected a lot and that why it's worked out so well."
About those scouting meetings
Botterill said he feels it could take up to a year to truly grow comfortable with a new scouting staff. That process began with their meetings last week, which the GM said went "extremely well" in terms of both sides being introduced to how the other operates.
As for Botterill's own scouting philosophy, he placed an emphasis on seeking strong character traits as much as skill.
"Let's be honest, there is an element of luck but there also needs to be a structure to it," he said. "That's why I think it's so key, finding certain elements in the character aspect. Because the bottom line is, you're picking a player when they're 17 or 18, they're not a finished product. There's so much for them to do. Their drive off the ice, their willingness to improve their game in the weight room or on the ice. These are key attributes and we've always stressed in Pittsburgh, the importance of character and really trying to do your due diligence on guys.
"You're never going to be perfect, you're dealing with 18 or 19-year-old kids. But you have to have that element in place to try to find the best character guys. Maybe they're not always going to be the most high-end guys, but you've got to find those character guys who are going to be willing to put the work in and hopefully that improves your hit rate from the draft perspective."
One of the things that Botterill stressed the most in his introductory press conference was the importance that building a winning team in Rochester will play in the development of Buffalo's young players. He reiterated that stance on Tuesday, and said adding to the Amerks roster will be a priority for the team this offseason.
"Well we think there's going to be a huge improvement just this upcoming year," he said. "You look at the roster down there, they have some good young [players], especially young forwards. To me, it's always easier to find talent at the American Hockey League level. There's just more players on the market, group three and group six free agents, I think it's just a lot more difficult to find those players at the NHL level.
"We will certainly look to try and bring some solid veterans into Rochester to try and help them out in that regard. It's going to be a key element in getting this organization to where it wants to go."
One more note on development
While Botterill expressed his belief that it is beneficial for most players to develop in the AHL, he also welcomed the reality that some of today's players have the skill to make an immediate jump to the NHL. The Sabres have one of those players, of course, in Jack Eichel, as well as another player in Sam Reinhart who only played three games in Rochester to end the 2014-15 season.
With Eichel and Reinhart being only two of the names that comprise what stands as one of the League's youngest rosters in general, Botterill stressed the importance of extending developmental practices to the NHL level.
"I think it's been great, NHL staffs have improved their development staffs," he said. "There's such a focus on development in the minors or in juniors or in college. And then it gets to the National Hockey League and it almost stops. And I am very understandable that it's difficult with all the games and there's not the big breaks like you have in college or in the American Hockey League, but there still has to be that emphasis on skill development, whether it's after practice for 10 minutes or 15 minutes, whether it's through video. With so many young players in Buffalo, we have to continue that process there."
On the captaincy
Brian Gionta is set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1 but has expressed interest in returning for another year. When the time does come for Buffalo to name a new captain, however - whether it's next season or beyond - Botterill said Wednesday that it will be a decision made in conjunction by him and the coach.
"In all seriousness, there's probably not one completely right decision," he said. "There's probably different ways to go with it. The way I would work at it is it's certainly interacting with the players, but it's going to be the coach and I making the decision in that regards."
On the potential signing of Viktor Antipin
With the World Championship wrapping up this past weekend, reports have picked up again about the Sabres potentially signing free agent defenseman Viktor Antipin from the Kontinental Hockey League. While Botterill couldn't confirm those reports just yet, he did seem optimistic.
"I can't officially say anything in that regard just yet but I think I'm excited about the possibility," he said. "To me, he's the type of player that this organization needs to find a way to bring more in. "We've got to improve our defense around here, got to improve the puck-moving ability of it, and I think it was a great job by Tim Murray and his staff to look at these different things.
"… Who know if it's going to hit big? But you have to find different ways to improve your team."