Jason Botterill Fired As GM of Buffalo Sabres
When the NHL makes its planned return to the ice for a 24-team postseason field to crown the Stanley Cup champion later this summer, the Buffalo Sabres won’t be there. While the team would have made the field as the sixth team in the Atlantic Division had the league gone with the six teams per division format that was bandied about, the fact that they struggled most of the season after a hot start to the year left another bitter taste of disappointment in the fan base of the franchise, which hasn’t made the postseason since the 2010-11 season when Lindy Ruff was still behind the bench.
To put that in perspective, the Sabres have had five coaches (six including Ruff) since the last time they made the postseason. Ron Rolston, Ted Nolan (in his second stint with the team after a two-year run from 1995-96 to 1996-97), Dan Bylsma, Phil Housley and Ralph Krueger have taken their shot behind the bench only to be unsuccessful in their tenure. Buffalo hasn’t finished higher than sixth in the Atlantic Division since the NHL shuffled things around and made three eight-team divisions and one seven-team one back in the 2013-14 season. Inevitably, a shoe had to drop and on Tuesday, it did.
The franchise made the decision to fire general manager Jason Botterill on Tuesday after three seasons running the show. He, along with assistant general managers Randy Sexton and Steve Greeley were also canned in the sweeping move. In his stead, former NHL player Kevyn Adams, who went to high school and lives in nearby Clarence, takes over the reins as general manager. He had been serving as the team’s senior vice president of business administration. The move was a bit of a surprise as Botterill had two years left on his contract and had received a vote of confidence from team president Kim Pegula just last month.
While Botterill has made his share of missteps along the way, like dealing Ryan O’Reilly to the Blues for Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson, a first-round pick in 2019 and a second-round pick in 2021, the fact remains that it’s not all his fault. While Botterill is responsible for bringing in talent, either via trade or free agency, the fact remains that he can’t make the players perform on the ice. Buffalo fans rejoiced when the team acquired Jeff Skinner and saw him deliver 40 goals in the 2018-19 season. The fan base clamored for the team to keep him and avoid losing him in free agency. Botterill obliged, inking him to an eight-year, $72 million deal in June of 2019. You can’t fault Botterill that he put up just 14 goals and nine assists in 59 games while posting a -22 plus/minus rating.
It’s also not Botterill’s fault that guys like Casey Mittelstadt, Kyle Okposo and Jimmy Vesey failed to deliver on their opportunities. Conor Sheary was shipped back to Pittsburgh after less than two seasons of underwhelming play. Buffalo had a couple of top picks as they took Jack Eichel second overall in 2015 and Rasmus Dahlin first overall in 2018 to give them pieces to work with going forward. Victor Olofsson proved to be a valuable addition with 20 goals as a rookie this season, making him the team’s third-leading goal scorer.
While Buffalo continues to struggle, putting the blame solely on the general manager is simply the latest chapter of shortsightedness that has run through the organization for the better part of two decades. We’ll have to wait and see if Adams can find a way to lead the Sabres back to the playoffs and snap the longest current playoff drought in the NHL.