On Nov.28, 2017 a disgusted Sabres defenseman Marco Scandella said “we need more pride in this room.”
Those telling words came after a 2-0 loss to Tampa Bay at home which dropped the Sabres to 6-15-4. It was the third time in less than a month Scandella spoke those telling words.
The third time in less than a month.
Let that sink in.
One year later the Sabres are on the brink of a franchise best 11 consecutive wins.
More importantly they have apparently, finally, emerged from the wreckage of the “Tank Years”.
While the offensive 1-2 punch of Jeff Skinner and captain Jack Eichel, as well as the dazzling play of rookie Rasmus Dahlin have been the watershed moments that have brought the fans out of their seats and Sabre tickets the hottest thing in town.
But let’s be honest the turnaround began when Jason Botterill walked through the door as the new general manager.
GMJB’s first order of business was to repair the damage that was done to AHL Rochester under Tim Murray’s watch.
While Murray was so focused on his master plan to tear down then build the Sabres into a Stanley Cup contender he basically forgot about the guys in the system.
Unless of course he needed to call someone up who could help the Sabres sink even farther in the standings.
Morale in Rochester fell to an all-time low. One former Amerk remarked that guys didn’t care about each other. They only wanted to pad their stats to get a call up to Buffalo. There was no brotherhood in Rochester. So it stands to reason if guys aren’t willing to battle for each other there what makes you think they would suddenly care about each other if they should happen to play together in Buffalo?
Guys felt forgotten.
Botterill’s first message to the youth was that you mattered. If you are in the AHL or ECHL you matter to us and everyone has a place in our ultimate plan.
The mood and the results in Rochester have improved because players knew Botterill and the organization as a whole cared about every player.
The other smart thing Botterill did was not rushing into a boat load of trades. Make no mistake he was not happy with the on ice results. His infamous door slam in the press box after the team sleepwalked through a game in front of a kid’s day crowd illustrated Botterill had enough.
Angry as he was Botterill didn’t rush into a bunch of wholesale moves just for the sake of change. He watched and waited. He evaluated everyone over the long-haul of the season.
He saw who wanted and didn’t want to be here. Then made a series of moves that brought in the right players with the right attitude.
One year ago countless people were screaming for Phil Housley’s head. Criticism that he was a soft player and now a soft coach who doesn’t have control of the room overshadowed the reality that he inherited a broken team. A team that wasn’t going to be fixed overnight.
Amazing though. You get a mobile, creative puck moving d-man like Dahlin, a healthy Zach Bogosian and more consistent goal tending from Carter Hutton, who handles the puck far better than Robin Lehner ever did and this team starts to morph into what Housley first envisioned it could be.
The players are getting the job done on the ice. There is a belief that they are never out of any game. Yes, they have benefited from some good luck but they have worked hard to create that luck.
They say it all starts at the top. So Botterill and Housley are deserving of just as much praise as the players who have the fans all over the world talking about their amazing rise from worst to first.