His successor, however, has shown that he would rather make the intelligent moves that make sense instead of headline-grabbing ones.
It all started last summer. Botterill – like most observers at the time – believed that the Sabres were closer to being a playoff contender instead of being near the league’s basement. So he went out and brought in players like Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville, Scott Wilson, Jacob Josefson, Benoit Pouliot, Jordan Nolan and Chad Johnson to bolster the team’s depth.
It didn’t quite work out the way he and everyone else expected. Buffalo finished at the bottom of the league for the third time in five years, and people began to call for Botterill to blow the whole thing up.
But Botterill has stuck to his guns. And so far, every move he’s made has made sense.
The trade of Evander Kane to San Jose in exchange for first and fourth round picks and prospect Danny O’Regan gave the Sabres some help for the future, as did shipping out the disappointing Hudson Fasching to Arizona for defenseman Brandon Hickey. Yet Botterill also had to make some shrewd moves to help the product on the ice become more competitive instantaneously while also staying fiscally responsible.
And he has done just that. The signing of goaltender Carter Hutton from St. Louis to replace Johnson gives the team a veteran presence in net and can split the job with budding prospect Linus Ullmark until he is ready to take over the starting position on a full-time basis. Coming off of a career year and armed with a three-year, $8.25 million contract, Hutton’s annual cap hit of just $2.75 million won’t hamstring the club either.
Botterill didn’t stop there. He also went out and acquired veterans like Conor Sheary and Matt Hunwick from Pittsburgh for a conditional fourth round pick to give the Sabres upgrades on the wing and on defense – both areas in which the team was sorely lacking.
Shipping out Ryan O’Reilly to the Blues brought to Buffalo Patrick Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka – two good forwards who can play up and down the team’s roster and in multiple situations – winger Tage Thompson, who was widely regarded as St. Louis’ top prospect and first and second round picks. Now possessing potentially three first round picks next year – both San Jose and St. Louis’ selections are lottery protected – Botterill now has assets that he can use to trade and upgrade now, or to build depth for the future.
Jeff Skinner, a three-time 30 goal scorer with the Carolina Hurricanes and a former Calder Trophy winner as the league’s rookie of the year, came surprisingly cheap. All the Sabres needed to give up in order to bolster his services was winger Cliff Pu – a former third round pick who has had a decent junior career – a second round pick in next year’s draft and third and sixth round choices in 2020.
Skinner comes to Buffalo with one year and $5.7 million remaining on his contract. At first glance, bringing him in may appear to be a one-year rental, but with Skinner waving his no-move clause to come to the Queen City, it appears as if Botterill will likely get a deal done with him soon. If not, he can be traded again for more pieces to the Sabres’ puzzle.
The cherry on top of these trades? The Sabres didn’t have to give up a first round draft pick, a A-list prospect or a major name on their roster – save for O’Reilly – for any of these assets.
Toss in the no-brainer draft selection of Rasmus Dahlin, and it looks as if the Sabres finally have themselves a general manager who has the right combination of knowing when to make savvy acquisitions for both now and years down the road.
Building a winning product is all about making the right moves, not the flashiest ones. And that should lead to the Sabres having some long-overdue success on the ice this upcoming season.