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The Sabres Observer

Botterill’s Patience Mantra Will Be A Tough Sell

The last thing a Sabres fan wants to be asked in this town is for more patience. You might as well ask him to eat boneless wings with ranch dressing.

Six consecutive non-playoff seasons and a lot of unwarranted flak towards the diehards have made things from a hockey perspective pretty miserable around here.

But new GM Jason Botterill really doesn't have a choice.

The former Sabre-turned-executive came over from the hugely successful Penguins organization and inherited a slow, underachieving team with depleted depth from a predecessor who tossed away draft picks like they were penny candy.

That, along with the salary cap headaches of Matt Moulson, Josh Gorges, Zach Bogosian and Tyler Ennis, isn't going to be resolved overnight.

Yet there is still hope. Bogosian and Ennis could turn into a pair of interesting reclamation projects for new head coach Phil Housley, who has promised to implement a fast and aggressive system.

And, following years of questionable decisions and approaches to running their hockey and football teams, Terry and Kim Pegula seem to finally be on track to getting it right.

If you ever get in a rush, that’s when you make mistakes, and the bottom line is you do have to be patient... You’re trying to bring people in and players in to our organization right away. But you always have to have a little look long term. We can’t be sacrificing good players, we can’t be sacrificing draft picks for a short-term fix.

- Jason Botterill

Sure, there are no guarantees that Botterill will have success here. But the NHL was practically screaming in the Sabres' ears about him. He worked with some very smart people in Pittsburgh, like analytics expert Jason Karmanos and War on Ice creator Sam Ventura, and the Penguins' brass has shown a propensity for accurately analyzing the true value of players around the league. He was as qualified a candidate as was available, and the Pegulas simply could not afford to go off the board with this hire.

Only five weeks in, there are encouraging signs. Botterill judiciously avoided the nepotism route (aka Rick Tocchet or Jacques Martin) and hired Housley, the ex-high-flying Sabres defenseman who earned respect and even adoration from the players in Nashville, and who seems 100% ready to be a head coach in the NHL.

Almost equally impressive is Botterill not falling for the "must draft a defenseman first" mentality but intelligently opting for the best player on his board instead. Nobody taken eighth in this draft was going to do anything significant in the NHL for a few years, and so much can change in that time.

But there's one big problem. Buffalo fans are understandably a weary, frustrated group.

Tim Murray acted like a riverboat gambler to put the franchise on the fast track to greatness but then suddenly froze up last season when some final pieces of the puzzle were still badly needed. Many blame injuries and Dan Bylsma, but the root of the problem was an incomplete roster. While Murray's legacy shows he made two good moves to bring in Ryan O'Reilly and Evander Kane, he was reckless with most of his other ones, and the net effect of all of his deals has left quite a bit of a mess for Botterill to clean up.

Adding smooth-skating Nathan Beaulieu and Viktor Antipin is a good start, but more is needed. Unfortunately, teams don't give up speedy, skilled players so easily and the cupboard in Rochester is quite bare. Justin Bailey (2 goals in 40 career games) and Nicholas Baptiste have hardly established themselves as NHL-ready contributors. Brendan Guhle is the only sure thing for new blood coming up from within the organization, and there's even talk that he'll start the season in the AHL.

All of this puts Botterill in the unenviable position of trying to manage expectations and sell patience to a fan base that not long ago was expecting to see playoff hockey in April 2018.

But until the process has unfolded, you can't reasonably ask Housley to successfully implement the run-and-gun Nashville system with one of the slowest teams in the league. And it's laughable to criticize Botterill for the 2017 draft when practically none of the armchair judges have seen any of the selections ever play a single game, not to mention that he had to prepare on the fly with a brand new scouting staff with whom he admitted is not yet familiar or comfortable.

What do we know so far based on the new GM's actions and words? We know he isn't going to throw crazy risky contract offers at unrestricted free agents, he's going to be very careful about trading away valuable draft picks, and he's going to faithfully pursue fast, skilled players who'll be able to handle the system Housley will throw at them.

As long as there's confidence within Sabres management that this approach will yield them some immediate real progress, say an 88-90 point season with signals trending north, sign me up.

dd@kuklaskorner.com

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Filed in: | The Sabres Observer | Permalink
  Tags: botterill+patience, buffalo+sabres, jason+botterill, phil+housley, sabres+draft

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About The Sabres Observer

Dave Davis has covered the Buffalo Sabres for various NHL accredited websites and newspapers since 2003.  He was the senior writer and Sabres correspondent for The Fourth Period, covered hockey for Western New York Sports and Leisure Magazine, and has had articles featured on NHL.com, FOX Sports, Yahoo Sports and in New York Sportscene.  Sabres news and notes can be found on his Twitter page.

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Email: dd@kuklaskorner.com Twitter: [@DaveDavisHockey]