Recapping Jason Botterill's stint as the Buffalo Sabres GM
Written by: Logan Rosengard
On Monday June 16, owner Terry Pegula fired general manager Jason Botterill. In three years as the general manager, Botterill managed to leave the organization in a worse place than what was given to him in May of 2017. Let’s take a look at what he did to bring the team down even more.
In his three years making picks, Botterill had three top ten picks in the draft. 2017’s eighth overall pick, 2018’s first, and the seventh overall of this past draft. Casey Middlestadt, their 2017 pick, has appeared in 114 games and has underwhelmed for his high draft spot. With 39 points to his name, his development has been slow. Their next first round pick, Rasmus Dahlin, has seen the most success. In his rookie season he played a full season and amassed 44 points as a defenseman. To add to that, he was on track to surpass his season totals from last season before the league shut down.
As for the other 16 other players he drafted, none of them have seen a single game in the NHL. Dylan Cozens is on track to make his debut next season for the team in the next season or two. He put up 85 points in 51 games for the Lethbridge Hurricanes of the WHL. Right behind him in terms of NHL readiness is goaltender Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen. He led the OHL in wins and save percentage during the 2018-19 season, and put up a decent season for the team’s ECHL affiliate. Other than those two, though, nobody has shown too much sign of making a significant jump.
Making a successful trade in the NHL is a very complex art. A general manager has to properly value their assets without coming off as egregious, and has the responsibility of trying to read 30 other minds across the league. In his three years in Buffalo, Botterill rarely made an amazing trade.
The Sabres acquired the defensemen during the 2017 off-season in exchange for a third round pick in that year's draft. The previous season, Beaulieu notched 28 points and played almost 20 minutes a night. His first season in Buffalo was abysmal, only amassing nine points in 59 games played. The following season he played in 30 games for the team notching seven points, and was shipped off to Winnipeg for a 6th round pick. Not the ideal outcome for a once highly sought after young defenseman.
It was the trade deadline in 2018 and Buffalo wasn’t close enough to the playoffs to be a buyer, but they weren’t guaranteed a top ten pick. Evander Kane wanted out of Buffalo and on to a playoff contender. San Jose was the perfect fit for the trade. In return for Kane, Buffalo received prospect Danny O'Regan, a 2019 first round pick and a 2019 4th round pick. Both picks were traded away down the line, and O’Regan hasn’t made the jump onto the Sabres full time roster. The picks were flipped for more prospects, but as stated above, none of them are close enough to filling the gap that was left by Kane.
This is arguably the most lopsided trade of his short tenure. O’Reilly has always been one of the league's better two-way forwards. He always had the potential to score 60 points a season. Going into the 2018-19 season, he also wanted out of the organization. So, what does Botterill do? He ships him to St. Louis for a conditional first round pick in the 2019 draft, a second rounder in 2021, prospects Tage Thompson and Vladimir Sobotka, and an aging forward in Patrick Berglund. What happens to these players? Sobotka refuses to play in the organization, Tage Thompson hasn’t proven himself to be the NHL ready forward Buffalo needed, and Patrick Berglund is playing in the Swedish league. Ryan O’Reilly goes on to have a career year in St. Louis, winning a Stanley Cup, the Conn Smythe Trophy, and the Frank J. Selke Trophy. You decide which outcome you’d rather have in that trade.
The 28 year old left winger was supposed to be an upgrade to the Sabres shaky top six. He had alright success in Pittsburgh netting 93 points in 184 games played, as well as two Stanley Cups. Upon his arrival in Buffalo, however, the instant upgrade they thought they acquired was nowhere to be found. During the 2017-18 season, his only full season for the team, he notched 34 points in 78 games played. This season he played 55 games and scored 19 points, and was flipped at the trade deadline back to Pittsburgh along with Evan Rodrigues for pending RFA Dominik Kahun. Kahun, a 24 year old center from the Czech Republic, got 4 points in 6 games for Buffalo after the trade deadline.
This trade, unlike the others on this list, has yet to truly pan out. In his first season with Buffalo, Jeff Skinner scored 40 goals and seemed like the winger Jack Eichel needed to bring the organization an appearance in the playoffs. This season he did the opposite, scoring 23 points in 59 games played. With a cap hit of nine million dollars, 23 points is nowhere near the level of play they need him to be at in order for the sign-and-trade to pay off.
Kevyn Adams has a lot of work to do. First, he has to buy the minds of the players into potentially having another year of bad play in order to get a top draft pick. He also has the job of hiring a brand-new scouting and player development staff, almost 20 people, to bring the team back to its former glory. Hopefully he’s able to last longer than his predecessor and have better success. The fans of the Sabres are the same fans that line the parking lot at New Era Field every Sunday during the fall, and they’re itching for success in that town.